Saturday, November 3, 2012

You Meet the Most Interesting People ...

One of the things I love about Craigslist and thrift shops is the people you meet -- literally and figuratively. This painting led me down a road to "meet" a true character.

Those aren't marks or stains in the painting background  --
I apologize that I haven't learned how to take a photo of artwork without a reflection!

I found it at a Goodwill for $7.96.  It's a watercolor, and I think ink, of a street scene in front of old towers in Prague.  I picked it up because it was mid-century in it's original frame and original bark cloth matting ...

and it had the original label from the artist's shop on the back.

It says "Hand Painted," but there is also a number.  I don't know if that means it's a print, or if that's an inventory number.

I loved the red accents and the detailing like the man with the ascot and the mother leaning over to talk to the child.

I had never heard of Fred Roner at the time.

Then last week I saw this painting on One Kings Lane.

I don't know if you know about One Kings Lane, but they sell designer's picks, home accessories, and vintage goods. 

As an aside and FYI, their prices on their vintage goods are typically high.  For example, I just sold this hammered aluminum ice bucket made in Italy.


I sold it for $29, which I had researched was about the typical price for the piece. I was feeling pretty good about it since I had picked it up at Goodwill for $3.96.  A few days ago the same bucket was on One Kings Lane with an original price of $140 or something, and a sale price of $59 -- and it sold! 

I was feeling really stupid, thinking maybe I had missed something, so I double-checked everything.  Sure enough it was by the same manufacturer, in the same condition, and selling on Ebay and Etsy for around the same price as I sold it for.
($3.96 people!!!! This is why I advocate for thrift shopping!! It's so exciting to find these deals!)

But if their dealers can get those prices, I say more power to them! I do find them a good resource for learning what things are and what is selling; they have beautiful things, and their prices on their new items can be pretty good.

So anyway, I digress.  (I just get so carried away when it comes to finding bargains!) 

Back to my story.  Like I said, they're a good resource.  This was an oil painting by Fred Roner.  It had an original price of $3,250, and a One Kings Lane sale price of $1,649.

As you can imagine, that got my attention! I thought it might be the same guy who painted the piece I had found -- checked, and sure enough it was 'ole Fred! 

So I decided to do some research. And I'm telling you, Fred lived an interesting life!

He started painting as a school boy in Vienna, and he eventually became what he called a "Four P Artist:" Painting pictures -- and picking pockets!

He was in business manufacturing shirts in Vienna when he started doing magic shows as a sideline.  Just a guess, but I'd think shirt manufacturing would be pretty dull, especially for a creative guy like Fred.

The competition among professional magicians was tough, so he decided to learn a cool trick where he made a card disappear and reappear in the wallet of a innocent bystander.  But to do it, he had to learn how to pick the pocket of the bystander.

So where do you learn how to pickpocket?  At pickpocket school, of course! 

Off he went to a school of professional pick pockets in Warsaw Poland.  The school was run by former criminals who now taught "the fine art of filching."

He learned the trade, but once back in Vienna in 1938 he saw the city police wearing arm bands with the Nazi swastika. Fred figured it was time to get out of the country. 

He and his wife fled to the Yugoslavian border, then made their way to Belgium with Maurice Chevalier by pretending they had an engagement in the country.  They eventually made it to the U.S. via Paris and London.

Sadly, although Fred was able to get some close family members to the United States once he was here, 17 relatives vanished during the war.

Fred took his magic act to Vaudeville and made quite a name for himself.  Soon he was playing all the top night club and stage venues in New York and across the country -- billed as "The World's Greatest Pickpocket."

Brooklyn NY Daily Eagle, 1947

And Fred not only entertained audiences with his skill, he also helped police across the country solve pickpocket crimes.

All along, Fred continued painting, and eventually opened his store in Greenwich Village in New York City.  Soon he was garnering fame as a painter, as well as a magician. 

Reading, PA Reading Eagle, 1957

So now I have a Fred Roner watercolor or numbered print. 


Despite my research, I still don't know its worth.  But it doesn't matter because I'm thinking I may just keep it.


Even though it doesn't really go with my decor, it's a small connection to an amazing man.

A Four P Artist.

Sharing at:
My Romantic Home: Show & Tell Fridays
The Shabby Nest: Frugal Friday
No Minimalist Here: Open House Party

If you live in Northern VA, check out Mr. P's Emporium's Facebook page for a deal I have going this weekend.  And as always, if you haven't liked Mr. P's  Facebook page, I'd not only like it -- I'd love it if you did!

Update: fixed Facebook link!


  1. Love Fred's story and your blog. Did you notice that it looks like a face in the higher tower in your new picture? I wonder if it has any meaning? Keep up the great and fun blog. Nancy Carr, Vieques, Puerto Rico

  2. such a neat story and what a cool special piece!

  3. Facinating, Deborah . . . Enjoyable from start to finish. You are quite the researcher and tell it well.

    the other Lynn

  4. So interesting! Thanks for sharing your find and its story. I haven't kept up with my blog, but the most recent post is about an artist I discovered in an old book purchased from a local library.

  5. Great post-love reading about your finds.

  6. I love all the history you told us about this artist. What a truly fascinating life. Find a wall and keep your prize. I have a few pieces which don't really match my decor but which have similar stories to yours. I cherish them.

  7. I have five Fred Roner water colors all in original frames. I don't have a clue time to find an art appraiser.

  8. I have an original water color given to my parents by Fred during the 40's when he worked for them as a pick pocket/ magician. No idea wht it is worth but have kept it because of the story.

    1. Thanks -- I'm glad I could pass along a little information about Fred!

  9. I also have 3 Fred Roner paintings gotten in the 1970's when cleaning out a storage room when the business I worked for moved offices. No one wanted them so I kept them. No idea how to find out what they are worth but am working on that. After reading the above it sounds like there are quite a few of his paintings around. Mine are all framed and of the Spanish Steps, an Old Fountain in Stuttgard, and Big Ben in London, all with the Greenwich Village label on the back and a bunch of numbers. They are about 6" x 8". Would be nice if some gallery wanted to buy up all his works and have a showing of them wouldn't it?


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