Alabama couple Robert and Janice Morris made a hefty profit recently when they sold a clay jug they bought for $12 44-years ago from a junk store, for $100,000.
The Morrises like to decorate their rural home with unique items and Robert told WBRC Fox 6, “We would always look for something out of the ordinary.” 44-years ago in DeLoach’s junk store in Fayetteville, Mr. Morris found a piece that fit the bill perfectly. Janice recalled, “He picked that jug up and I said, ‘Why are you gettin’ that?’” Robert simply replied, “Because I like it.”
They took the large 5-gallon jug home for just $12 and kept it the corner of the den. The jug was not treated delicately and according to The Daily Home, was dropped countless times over the years. “We kicked it around for years. I kept change in it. The kids played with it,” said Robert. “At first they were afraid of it so we started dressing him up,” said Janice. The pottery depicted a man from head to waist and the family would replace the everyday straw hat they placed on him around holidays, and swap it for themed attire.
Recently, Robert decided to pass the jug down to his granddaughter. He also let her know that he always suspected the pottery was valuable. The grandfather said, “It’s folk art and it just, it just had the look to me like it might be worth something.” His granddaughter did some digging online and discovered that Robert was right. The ash-glazed jug from the 1800s was one of only three created by John Lehman, a German-born artist who lived in Alabama’s Randolph County. The Daily Home reported that the jug was made after the Civil War and depicts an African American man in formal dress and hoop earrings. The artist’s initials, 'J.L.' are stamped on the lapel of the figure.
When they realized the jug’s history, Robert’s granddaughter returned the vessel to her grandfather. The Morrises then called appraisers to assess its worth. “They were saying it was valuable. They said it was very valuable. Very rare,” said Robert.
They received offers to help sell the jug, but advised that selling it to the Birmingham Museum of Art (who bid on the last Lehman jug up for sale) would be best. The museum offered Robert $100,000 for the jug and the sale was made.
Gail Andrews, the museum director, told The Daily Home that John Lehman “is considered the most important historic potter in Alabama.” She added, “When this one came forward, we really couldn’t believe it...The artist is so important, and it’s a rare piece, and of course, Mr. Morris’ story of buying it 40-plus years ago in a junk store was just great. We love that it had survived all those years on the floor of his family room.”
The museum is now making some repairs to the piece and they plan on putting it on display in a few weeks.
Robert gave a third of the jug money to his granddaughter to help her through nursing school. As for Janice, her opinion of the junk store jug has changed. She said, “Well, lemme see, I, I, I believe I like him a little bit better.”