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Man finds portrait of Michael Jackson valued at $20,000 in storage unit he bought for $200

Man finds portrait of Michael Jackson valued at $20,000 in storage unit he bought for $200

Phil Legate said he was 'dumbfounded' at the discovery

You know that feeling when you find a $5 bill in the pocket of an old pair of trousers that you had no idea was in there?

Well, that's exactly how Canadian Phil Legate felt after he won a bid online, except instead of a pair of trousers, it was a storage locker. And instead of a $5 bill, it was a portrait of Michael Jackson valued at $20,000.

Not bad for a day's work, is it?

Legate's impressive discovery came after he made a New Year's resolution in 2021 to bid on and win an old storage locker, a la Storage Wars.

Legate became 'hooked' on buying storage lockers.

The auctions take place online to sell off units that haven't been paid for or when owners have passed away, but bidders can only view the contents in photos taken from the front of the locker, meaning there could be lots of treasures hidden inside.

After following through on his resolution and successfully making a profit on his first locker, Phil was hooked and began bidding on more.

"Going through the items in a storage unit you’ve won is like Christmas morning times 100," Phil told UNILAD.

But it was as he was searching his sixth storage unit purchase that he came across 'a huge piece of plywood with what looked like jellybeans glued to it'.

Assuming it was something homemade by a child, Legate shoved it into the back of his car with some of the other contents to take home.

It wasn't until he unloaded the haul in his garage that he took a step back to get a better look at the object, recalling: "You know when you have a mosaic pattern of something and when you step away from it - it becomes a bit clearer? That happened in this moment."

The entire portrait was made of jellybeans.

Legate wasn't expecting much, considering the only other thing of use in the locker was an electric keyboard, but he soon realised that he recognised the image in the sweets.

He recalled: "I immediately was like 'is that…Michael Jackson?' Indeed it was."

Phil turned the portrait around and realised it had a stamp on the back, reading 'Peter Rocha Graphic Design 1984'.

And as any modern-day Sherlock would do, Phil turned to Google for answers. "That’s when the fun began," he said.

His search revealed that Peter Rocha was the 'founding father of all jellybean artwork', with the artist initially having created a portrait for former president Ronald Raegan to honour his love of the sweets.

The creation kicked off a niche trend, and Rocha went on to create portraits of other well-known faces including Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, and, of course, Michael Jackson.

Phil learned that much of Rocha's work was unavailable to the public and that many of his jellybean creations were on display in the JellyBelly Museum, so he realised he'd stumbled upon something pretty rare.

Legate didn't realise it was Michael Jackson until he took the artwork home.

He wanted to get the piece appraised, so enlisted the help of expert art appraiser Dr. Lori Verderame, who has a Ph.D. in art history.

"I completed the appraisal submission and within a few days, Dr. Lori sent back her appraisal to me," Phil recalled.

"She said the piece had an estimated retail value of $20,000."

Phil described himself as being 'dumbfounded' and 'really excited' at the news. He has no idea who originally owned the storage unit, but after learning the value of the portrait, he decided to try and make some big money.

He first listed it on eBay, then contacted art auctions including Sotheby’s and Waddington’s.

But despite the fact Rocha had made less than 100 jelly bean creations, Phil said the auction houses responded to say 'the piece wasn’t really in line with the type of art that they auctioned'.

He did eventually receive interested from one company, but they did a U-turn when they decided 'Michael Jackson was too controversial for them'.

After more research, Phil learned about Julien’s Art Auctions in Los Angeles, California. The company is known for selling notable artwork and collectibles from celebrities, and it was interested in Phil's jellybean find.

Phil thought he'd make thousands from the artwork.

Phil agreed to let the company sell it without a reserve price, meaning it could sell for anything between '$1 or $1 million'. Obviously you'd hope for something on the latter end of that scale, but Phil admitted that the result of the auction was actually 'a huge flop'.

The piece ended up selling for just $250 - a figure Phil hinted was less than what he'd paid to insure the portrait and ship it to California.

Though the jellybean artwork didn't end up being the moneymaker Phil had hoped, it didn't deter him from buying more storage units in the future.

He's so far bought over 20 units, and has uncovered various treasures including a cello, some vintage Apple Macintosh computers, a Wedgwood Jasper pottery dish set with over 300 pieces, a Captain America comic book featuring the first appearance of Falcon, and a set of 100 coins that were each 1 oz of pure silver.

There have also been some more bizarre discoveries, including a gold tooth, forensic evidence bags and The Book of Mormon, but the variety is enough to always keep Phil intrigued.

If you want to follow Phil's storage locker journey, you can do so on his Instagram @philsfinds .

Featured Image Credit: Supplied

Topics: US News, Money, Michael Jackson