If you are planning to help clean out your parent’s or grandparent’s basements, attics, and garages, don’t give away all of their stuff before reading this article. You never know if your objects are worth hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
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 realize it.
From the farmer using a $100,000 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.
#1 Hand-Me-Down Navajo Blanket—worth $1.5M
verseinspire2 – Back in 2007, one Californian man was barely getting by on disability checks after losing his leg in a car accident. “I had kids to take care of, no money. Nothing saved up or nothing like that,” Loren Krytzer looked back on that time. Around the same time, he inherited an old blanket after his grandmother died, which nobody in his family wanted. “I don’t want that, that dirty old thing,” he recalled his sister saying. One night, in 2011, Loren was watching an episode of Antiques Roadshow in which one man was shocked to find out that his First Phase Navajo blanket was actually worth around half a million dollars. The appraiser then explained that such textiles were super expensive even in their own era. “I paused it and I went and got the blanket and I’m sitting there holding it. … I’m lining up the lines on the TV with the blanket, seeing if they match,” Loren recalls. And he realized that they were nearly identical. Soon enough, Loren Krytzer walked into the California auction room unemployed, broke, and depressed, to walk out a millionaire—the old Navajo blanket from the 1800s that nobody in his family wanted turned out to be worth $1.5 million.
#2 A diamond ring—worth $607K
#3 Declaration Of Independence—worth $2.42m
Brooks Kraft LLC/Corbis via Getty Images – In 1776, 500 copies of the Declaration of Independence were printed and only 23 copies were known to still exist before 1989. That same year, one man in Philadelphia bought an old painting at a flea market for $4 because he liked its frame. After it broke, the man discovered a document that appeared to be a copy of the Declaration of Independence tucked away between the canvas and its backing. Later on, the document was sold for $2.42 million at an auction
#4 Faberge Egg—worth $20M
#5 A giant pearl—worth $100M
Aileen Cynthia Maggay-Amurao – When one fisherman’s anchor got stuck on what he thought was a rock during a storm, he took it with him as a good luck charm. The man found it back in 2006 in Palawan Island, Philippines and kept the 2-foot-long rock for 10 years at his house before it caught on fire and had to be cleared out. In 2016, he took the rock to a local tourism office in Puerto Princesca, where it was verified that the rock was actually a giant clam. Measuring at 1 foot wide and 2.2 feet long, the 34 kg giant pearl was said to be worth $100 million.
#6 Edmore meteorite—worth $100K
#7 “Christ Mocked”— worth up to $6.6M
unknown – One elderly woman in Compiègne, France was about to sell her house, so she invited an auctioneer to assess the value of her belongings. The expert Philomène Wolf had a week to determine whether anything was worth saving before going into the dumpster. The auctioneer quickly noticed a small painting hanging above the hot plate in the kitchen. As it later turned out, the painting dates back to the 13th century and is a work of an Italian artist, Cimabue. Known as “Christ Mocked,” the masterpiece comes from a series of only 11 paintings depicting Jesus’ crucifixion. The house owner said that she’d had it so long she could not remember when or where she got the painting. “Christ Mocked,” which the French woman believed to be just an “old religious icon from Russia,” turned out to be worth somewhere from $4 million to $6.6 million.
#8 John Constable painting—worth $400K
#9 Picasso plate—worth up to $15K
Antiques Roadshow PBS – In the 1970s, a woman who was a keen plate collector bought a plate in Rhode Island for under $100. The plate looked pretty, so she hung it on the wall of her kitchen. For years, it has been sitting above the stove, as “all of [the] kids loved the smiley face.” Around 2010, the woman went into a gallery and saw a plate that looked similar to the one above her stove. She told someone in the gallery that she had something nearly identical in her kitchen. The woman recalled on a TV show: “The guy sort of gasped and said, ‘Over your stove?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I have a plate collection.’ He said, ‘Do you know what you have?'” Apparently, she did not. What she did have was, in fact, a genuine work of Picasso from 1955. When she went to Antiques Roadshow, she learned that the plate could be worth somewhere from $10,000 to $15,000. “That’s fabulous,” the woman then said. See, it does pay off to collect things!
#10 Apple I Computer—worth $200K
ArnoldReinhold – Back in 2015, a woman dropped off an old Apple computer at a recycling center in Silicon Valley. She found it inside boxes of electronics that she had cleaned out of her garage after her husband passed away. Victor Gichun, the vice president of the Clean Bay Area, said that the mystery woman didn’t want a tax receipt and didn’t leave any contact information. It wasn’t until a few weeks later that the workers of the recycling center opened the boxes only to discover an Apple I computer inside. As the media then reported, it was one of only about 200 first-generation desktop computers assembled by Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Ron Wayne in 1976. The recycling firm sold the computer for $200,000 to a private collector. The company gives 50 percent of items sold back to the original owner and wanted to do the same this time, but the woman who dropped off the valuable item was impossible to trace.
#11 Diamond and ruby ring—worth $400K
Antiques Roadshow PBS – One woman inherited jewels from her great aunt, who was a wife of a congressman back in the 1920s. As they were examined on the TV show Antiques Roadshow back in 1998, the experts realized that she had a dual-diamond pendant that was worth $12,000, and a diamond and ruby ring worth $80,000. Moreover, a diamond bracelet with rubies was worth a whopping $165,000. In 2013, experts from the show told the media that the value of the items has increased since the first time the episode aired in 1998. By today’s values, the pieces are worth somewhere around $400,000.
#12 A possible photo of Billy the Kid—worth $5M
Unknown – Back in 2015, an unsuspecting man bought a photo in an antique shop in Freemont, CA for $2. As it later turned out, the picture featured the notorious Billy the Kid and members of the Lincoln County gang playing croquet together. Being only the second confirmed photo of the infamous thief of the 19th century, the 1878 photo was valued upwards of $5 million. “Billy the Kid is incredibly famous,” David McCarthy, a senior numismatist at Kagin’s (a company that specializes in Western Americana and rare coins) told ABC News. “[But] he wasn’t shooting people all the time. He had friends he cared about. He had women he chased. It (the photograph) opens up the idea about the humanity of a character like Billy the Kid.”
#13 Cherokee Satchel from 1800s—worth $145K
Antiques Roadshow PBS – In 2010, a woman from San Diego went to Antiques Roadshow. She brought in a satchel her great-grandfather, who was a lieutenant in the Army, had received from the Cherokee in 1846. The bag was a thank-you gift from a Cherokee warrior, who wanted to thank the said great-grandfather for being kind to his people. The woman had a letter from her great-grandfather to prove it, while the satchel itself was authenticated by an expert in tribal arts. “The bag itself probably dates to the 1820s. I think this bag, in its present condition, if it did not have this very important document that tracks its history across the country, would be about $25,000,” then said the appraiser Ted Trotta. With the document and restauration (that would cost up to $8000), the piece would be worth somewhere closer to $100,000. However, in 2013, the restored value of the bag went up to $145,000!
#14 Hand-me-down baseball cards—worth $1M
Antiques Roadshow PBS – Five years ago, a woman brought in a set of old baseball memorabilia she had found in a desk drawer to Antiques Roadshow. The woman said she had inherited the collection from her great-great-grandmother who owned a boarding house in Boston in the mid-19th century. The collection comprised cards for Boston Red Stockings players and a letter signed and addressed to the said great-great-grandmother. “To see them all in one group like that,” the executive producer of the show then said. “None of the experts associated with Roadshow have ever seen them all in one place that way.” When the big moment of the show came when the appraisers announced the worth of the collection, the woman was overwhelmed with emotion. $1 million! That’s how much the baseball memorabilia was actually worth. The woman was understandably ecstatic, as she had assumed it would be worth no more than $5-10 thousand.
#15 Topaz ring with diamonds—worth £4K
Thea Jourdan – Back in 2011, Thea Jourdan went to a secondhand shop and bought herself a brooch. “I had bought it from a junk shop for £20, so I knew it was just flashy old tat,” she told the Daily Mail. Oh, how wrong she was. As it later turned out, the stone on the brooch was a topaz weighing 20 carats. And it was surrounded by 27 diamonds. Its color—a rare fiery pink known as Imperial—was once exclusively reserved for Russian royalty. The appraiser informed Thea that the actual worth of the brooch was close to £4,000. “As my discovery proves, you never know when you might stumble across a valuable gem,” Thea then told the media. Who are we to disagree?
#16 Jaeger-LeCoultre watch—worth $35K
Zach Norris – One Arizona resident was visiting a Phoenix Goodwill back in 2015 in search of a used push golf cart. There, he came across a variety of old watches. One of them attracted his attention—he noticed a $5.99 watch with a dial that read “LeCoultre Deep Sea Alarm.” Coincidentally, the man was a watch collector who had a particular interest in vintage watches. He realized that the watch might be worth way more than $5.99, but wasn’t sure about its exact value. Therefore, he decided to take it to an authorized retailer in Scottsdale, Arizona. It was there that the man discovered that the timepiece was a rare 1959 LeCoultre Deep Sea Alarm, one of the first watches ever to feature an alarm used by divers. Quickly enough, after sharing his find on a “Vintage Watches” Facebook page, the man was overwhelmed by emails from collectors from all around the world, eager to buy the LeCoultre Deep Sea Alarm. Eventually, he sold it for $35,000. Not a bad profit from something that you got for merely $5.99, right?
#17 Pierre-Auguste Renoir painting—worth £50K
galleryIntell – A woman bought a small painting in a flea market in West Virginia back in late 2009 because she liked its frame. Along with a box of trinkets, she paid $7 for it. Marcia Fuqua, the buyer, was unaware that the oil painting was valuable and stored it in a garbage bag for two and a half years. It was only when her mother, who’s an art teacher and painter, urged her in 2012 to get the painting appraised. Marcia took the painting to an auction house, where it was verified that it was an authentic Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Painted in 1879 in the impressionist style and named “Paysage Bords de Seine” (“Landscape on the Banks of the Seine”), the painting turned out to be worth somewhere between $75,000 to $100,000. However, after media reported the story, Baltimore Museum of Art came forward saying that the painting was stolen from them. The Federal Bureau of Investigation then took custody of it. As it later turned out, it was stolen from the museum in November 1951, and no one is sure how it got to West Virginia. The court ruled that Marcia Fuqua had no ownership rights of the painting, given that a property title cannot be transferred if it resulted from a theft.
#18 Giuseppe Pedrazzini violin—worth $50K
Antiques Roadshow PBS – “Holy smokes, that was a pretty good day!” We’d surely say the same if we discovered a violin among some trash by the side of the road in San Antonio, Texas, which would later turn out to be a 1922 Giuseppe Pedrazzini violin. This was precisely what happened to one Texan. He first took the instrument to a dealer in San Antonio to authenticate it and assess its value. “My wife has a violin that belonged to her grandfather and we thought that we could use it for parts to repair it,” the finder explained. Initially, he was offered $1000 for the violin. But when Peter Shaw of Houston dealers Amati Violin Shop appraised the violin for an episode of the PBS show Antiques Roadshow, the numbers were a tad different. As he explained, once cleaned and restored, the instrument could be worth as much as $50,000.
#19 Andy Warhol sketch—worth $2M
Andy Fields – One businessman from England was rummaging through a garage sale in Las Vegas when he came across some $5 sketches. One of them was a depiction of the singer Rudy Vallee, who was famous back in the 1930s. Andy Fields, the businessman, purchased the sketches from a man who claimed they were his aunt’s, who used to watch over Andy Warhol as a child. Carrying on with his business, the man didn’t think much about it until he reframed the picture. On the back of it, he found a signature—as you guessed it, it was none other than that of the famous Andy Warhol. The sketch shows pre-Pop Art Warhol’s style, and could possibly have been made when the artist was merely 10-11 years old. A valuer told Andy Fields the sketch could be worth somewhere around $2 million, but the businessman didn’t want to sell it just yet.
#20 Load of brass—worth £2M
Tim Samoff – The unknowingly valuable hoard of brass doorknobs and other goods had been stored in a basement for 40 years before one English carpenter went to buy them. Brian Cairns thought the ornate items would be worth £60,000 in scrap. When, upon closer inspection, Brian realized that the brass goods might be vintage, he sent them for experts to evaluate. The haul that included thousands of brass doorknobs and knockers, handles, light switches, ornate wall brackets, chandeliers and bowler hat stands, have been identified as an Italian vintage made by Valli and Columbo. All dating back at least 65 years, they have been valued at a whopping £2M. “These are items that you would never have thought you would have the chance to buy. I think I was just lucky,” Brian told the media back in 2015.
#21 A bottle of cognac sitting in a cellar turned out to be one of the oldest bottles of the drink and worth nearly $150,000.
GEORGES GOBET / Getty – 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 $144,525. 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.
#22 A man found an old Nintendo video game in the attic of his childhood home, and it sold for $9,000.
Michel Nglien/ Getty – 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 $38.45 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 $9,000. 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.
#23 A British family learned that a chess piece that sat in their home for years was actually worth $1.2 million.
Tristan Fewings/ Getty – In 1831, a medieval chessboard with chess pieces made of walrus ivory was found on the Isle of Lewis. However, there were five pieces missing from the game. 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 $6, and passed it down to his family. Said family brought it to Sotheby’s, where the staff instantly recognized 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 $1.2 million, according to the BBC.
#25 A man found items that once belonged to former Prime Minister Winston Churchill in a garbage dump. They turned out to be worth over $13,000.
Youtube/ BBC – 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 $13,000. Rose described the pricing as “crazy,” and refuses to name the exact location at which he found the memorabilia.
#26 A long-lost painting found tucked away in a French attic has an estimated value of up to $171 million.
“Judith Beheading Holofernes” by Caravaggio. Giuseppe Cacae/ Getty – 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 $114 million and $171 million.
#27 A pair of sneakers found in an abandoned mall turned out to be Michael Jordan’s old shoes and are said to be worth $20,000.
Chance Yeh/ Getty – 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 recognized 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 $20,000.
#28 A duo found a treasure trove of classic cars in a 100-year-old barn.
The cars had been tucked away for at least 50 years. Artcuria – 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 $18 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.
#29 NASA accidentally auctioned off a priceless Apollo 11 artifact to a woman named Nancy from Chicago — and they only got $995.
The moon landing. NASA/ AP – 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 $995 in 2016. Despite NASA’s attempts to reclaim the priceless artifact from the Apollo 11 mission, Carlson successfully sold the bag of moon dust for $1.8 million at a Sotheby’s auction in New York City in 2017.
#30 A girl mistakenly thought her $7 frame was more valuable than the Renoir painting inside of it.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Hulton Archive/Getty Images – When a Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, resident (who goes by “Renoir Girl“) found an old painting in a $6.90 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 $75,000 and $100,000.
#31 A bargain hunter thought the genuine Picasso painting he found was just a really good replica.
Pablo Picasso. George Stroud/Getty Images – 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 $14.14. The piece was never officially appraised, but Bodish was nevertheless able to sell it to a private buyer for $7,000.
#32 A man used an incredibly valuable painting to cover up a hole in his wall without even realizing what he had in his possession.
“Magnolias on Gold Velvet Cloth.” Heritage Images / Getty – 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 $1.25 million for it.
#33 This man bought a 19th-century photograph on eBay for just $13 without realizing that it was actually an extremely rare portrait of infamous outlaw Jesse James.
A photo of Jesse James. Kean Collection / Getty – 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 $10 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 $2 million.
#34 A woman gifted her daughter a brooch that turned out to be a bona fide royal gem.
Purino/Shutterstock – Thea Jourdan bought a brooch at a local junk shop for $27.56 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 realize that the brooch was actually a piece of early-19th-century jewelry, 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 $5,513.
#35 Fast-food lovers who held on to their old packets of the discontinued McDonald’s Szechuan sauce experienced a windfall in 2017.
This jug of discontinued McDonald’s Szechuan sauce sold for $15,350. dark_falcon/eBay – Back in 1998, McDonald’s offered patrons a limited-time Szechuan sauce as part of a promotional push for Disney’s new animated feature “Mulan.” 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 recognized 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 $15,350 on eBay.