Apparently Winnie-the-Pooh's honey pot isn't filled with gold for Goodwill after all.
A London art expert said Tuesday that an illustration of the famous bear that Goodwill Industries of the Redwood Empire billed as authentic and sold on the organization's online auction site last week for $7,618 is a fake, and a poorly done one at that.
"It's very, very badly drawn. Most schoolchildren could have done better than that," Chris Beetles said.
Beetles is an expert in the works of Ernest Howard Shepard, an English artist and book illustrator who is best known for his collaboration with author A.A. Milne on the original Pooh books.
Goodwill officials thought they had a Shepard original on their hands with a 14-by-11-inch ink drawing that was donated at the Cloverdale store. The illustration depicts Pooh standing on a branch at Owl's house deciding whether he should ring the bell or knock.
Beetles told The Press Democrat on Tuesday that if the drawing was genuine, it would be worth in excess of $200,000. He said the piece sold by Goodwill last week to an unidentified bidder "is so terrible, it's not even close."
Goodwill officials announced Tuesday that they were suspending the transaction and contacting the buyer, who had not yet paid. Officials also acknowledged errors in how they conducted the auction, starting with not attempting to authenticate the illustration.
"Clearly, we are not art experts. We should not have represented this as an original Shepard piece," said Mark Ihde, the CEO of the Redwood Empire Goodwill.
Ihde said there was no malicious intent or attempt to deceive on the part of the employee who wrote the description for the illustration. He said the employee was "just excited. Definitely it was an error."
Goodwill stores nationwide have had good fortune in recent years selling donated items that turn out to be valuable works of art.
In 2009, the Redwood Empire Goodwill earned $70,001.01 at auction from a painting that was donated at the Healdsburg store and turned out to be the original work of famed Utah artist Maynard Dixon.
In that case, Goodwill staff stopped the auction after bidding on the painting immediately jumped to $5,000. They authenticated the item before re-starting the sale.
Ihde said Goodwill should have followed the same process with the Pooh illustration.
Taylor Reedy, who oversees the agency's Redwood Empire stores, said that was not done because getting an appraisal costs time and money. He also said it was not apparent that the Pooh illustration might be valuable until the waning minutes of the auction, when bidding went into a frenzy.
It was clear well before then, however, that Goodwill thought it had a find with the illustration, which was described on shopgoodwill.com as an "original ink drawing" done in Shepard's "traditional manner" using pen ink over pencil.
The auction site's disclaimer states that items are sold "as-is." It also states that descriptions for the items are based on "educated and researched estimates."
Beetles, who touts his London gallery as having the largest collection of cartoon illustrations in the world, said he often comes across images that are falsely attributed to Shepard, who died in 1976.
The University of Surrey, which houses the illustrator's archives, refers questions of authenticity to Beetles.
CALLING FOR HELP
Sonoma County’s 24-hour emergency mental health hotline can be reached at 800-746-8181.