The homeless man found a ratty picture of Bambi, the Disney character, in a trash bin and brought it to antique dealer Alexander Archbold to get a few bucks.
The men had made similar transactions before, and Archbold — who owns the Curiosity Inc. store in Edmonton, Canada — is generally quick with his appraisals. But this one was different.
At first Archbold thought he had bought a replica of an animation cel from the 1980s or 1990s. He thought if he removed the broken frame and cleaned it up, the picture might fetch $80 to $100.
He paid the homeless man, Adam Gillian, $20 for it.
But when he it took it out of the frame and flipped it over, Archbold discovered an old certificate of authenticity. Even more surprising: It had a copyright date of 1937. Bambi hit theaters in 1942.
Suddenly Archbold realized he had an original Disney animation cel — a hand-drawn image on a celluloid sheet — with much more value than he had initially thought.
“When I knew it was gonna sell for a lot of money, I knew it wasn’t right to take it all,” Archbold told CNN.
That’s when he vowed to give Gillian half of whatever the proceeds were.
First, though, he needed to find him.
Archbold sold the piece on eBay for $3,700 in Canadian dollars. But then came the hard part: Finding a man with no fixed address.
The store owner drove the streets of Edmonton, slowing down wherever he saw homeless people. Archbold documented his search on YouTube.
He eventually came across someone who knew Gillian.
That man got word to Gillian, who then stopped by the store. With cameras rolling, Archbold gave him the $1,600.35 — Gillian’s share of the sale after deducting fees. He then gave him an additional $100 and bought him lunch.
“Wow, that’s awesome,” Gillian told him, looking a little bashful. “I don’t know what to say.”
The store owner says his own background gives him a special empathy for homeless people.
“I was homeless when I was in grade seven. I had to help pay my parents’ bills so I had to sell antiques on the side,” Archbold said.
Those early years hawking wares led Archbold to his career dealing antiques. They also make him listen whenever a homeless person comes into his store and tries to sell him something.
“I go through people’s basements looking for stuff they don’t want anymore,” said Archbold. “Adam’s doing the same thing. He’s recycling and finding stuff.”
A journey home
A week ago, Archbold set up a GoFundMe page to help Gillian get off the streets and into a hotel for the winter. The account quickly exceeded its $10,000 goal.
Then members of Gillian’s family, including his mother, saw news reports about his trash bin find and reached out to Archbold. The antique dealer was able to put Gillian back in contact with his family and helped him make plans to return home to Ontario.
Archbold even took a day off work to help Gillian get a temporary identification card so he could take a train trip home. But when the store owner went to meet Gillian, he couldn’t find him.
“I went to the hotel and I was supposed to pick him up, but he wasn’t there,” Archbold said. “He was tracking down a friend of his who was also homeless and was giving his winter boots to him.”
Archbold eventually found Gillian and took him into several antique stores to show him what dealers look for.
“He does have a talent for it,” he said. “He always brought me neat stuff he found in the trash. I hope he sticks with it.”
When it was time for Gillian to head east to reunite with his family, Archbold gave him a contact number for social services in Ontario, information about a possible job lead there and a lunch his wife packed for the long train ride.
“He’s a very kind, humble person so I’m sure he’ll have no trouble finding work,” Archbold said. “I’m rooting for him.”