This isn’t the first time you’ll hear us say you might have a hidden moneymaker in your home.
And it won’t be the last.
Collections rise and fall like empires. What’s popular today might be the bubble that pops tomorrow…
But one person’s trash will always be another person’s treasure.
That’s why it’s important to look through forgotten drawers, overfilled closets and ignored storage rooms every once in a while… because you might just find something worth a mint.
Or maybe you’re like my father — and you like to pick through other people’s junk at flea markets and garage sales.
You can find items worth a pretty penny in those places too.
Today, I want to share a few stories about people who did just that.
These lucky folks recognized the value in these seemingly useless items — or didn’t but bought them anyway — and were able to turn a huge profit.
We Hold These Truths to Be Self-Evident
In 1989, a Philadelphia man bought a painting at a local flea market. The painting was pastoral and… uninspired, to say the least. But he liked the frame, so $4 was a good deal.
Turns out — it was an incredible deal.
As he was investigating a tear in the painting, the frame started to fall apart. So he tried to take the painting out and found an old, folded document…
It was the Declaration of Independence — one of 500 official copies from the first printing in 1776. Prior to this discovery, there were only 23 known copies still in existence.
When it was auctioned off at Sotheby’s in June 1991, it beat the $800,000–1 million pre-auction estimates, selling for a whopping $2.42 million.
That’s a 60,499,900% return.
Strangely enough, that’s not the only time someone found a copy of the Declaration of Independence for less than $5…
The year was 2006. The scene: A thrift store in Nashville, Tennessee. The twist: One of 200 “official copies” — commissioned by John Quincy Adams in 1820 — was hiding in the aisles.
Michael Sparks purchased the rolled-up, yellowed document for $2.48. He spent about a year authenticating and conserving the document before selling it at auction for $477,650.
Only a 19,259,981% return, but still — not too shabby.
That All Collectibles Are (Not) Created Equal
As astronomical as these returns are, these historical documents brought in chump change compared with some of the best flea market, garage sale and thrift store discoveries out there…
One day in the late ’90s, an Indiana man bought a few pieces of old furniture and an old panting for $30 he planned to use to cover up a hole in the wall in his home.
A few years later, while playing the game Masterpiece with some friends, he saw a famous painting that looked a whole lot like the one he had bought on the cheap.
After a bit of research, he found that the painting was similar to the work of an American still-life artist by the name of Martin Johnson Heade. After contacting a gallery to verify his artwork, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston bought the painting for $1.2 million.
In 2010, yet another lucky man found a gold mine between a painting and its frame…
For $5, Andy Fields bought five paintings at a garage sale in Las Vegas. As he was reframing one of the paintings, he noticed a sketch nestled behind it — an Andy Warhol original.
Experts say that the sketch was done by Warhol when he was only nine or 10… and that it could be worth around $2 million.
Then in 2015 there was a California man who bought a tintype photo for just $2… and it turned out to be the second known photo of Billy the Kid.
The only other known photo of Billy the Kid brought in a staggering $2.3 million in 2011… but this particular picture was valued at $5 million.
This last one is a doozy — in 2008, a collection of documents was purchased at a garage sale for about $5. One of the documents was a stock certificate for an oil company called Palmer Union Oil Co.
We touched on old bonds that may have been worth a pretty penny not too long ago… but this stock certificate was the real deal. Or so the family of now-deceased Tony Marohn believes.
Marohn claimed that the oil company’s successor is Coca-Cola and that the certificate was for 1.8 million shares of the company — that’s a $130 million stake.
After denying the claim, Coca-Cola sued Marohn. The fight is still ongoing, but the takeaway is this: A $130 million payout on a $5 investment is a mind-boggling 2,599,999,900% return.
That’s enough to set you up nicely for several lifetimes.
And all these hidden treasures were uncovered by ordinary folks — just like you or me. People with a little time to spare and oodles of curiosity to satisfy.
So the next time you pass a garage sale or flea market or thrift store, why not stop?
You just might hit the jackpot.
Lucille St. John
Managing editor, Unconventional Wealth
P.S. Have you ever found a screaming bargain somewhere unexpected? Did you then sell it on and realize massive gains? We’d love to hear about it! Send us your stories — and photos — to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lucille St. John
Lucille St. John is the managing editor of Unconventional Wealth. A gentlewoman and a scholar, Lucille never received much in the way of a financial education. But what she lacks in fiscal knowledge she makes up for in taste.
She’s going to take you with her on her unconventional wealth journey — starting from...