The Declaration of Independence
Bought for: $2.48
Sold at: $477,650
Unless you’re Nicholas Cage’s character in National Treasure, you’re never really going to get your hands on an original copy of the Declaration of Independence. Or so you’d think. A couple of years ago, Michael Sparks was at the Music City Thrift Store in Nashville, TN, where he found a yellowed, shellacked, rolled-up document. When he unrolled it, he found it was a copy of the Declaration. Having seen many ‘copies’ before (as you can find recently copies that have been aged and distressed for that vintage look, he was a little skeptical. There was something about this one, however. It was so beautiful that he knew it must have been more than just a mass-reprinted item, and it was most likely engraved. When he took it to the counter, he was charged $2.48 for it.
After researching the document, he found that it was actually worth more; a lot more. He took it to an auction house, who had it officially appraised. Turns out, it was an official copy of the Declaration of Independence. Apparently, 197 years ago in 1820, John Quincy Adams had commissioned 200 copies of the Declaration and only 35 were known to still exist.
After some minor restoration work was done, Sparks put it to auction, netting close to half a million dollars.
A Philip Treacy Handbag
Bought for: $32
Sold at: $350,000
John Richard was an amateur antique hunter in Britain, and one of his usual haunts was Oxfam, which is a British thrift store. In a dusty box in the darkest corner of the store, he found this purse. He could tell it was a high quality purse, so he went to haggle over the price with the cashier. She wouldn’t budge and he walked away, spending more than he wanted on this dusty purse.
After looking inside, he saw that it was a Philip Treacy design, so he took it to a store to have it appraised. Instead of just carrying the label, this particular purse was handmade by the world-renowned milliner himself; hand-stitched and featuring an Elvis Presley design that was created by Andy Warhol. Only 10 of these bags had been made, selling originally for $315, but now worth significantly more.
Richard received interest from two private buyers, with offers over $350K, and the most recent info available has him holding onto the bag to see how much more he can get for it.
Bought for: $14,000
Sold at: $30 Million
Ok, so this isn’t a cheap find, but it’s an amazing one. A scrap metal dealer found this egg in a flea market and wanted to purchase it for the gold. He was going to melt it down, but then decided to have it checked out first. Turns out it’s one of the 43 out of 50 Faberge Imperial Eggs that are still in existence, and the appraisal is just a lowball. The actual owner’s now dropped out of sight and no one knows if he’s sold it or is keeping it protected until a later date.
A Goodwill Painting is a Good Buy
Bought for: $9.99
Sold at: $34,375
Sometimes when you’re on your way to your destination, a thrift store will call out your name. This is what happened to Beth Feeback. She was on her way to sell her own cat paintings at an art show, when she saw a Goodwill, and decided to stop in to buy herself something warm, as it was a cold day. After she found a nice, warm blanket, she saw two huge paintings. Not loving the art on them, she was going to scrape off the paint and reuse the canvases for her own work. Each painting was going for $9.99, which was a steal.
When she got to the art show, she showed a friend, who noticed that the label on the back credited the canvasses to the Weatherspoon Art Gallery in North Carolina. As it was a gallery on a university campus, it occasionally had some big-name artists cycle their work through there. She suggested Feeback get them checked out.
When Feeback, got home, she tossed the paintings with her other canvasses and left them for a few months. When she was ready to do some more art, she grabbed those canvases to start preparing them for being scraped and repainted. Luckily she remembered her friend’s advice and did some research. As it turns out, one of them was “Vertical Diamond” by a famous abstract artist by the name of Ilya Bolotowsky.
The painting fetched almost $35K at auction. Good thing she didn’t ruin it with her own art – the world can only handle so many paintings of cats.
A Signed Picasso Poster
Bought for: $14.
Sold at: $7,000
Sometimes your love for the tacky things will net you some coin. This gentleman, Zachary Bodish, was looking for something kitschy when he found this poster advertising an exhibit of Pablo Picasso. He thought it was a great reproduction, so he grabbed it for $14.
After he got home, he did some research on the poster and found some red marks on the bottom of the poster. Turns out it was Picasso’s signature and this was no ordinary poster. He took it to art experts and they discovered that it was a linocut – a process where Picasso had carved a design into linoleum, which was then inked and pressed onto paper. This poster was created for the annual potter show in the city of Vallauris, France in 1958. As there were only 100 of these posters made, and this one was number 6, it made it all the more valuable. Odds are, any of the single digits were handled and reviewed personally by Picasso to ensure its quality.
Bodish sold the print for $7,000.
That Shiny Red Nose-Print
Bought for: $12.34
Sold at: n/a – appraised for $9,000
Goodwill seems to be the place to be when you’re looking for something that might be worth than you paid for it. A few years ago, Karen Mallet was taking a look through the store,w hen she found an abstract print with black and white lines, and a giant red nose. While she didn’t love the picture, she was interested in the signature in the corner – one Alexander Calder. Not sure if it was real, she bought it anyways and brought it home.
Mallet started researching the artist when she got home and found out that he had created lithographs (authorized copies) that were similar to her own print. Convinced that it, and the signature were real, she took it to be authenticated, which it was.
It turns out that her copy was the 55th out of 75 lithographs of the piece, that have been printed since 1969. A fine art company set the value of it at $9,000 and while she’s decided to keep it for now, it’s only a matter of time until the value shoots up to a point where she’ll be crazy not to sell it.
Photo of Billy the Kid
Bought for: $1
Sold at: n/a – appraised for $5 Million
Randy Guijarro is the kind of guy that will spend all day happily digging through thrift shops for treasures. Lucky for him, it's paid off. A few years ago, he was looking through some "junk" boxes, when he found three tintypes – old pictures printed on thin metal sheets. Really liking them he bought all 3 for $3.
When he got home, he was looking at one particular one with a magnifying glass and thought he recognized one of the people in the photo – famous outlaw Billy the kid. Googling for images of Billy and his gang, they found photos that matched the faces of the men in the tintype. They took their find to collectors, who were skeptical and took their time authenticating the photo. After a year, they managed to identify all 18 men in the photo – all members of Billy the Kid's gang, playing croquet.
They also found the place where the photo was taken in Chaves Country, New Mexico and even found the original building.
Thus far there's only one other photo of Billy in existence and it was sold for $2.3 Million in 2011. At the moment, Guijarro's had the photo appraised and insured for $5 Million and is just hanging on to it.
The Rarest of Rare Watches
Bought for: $5.99
Sold at: $39,000
A dude with the awesome moniker of Zach Norris (one letter off from the coolest dude of all time), went to Goodwill to find a push/pull golf cart, and just popped into the watch section first. With a passion for vintage watches, he always made this little detour to see if there was something notable to find. As he dug through a basket full of cheap watches and dead batteries, he found something quite rare.
It was a 1959 Jaeger-LeCoultre Deep Sea Alarm watch. Only 900 of these had been made and Norris had recognized it immediately. The watch was slightly worn, but still in an amazing condition, and definitely worth more than the $5.99 price tag.
He bought it, then brought it to a dealer to have it authenticated; it was legit. While he wanted to keep it, he was just about get married and the money would have been more useful, so after fielding offers from watch collectors, he accepted a bid for $35,000 plus a $4,000 Omega Speed Master watch.
Alexander Calder Necklace
Bought for: n/a
Sold at: $267,750
An unnamed Philadelphia woman was shopping in a flea market when she came across a bold piece of jewelry she couldn’t pass up. Three years later, she was at the Philadelphia Art Museum and came across an exhibit of Alexander Calder jewelry that looked very similar to her flea market purchase.
She contacted the Calder Foundation in NY and got confirmation that he piece was a real, 1940’s era silver necklace. She then put it up for auction, only to see it get close to $270K for something she got for peanuts 3 years prior.
A Jackson Pollock Painting
Bought for: $5
Sold at: Potentially $9 Million
Ok, I’m going to preface this with my own two cents. Any other artist, I can understand the mastery and sublime skill that they’ve got going on, but Pollock’s squiggles on a canvas being art? I don’t get it. But what do I know about art?
Anyways, twenty-five years ago, Teri Horton stopped in at a thrift shop to find a gift to cheer up a friend. She found a large, ugly painting and she negotiated the price down from $8 to $5. Giving it to her friend, they both had a good laugh, thought about throwing darts at it, then decided to just store it. Horton took it home with her as the canvas was too big to fit in her friends house.
Some time later, she tried to sell it at a yard sale, when an art teacher suggested that it might be one of the works of Jackson Pollock. Not knowing who he was, Horton did some research and discovered that it might be un original.
Regretfully, the art world didn’t agree with her. As they didn’t know the providence of the piece, they couldn’t certify it. Horton wasn’t deterred. She hired a forensic specialist who found a fingerprint on the back of the canvas that matched fingerprints found in Pollock’s studio. The paint on the painting, also matched paint found on the floor of his studio. Still, the art world disagreed. They did tell her that if it was real, she could get over $50 Million for it. But they wouldn’t confirm it as authentic.
Collectors, however, disagreed and offered to buy it for $9 Million. Horton, now well into her 80’s, refuses to sell until she gets her original price of $50 Million.
Can I be in her will?
A 350-Year-Old Painting
Bought for: $3
Sold at: $190,000
This story seems a little sketchy, as there’s not a lot of info about the dude who found the painting, but apparently he exists; he just loves his privacy. Only a first name is known: Leroy.
Leroy, a former antiques dealer found a framed oil painting at Goodwill. He could tell that the frame was made in the 1800’s and he assumed that the painting was from the same time period. Figuring he could flip it for a couple hundred, he grabbed the piece of art for $3.
He hung it in his house for the time being, and after a year, his daughter-in-law had a suspicion that it was worth more than Leroy thought and took it to Antiques Roadshow to learn more about it. They discovered that the painting came from a Flemish school in Amsterdam during the mid 17th century. Then 200 years later, someone reframed it. This mean that the painting was valued at somewhere between $20,000 and $30,000.
Leroy decided to sell the painting at auction and ended up getting $190,000 for it.
The Chinese Libation Cup
Bought for: $4
Sold at: $75,640
This wonderful rags to riches tale happened in Australia, where an anonymous buyer found this strange looking cup in 2013. Really digging the design, they nabbed it for $4 and then got to thinking that it might be worth more then they thought. They sent a picture to someone at Sotheby’s who suggested it might be a real 17th century Chinese “Libation Cup” carved from rhinoceros horn.
The original purchaser put it up for auction where it fetched over $75K. That’s insane.
The Original Vince Lombardi Sweater
Bought for: $0.58
Sold at: $43,020
Sean and Rikki McEvoy had a habit of heading out to vintage stores to find clothes that they can refurbish and sell online. During one of their trips, they found this interesting sweater that said “West Point” on it. As it was extremely cheap, they purchased it and took it home. The sweater was full of holes and originally Rikki was going to patch the holes and instead of selling it in that condition, she’d just give it to her husband. The sweater sat in their basement for months.
Later on, the couple was watching a documentary about legendary football coach Vince Lombardi and he was wearing the exact same “West Point” sweater. Running downstairs, she took a look and found the name Lombardi written on a cotton swatch inside the sweater. The couple took it to a uniform authentication company, and it was determined to have belonged to Lombardi.
The couple put the sweater up for auction and got $43,020 for it. Gotta keep an eye out on those old sweaters.
Q’s Favourite Watch
Bought for: $38
Sold at: $160,175
In England, one gentleman was roaming a car trunk sale, which is like a flea market, I’m assuming, and he came across a Breitling wrist watch for $38. He purchased it, and did some research at home. Turns out it was worn by Sean Connery as James Bond in the film Thunderball. Taking it to Christies Auction house, it was determined that it was an even more valuable piece at it was the first one modified by Q Branch to include a Geiger counter in it.
The watch ended up fetching over $160K from one interested buyer.