Treasure hunting captures the imagination of the young and old across time and place. While it remains the subject of great storytelling, from Treasure Island to Indiana Jones, real treasure hunting is the providence of very few people. They are people driven by the lure of attaining the fame and fortune attached to finding something of high value, sometimes as great risk to themselves.
The same powerful force driving most treasure hunters applies to treasure hunters of the modern kind. That is, those that scour the shelves and stalls of local thrift stores and flea markets in search of attaining the same fame and fortune attached to finding of something of high value – but in this instance, at little to no cost. You often see them on popular television shows such as Antiques Roadshow and Flea Market finds.
Make no mistake, their obsession with getting something for nothing often pays off. Sometimes the rewards run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The following are hundred thousand and even million dollar items that people inadvertently stumbled upon as they went about their day to day modern treasure hunts.
10. Vertical Diamond by Ilya Bolotowsky: $34,375
Unemployed artist, Beth Feedback had nothing else to do one day in 2012 except wander around the local Goodwill. Thinking she got a good deal on some oil canvases, Feedback plunked down $9.99 for two. As the story goes, her friend suggested she research the name of one artist, Ilya Bolotowsky. The result shocked and surprised her. Sotheby’s gave an estimate for the picture in the $15,000 to $20,000 range. They reported a final sale of $34,375. USD.
9. 1959 Jaeger-Lecoultre Watch: $35,000
In 2014 the most expensive watch in the world, a Henry Graves Supercomplication timepiece, made by Patek Philippe in 1933 sold for a record $24.4 million dollars. The seller did not find the watch at the local Goodwill. However, consider the story of Zach Norris, treasure hunter, who walking through a Goodwill in Phoenix recently, came across a 1959 Jaeger-Lecoultre watch, with a price tag of $5.99. Norris immediately knew he found a bargain.He put the watch up for sale on a watch collector’s website and sold it for $35,000, along with receiving another $4,000 watch as an extra bonus.
8. Vince Lombardi Sweater: $43,020
Nothing like purchasing a ripped up sweater at Goodwill to brighten up the day. At least that’s what Sean and Rikki McEvoy thought when they visited their local Goodwill in Asheville, N.C back in 2014. After watching a Vince Lombardi television special where the coach was wearing the sweater, the couple decided to check out its authenticity. It turned out to be genuine and in February the sweater sold at auction for a whopping $43,020. They originally paid $.58 for it.
7. Chinese Libation Cup: $75,640
Australians love a good thrift store bargain as much as anyone else. In 2013 an anonymous person shopping at a local thrift store in Sydney came across a strange looking cup, and for $4 Australian dollars, purchased it. He sent a picture to a specialist at Sotheby’s, who suggested it was a real 17th century Chinese “libation cup” carved from rhinoceros horn. It soon sold for $75,640 Australian dollars.
6. Bond Watch: $160,175
An Englishman roaming a car boot sale, the equivalent of a flea market came away with a great buy, for a mere $38 in U.S. currency, he purchased a Breitling wrist watch worn by James Bond in the movie Thunderball. At a Christie’s auction in 2013, the watch sold for $160,175. As an interesting side note, and possibly the reason for the high selling price, the watch was the first one modified by the famous Q Branch to include a Geiger counter to help Bond detect nuclear radiation.
5. 1650 Flemish Painting: $190,000
Back in 2006 the story emerged about a man named Leroy who purchased a painting for $3.00 at a local Goodwill store. His daughter, curious about the painting’s value, took to an Antiques Roadshow and received an appraisal of between $20,000 and $30,000. Much to everyone’s surprise, in early 2012, the painting was sold at an auction in Massachusetts for $190,000. Turned out to be a Flemish work of art from around 1650. That kind of cash can buy a good many chicken dinners.
4. Alexander Calder Necklace: $267,750
A lucky Philadelphia woman, shopping in a flea market came across a bold piece of jewelry she could not pass up. Three years later, visiting the Philadelphia Art Museum, she came across some original Alexander Calder jewelry that looked familiarly similar to her previous purchase. After contacting the Calder Foundation in New York and getting the confirmation that her piece was real, she put it up for auction at Christie’s, First Open Sale of Post-War & Contemporary Art. Under the Calder category, the piece was called, Untitled (Necklace) and described as, ‘silver wire and cord, executed circa 1940’. In September 2013, Christies recorded the sale for $267,750.
3. Declaration of Independence (Sparks): $477,650
To American ears, nothing sounds better than striking it rich finding an original copy of the Declaration of Independence. In 2006, a young man named Michael Sparks was browsing in a Nashville, TN thrift store and came across a rolled up document that had no price tag on it. The clerk estimated the document at $2.48, plus tax. Sparks later discovered it to be an 1823 copy of the Declaration of Independence. In 2007, an anonymous buyer paid $477,650 at Raynors’ Historical Collectible Auctions in Burlington, North Carolina.
2. Declaration of Independence: $2.4 million
Declaration of Independence lightning struck twice at the turn of the 21st century. In 1991, an unidentified man pulled $4.00 out of his wallet for an old picture with a wooden frame during a trip to a flea market in Adamstown, PA. After examining the purchase, he found the document hidden behind the picture. It eventually sold for $2.4 million. Optimistic treasure hunters will tell you – keep looking.
1. Faberge Egg: $30 million
It might sound too good to be true, but it is true. A scrap metal dealer paid $14,000 for a Faberge Egg at a flea market. He knew it was gold and was going to melt it down for scrap. Turns out the find was estimated at a value of over $30 million dollars at an auction. The actual price remains undisclosed and the piece was temporarily on display prior to its owner moving it away from the public realm to the private realm. All you treasure hunters stay hungry. According to Faberge, of the 50 Fabergé Imperial Eggs known to have existed at one time or another, only 43 are currently accounted for.
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