- Some people are in possession of fortunes without even realising it.
- A man found an old Nintendo video game in the attic of his childhood home and later sold it for $US9,000.
- One person found an old pair of Air Jordan sneakers, only to learn that they were worn and signed by the NBA star himself.
- A mother gave her daughter a cheap brooch, but it turned out to be a $US5,000 royal gem.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Everyone loves a rags to riches story, but for some unsuspecting people, proverbial “rags” actually ended up being worth millions – and they almost didn’t realise it.
From the farmer using a $US100,000 meteor as a doorstop to the guy who unknowingly bought an original copy of the Declaration of Independence, these people can testify that one man’s trash is truly another’s treasure.
A bottle of cognac sitting in a cellar turned out to be one of the oldest bottles of the drink and worth nearly $US150,000.
In 1870, a man named Alphonse went to Cognac to find work on the vineyards, and he was paid in bottles of cognac. Three of the bottles were found decades later in great condition in his adopted family’s cellar.
In 2020, the largest bottle, a 1762 Gautier Cognac, went up for auction with Sotheby’s and sold for $US144,525. The vintage drink, which was said to be bottled around 1840, became “the oldest Cognac vintage ever sold at auction.”
Experts say the bottle should still be drinkable after nearly a century.
A woman learned that a painting she had hanging in her kitchen for years was worth $US26.8 million.
An unidentified woman in Compiegne, France, was getting ready to sell her house, so she brought an auctioneer to appraise her belongings. The auctioneer quickly noticed a painting hanging above the woman’s hot plate in the kitchen.
It turned out the painting was from the 13th century and the long-lost work of Florentine artist Cimabue. The masterpiece – known as “Christ Mocked” – is part of a series of paintings that depict Jesus’ crucifixion.
The painting went up for auction and sold for $US26.8 million, four times the expected price.
“If you think about it, this thing has been around for several hundred years; it’s probably been through a lot,” Xavier F. Salomon, the chief curator at the Frick Collection, told the Washington Post. “It’s been through the French Revolution. It’s been through several wars. Works of art are more resistant than people think.”
A man found an old Nintendo video game in the attic of his childhood home, and it sold for $US9,000.
When Scott Amos was cleaning out his childhood home in Reno, he found an unopened Nintendo “Kid Icarus” video game in a shopping bag. The receipt in the bag said the game was bought for $US38.45 from JCPenney.
But Valarie McLeckie, video game consignment director at Heritage Auctions, told Time it could be worth a lot more.
“To find a sealed copy ‘in the wild,’ so to speak, not to mention one in such a nice condition and one with such transparent provenance, is both an unusual and rather historic occurrence,” she said. “We feel that the provenance will add a significant premium for serious collectors.”
The game sold online for $US9,000.
While Amos said he has no recollection of ever buying the video game, he thinks it was supposed to be a Christmas present because of the December date on the receipt.
He said he planned to split the money with his older sister and take a family trip to Disney World.
A British family learned that a chess piece that sat in their home for years was actually worth $US1.2 million.
It wasn’t until 200 years later that another piece was added: a family in Edinburgh brought it into Sotheby’s in 2019.
The grandfather of the anonymous family bought the piece 55 years ago for $US6, and passed it down to his family. Said family brought it to Sotheby’s, where the staff instantly recognised it as one of the missing 12th/early 13th Century Lewis chess pieces, which are now on display at the British Museum and the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.
The piece is said to be worth $US1.2 million, according to the BBC.
A man found items that once belonged to former Prime Minister Winston Churchill in a garbage dump. They turned out to be worth over $US13,000.
David Rose worked at a garbage dump for 15 years before one day uncovering a real treasure buried in the trash.
“I’ve worked there for like 15 years and I get to pull out whatever I like, mostly antiques,” he told The Telegraph.
Out of the rubble, Rose recently pulled out a top hat, a cigar, and a collection of letters. He presented the items on BBC’s “Antiques Roadshow” in March 2019, and learned that the items used to belong to former Prime Minister Winston Churchill. A specialist valued his finds at over $US13,000.
Rose described the pricing as “crazy,” and refuses to name the exact location at which he found the memorabilia.
A long-lost painting found tucked away in a French attic has an estimated value of up to $US171 million.
An attic in Toulouse, France, was filled with toys, clocks, and clothing – all collecting dust for years. But in 2014, its owners found something amongst the junk that was worth millions: an original painting from Renaissance artist Caravaggio.
The painting depicts the biblical tale of a woman named Judith who beheads Holofernes in the Old Testament. Caravaggio allegedly painted two versions of the same image. This version had been lost for decades until it turned up in the attic.
Although some think the painting isn’t real, it’s estimated to be worth between $US114 million and $US171 million.
A woman bought a ring for $US13 in the ’80s, and 30 years later she learned that it’s actually worth over $US800,000.
A woman purchased what she thought was a fake diamond ring at the West Middlesex Hospital in London in the 1980s. She paid just $US13 for the large ring, and she wore it almost every day for 30 years. But, in 2017, the woman – who wished to remain anonymous – learned that the ring was actually a 26-carat diamond.
“It was only early on this year that she wanted to see if it had any value at all,” Sotheby’s Jessica Wyndham told BBC. “It was a total surprise to her when the jeweller said that looks like a diamond.”
The ring was originally priced at over $US400,000, but it was actually sold for $US847,667 in an auction.
A pair of sneakers found in an abandoned mall turned out to be Michael Jordan’s old shoes and are said to be worth $US20,000.
Larry Awe, a maintenance worker at Milwaukee’s Capitol Court Mall, was cleaning up the storage room before the mall was to be demolished. He eventually found a pair of sneakers buried in the trash. But, Awe instantly knew these shoes did not belong in the garbage.
Awe recognised Michael Jordan’s signature on the side of one shoe and instantly remembered that these sneakers used to be on display in the sports apparel store, Playmakers, years ago.
“I was a big basketball fan, and the biggest crowd I ever saw (in the mall) was when new shoes were displayed. ‘Look at the size of those!’ (onlookers would say),” Awe told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
The size 13 shoe reads, “My Very Best.”
Now, Awe is attempting to sell the shoes on Heritage Auction and many believe they will sell for $US20,000.
A man discovered his doorstop was actually a meteorite worth $US100,000.
A Michigan man discovered that the 22-pound rock he’d used as a doorstop for over 30 years was actually a meteorite. According to CNN, the man brought the meteorite to Central Michigan University to be examined by geology professor Mona Sirbescu.
“It’s the most valuable specimen I have ever held in my life,” Sirbescu told CNN.
The man, who has chosen to remain unnamed, said he obtained the meteorite in 1998 after purchasing a farm. The previous owner told him the rock was a meteorite from sometime in the 1930s and gave it to him along with the property.
Weighing in at 22 pounds and made of 88.5% iron and 11.5% nickel, the meteorite is estimated to be worth $US100,000.
This woman didn’t realise that the plate she had hanging over her oven was designed by Picasso.
A Rhode Island woman bought a ceramic plate in 1970, paying less than $US100 for the handsome dishware. She decided to hang it on her wall above the stove, where it collected a healthy layer of grease over the years.
Luckily, not even the slick sheen of oven grime could conceal the plate’s true origins – in 2014, the woman went to have the plate appraised on the television program “Antiques Roadshow” and discovered she was the owner of a 1955 Picasso-designed Madoura plate worth $US10,000.
One man became a millionaire after accidentally purchasing an original copy of the Declaration of Independence at a flea market.
When a financial analyst bought an old painting at a flea market for $US4 in 1989, he had no idea that an old copy of the Declaration of Independence was nestled behind a tear in the canvas: He had stumbled upon one of 500 official copies from the first printing in 1776.
Auction house Sotheby’s sold it in 1991 for $US2.42 million – an unprecedented figure.
“It was far and away the highest price for historical Americana ever,” David Redden, the auctioneer and former senior vice president at Sotheby’s in Manhattan, said at the time.
A duo found a treasure trove of classic cars in a 100-year-old barn.
Nine times out of 10, the most interesting thing you’ll find in an old barn is a pile of hay – but when these two “motorcar specialists” stumbled upon a 100-year-old barn in rural France, they became the exception to the rule.
Serendipitous doesn’t even begin to cover it: The barn was full of $US18 million worth of classic cars that a man named Roger Baillon had stored away for safekeeping – and then promptly forgot about.
“This sort of thing doesn’t happen often enough,” Matthieu Lamoure, managing director of Artcurial Motorcars, said in a press release about the event.
A superstitious fisherman discovered he was accidentally hoarding world’s largest natural pearl under his bed.
According to a report in the local Palawan News, a man in the Philippines was out fishing when his anchor caught on something.
Upon swimming down to dislodge it, he found a giant clam harbouring an enormous pearl. The man decided to keep the pearl – which measures in at 1 foot wide and 2.2 feet long and weighs an astonishing 75 pounds – as a good luck token, which he later entrusted to his aunt after a fire destroyed his home.
If authenticated, the pearl – said to be the biggest natural clam pearl in the world – could be worth $US100 million.
NASA accidentally auctioned off a priceless Apollo 11 artefact to a woman named Nancy from Chicago — and they only got $US995.
Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made history when they became the first people to step foot on the moon in 1969. During their time there they collected various samples in a bag – which NASA accidentally auctioned off to a suburban Chicago woman named Nancy Carlson for a mere $US995 in 2016.
Despite NASA’s attempts to reclaim the priceless artefact from the Apollo 11 mission, Carlson successfully sold the bag of moon dust for $US1.8 million at a Sotheby’s auction in New York City in 2017.
A girl mistakenly thought her $US7 frame was more valuable than the Renoir painting inside of it.
When a Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, resident (who goes by “Renoir Girl“) found an old painting in a $US6.90 box of trinkets at a flea market, she took it home and repurposed the ornate gold frame, storing the actual painting in her attic.
Years later, after decluttering her house, Renoir Girl’s mother persuaded her to book an evaluation appointment for the discarded painting an auction house. That was lucky, because the painting was confirmed to be a circa 1879 original by famous French impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir, valued between $US75,000 and $US100,000.
This man picked up a sketch by Andy Warhol at a garage sale.
When Andy Fields, a businessman from Tiverton, England, bought five sketches for $US5 at a garage sale in Las Vegas, he didn’t think much of them, despite the seller’s claim that the sketches belonged to his aunt who used to babysit Andy Warhol back in the day.
Shockingly, the tall tale turned out to be true – Fields discovered Warhol’s signature on the back of a sketch when he went to reframe the picture, which is valued at just over $US2 million.
A bargain hunter thought the genuine Picasso painting he found was just a really good replica.
When 46-year-old Zach Bodish found a picture in a thrift store that had the word “Picasso” on it, he initially assumed the sketch was a particularly nice reproduction and bought it for $US14.14.
The piece was never officially appraised, but Bodish was nevertheless able to sell it to a private buyer for $US7,000.
A man used an incredibly valuable painting to cover up a hole in his wall without even realising what he had in his possession.
The owner of a painting called “Magnolias on Gold Velvet Cloth” by 19th-century American painter Martin Johnson Heade originally bought it – along with some furniture – for “next to nothing” and would have remained ignorant of the painting’s value had he not played a board game about art called Masterpiece that featured a similar print.
Before his discovery, the owner had hung the still life over a hole in his wall; in 1999, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston paid him $US1.25 million for it.
A collector stumbled upon a photo of Billy the Kid playing a leisurely game of croquet — and found out it’s worth $US5 million.
A $US2, 4-by-5 inch photo Western Americana enthusiast Randy Guijarro found in a cardboard box at a junk shop in Fresno, California, in 2010 turned out to be worth $US5 million, according to a California company that confirmed it was one of only two certified images of the notorious bandit Billy the Kid.
Kagin’s, a firm specializing in Western Americana and rare coins, said the photo depicts Billy the Kid – born Henry McCarty – and various members of his Lincoln County Regulators gang “playing a leisurely game of croquet alongside friends, family, and lovers in the late summer of 1878.”
And this man bought a 19th-century photograph on eBay for just $US13 without realising that it was actually an extremely rare portrait of infamous outlaw Jesse James.
Justin Whiting was browsing eBay in July 2017 when he came across a photo that he thought looked remarkably like Jesse James, a famous American outlaw.
Whiting purchased the photo for about $US10 and brought it to 19th-century photo expert Will Dunniway, who confirmed that the photo depicts Jesse James at around age 14. The photo is estimated to be worth more than $US2 million.
A woman gifted her daughter a brooch that turned out to be a bona fide royal gem.
Thea Jourdan bought a brooch at a local junk shop for $US27.56 and gifted it to her four-year-old daughter Imogen, who loved to play dress-up. Imogen donned the brooch countless times, pretending that she was a royal princess; little did Jourdan and her daughter realise that the brooch was actually a piece of early-19th-century jewellery, likely to have been part of a Russian Czarina’s tiara or royal necklace.
The 20-carat topaz stone was estimated to be worth around $US5,513.
This man was down on his luck — until it was revealed that his old blanket was a one-of-a-kind heirloom worth $US1.5 million.
Loren Krytzer was down on his luck in 2012; not only had he just lost a leg after a near-fatal car accident in 2007, but also, he’d been relying on a monthly allowance of $US200. He then saw a blanket valued at half a million dollars on “Antiques Roadshow,” and realised he’d been holding on to a similar one in his closet for years. He brought it to a California auction room where it sold for $US1.5 million.
The blanket in question was a Navajo blanket from the 1800s and had once been used by Krytzer’s grandmother to catch newborn kittens when they were delivered.
Fast-food lovers who held on to their old packets of the discontinued McDonald’s Szechuan sauce experienced a windfall in 2017.
After the hype for the movie died down, the sauce disappeared into relative obscurity – at least, until the first episode of season three of Adult Swim’s animated sci-fi sitcom “Rick and Morty” premiered in April 2017. The show touted the sauce, and to say the public’s interest was revived is a gross understatement; fans were stampeding and rioting for a taste.
A handful of savvy McDonald’s fans recognised the phenomenon as a lucrative business opportunity, and rummaged around their homes in the hopes of finding an old Szechuan sauce packet. Many took to eBay to sell their old sauce packets: One jug of the discontinued sauce sold for a staggering $US15,350 on eBay.
- Read more:
- 20 things collecting dust in your house that could be worth a ton today
- 35 things from the ’90s that are worth a fortune today
- Here’s how much 10 of your favourite childhood toys are actually worth today
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