People often inherit a lot of junk from family members and relatives. Furthermore, buying yourself a house that has already been lived in means that you’re bound to stumble upon some of the previous occupant’s possessions at some stage. As you’d guess, it’s extremely unlikely to find something of immense value – because who’d leave something like that lying around? Yet in certain circumstances, incredibly rare and sought-after objects and artefacts can lie unnoticed for years, passed down from generation to generation with their true value unknown. In other cases, priceless works of art can be squirrelled away in homes instead of being on display in museums.
Incidences of priceless items being discovered amongst junk are more common than you might think. Earlier this year, a scrap metal dealer in the US stumbled upon a golden artefact at a market. Hoping to melt it down and make some cash, he purchased the golden egg-like object for $14,000. After struggling to sell it to buyers, he researched the object and made an incredible discovery. The ornament was actually the last missing piece from a set of Imperial Faberge Easter Eggs, presented by the Russian Tsar Alexander III to his wife in 1887. The best part of his discovery: it was worth a cool $20 million.
Yet it is not just in flea markets and yard sales that priceless objects are found. The following five stories detail how ordinary people have, in the midst of a life’s rubble, discovered incredibly rare objects and works of art in their own homes, or in the home of a relative. In many cases, these pricey finds had been in their family’s possession for years, the household unaware of the fact that millions were lying right under their noses! Perhaps this will inspire you to get a start on that spring clean by sorting through the junk in your basement…
5. A 1938 Superman Comic – $137,000
Last year, a man named David Gonzales was renovating a house in Minnesota, and he stumbled upon quite an interesting find. Hidden in the wall of the house was a stack of old newspapers, and within this stack, Gonzales pulled out an old comic book. Upon closer inspection, Gonzales realised that he had found an original copy of the first issue of Action Comics, an extremely rare comic book that avid collectors often search their entire lives for. Action Comics No.1’s fame is largely due to the fact that this comic featured the first ever appearance of Superman in print. It was printed in 1938. However, the comic’s age made it extremely delicate; Gonzales noted that crumbs would fall from the paper each time you turned a page.
Unfortunately, Gonzales got into a heated dispute with some relatives who wanted a cut of the money for the mag. During the argument, Gonzales grabbed the comic from his wife’s aunt, ripping the back page of the book. This rip would cost him a shocking $75,000! The damaged copy was thus given a quality rating of 1.5/10 by ComicConnect.com, meaning that it would only fetch a few hundred thousand in auction. While this is still a lot of money, it must be noted that another original copy of Action Comics No.1, rated a 9, was recently sold for over $2 million.
4. An original Boldini Painting – $2.1 million and counting
In 2010, a 91-year-old French woman named Madame de Florian passed away in the South of France. Her family were surprised to learn after her death that she owned an apartment in Paris, as she had never once mentioned this to them. The apartment was found in Paris’ 9th arrondissement, close to the Pigalle red light district. The family had no idea what to expect when they forced their way into the abandoned apartment. To their astonishment, they stumbled upon a beautifully preserved Parisian apartment which had not been touched for over 70 years. The apartment was a perfect time capsule of the French Belle-Epoch.
Amongst numerous treasures, such as retro toys and classic furniture was a previously unknown painting by the famous 19th century artist Giovanni Boldini. It turned out that Madame de Florian’s grandmother had been Boldini’s muse, and had left the stunning apartment to her granddaughter. However, Madame de Florian had abandoned her apartment and fled Paris, like many others, during World War II. Madame de Florian never returned; she moved to the South of France after the war. Strangely, she did not tell her family about the apartment, yet she paid for it secretly for 70 years. The Boldini painting sold for a whopping $2.1 million, but the actual value of the entire apartment has yet to be calculated.
3. An Original Rockwell painting – $15.4 million
Eight years ago, Don Jr and Dave Trachte, the sons of cartoonist Don Trachte, made a fascinating discovery in their late father’s studio. Don Trachte had been a fan of the now renowned American artist Norman Rockwell, whose painting ‘Saying Grace’ recently fetched a staggering $46 million in auction. However, his second most valuable painting ‘Breaking Home Ties’ has a very interesting story behind it. Rockwell had painted it for the cover of The Saturday Evening Post in 1954, and Trachte had purchased it from Rockwell for $900. Without informing his sons, Trachte created a replica of the painting and hid the original. After his death, his son’s gave the (fake) painting to the Rockwell museum.
The sons realised what their father had done a year after his death when they grew suspicious of the authenticity of the copy of Breaking Home Ties they had presented to the museum. They examined the cover of The Saturday Evening Post on which it had appeared, and agreed that their version was different. After exploring every inch of their old family home, the boys discovered a fake wall covered by wooden panels which concealed a small room. Within it, amongst other pieces of art, they found the original copy of Breaking Home Ties, which they sold for $15.4 million.
2. Two Original Gauguin and Bonnard Paintings – $30 million and counting
This year, a retired car engineer found out that the pictures hung in his kitchen were worth much more than he had previously thought. The man (his name has not been released by Italian police) had bought two paintings in 1970 at a lost and found auction at his local train station. He paid 45,000 Italian lire for the pair, which today works out at a measly $30! The paintings were hung in his kitchen for 44 years before the discovery was made. It was the man’s son who first questioned whether the paintings were worth more than his father thought, after realising that the still life looked similar to other Post-Impressionist works by the French painter Gauguin.
The man’s son was right – the paintings turned out to be two stolen works by Paul Gauguin and Pierre Bonnard. The paintings had been stolen from the British aristocrat Sir Mark Kennedy in 1970, but no trace of them had been found. The man in question is not being charged by police, as he purchased the items at a legitimate sale and was unaware that the paintings had been robbed. The Gauguin painting, “Fruits sur une Table ou Nature au Petit Chien”, is the most valuable of the pair, worth an estimated $30 million.
1. An Unfinished Michelangelo Painting – $300 million
For many years, a US Air Force Lieutenant from New York named Martin Kober had a priceless painting hanging in his home without realising it. The painting depicts Jesus after he was taken down from the cross. He is being held up by two angels as his mother the Virgin Mary looks on and weeps. The painting had been brought to America by a German baroness, but for some reason it was never sold. The painting was passed from family to family before it ended up with the Kobers. It hung above their fireplace for years, and the family had even nicknamed it “the Mike”, jokingly referring to it as a Michelangelo. Little did they know, it was an original Michelangelo!
A few years ago, Martin Kober finally decided to have it valued. He was shocked to discover that it was an incredibly rare easel painting by Michelangelo himself- only one other is thought to exist. Upon examination, experts were able examine every layer of the painting to reveal changes the painter himself had made to it. This proves that the painting was an original, rather than a copy. Some art history experts are still skeptical about the painting’s authenticity, but all evidence is pointing in Kober’s favour. Tests are still being done, but it seems like “the Mike” (which Kober admitted he once stored behind his living room sofa) is a priceless original.