Ever find yourself attracted to an item at a thrift store, but you’re not sure why? Maybe you have a good eye for value and are on your way to making the next unbelievable flea market find.
Treasures worth thousands or even millions of dollars turn up at secondhand shops every so often. Who knew spending at Goodwill could be such a smart investment?
Grab a shopping basket and follow along as we count down 20 of the most valuable items — worth up to $200 million — that turned up at thrift stores and other odd places.
20. The poster that was a Picasso
When Zachary Bodish was browsing through a Columbus, Ohio, thrift store in 2012, he came across an old poster for a Pablo Picasso art exhibit. Thinking it was a cool-looking reproduction, Bodish decided to snag it for $14.
After looking closely at some red markings on the poster and doing a little research, Bodish realized that what he had on his hands was possibly a signed Picasso print.
He was able to get “a pretty darn good return” on his $14, Bodish told The Associated Press. That was after he sold the poster for $7,000.
19. The double feature in a picture frame
Art dealer and collector Laura Stouffer enjoyed nosing around in secondhand stores. On a 2007 visit to thrift shop in Summerville, South Carolina, she found a framed print of a painting from the mid-1800s.
She liked it and it didn’t cost much, so she bought it and took it home. That’s where she discovered that the print was hiding something much more valuable.
Lurking between the art and its cardboard backing was an original movie poster from the 1930 Oscar winner All Quiet on the Western Front. Estimates put the poster’s value at up to $20,000.
18. The couch with its own art collection
A German student was literally sitting on a fortune.
In 2006, she bought an old sofa bed at a flea market in Berlin for $215, and she apparently used it just as seating for a while. Once she finally pulled out the bed, she found a painting inside.
The Kunst Kettler auction house told The Associated Press the work was “Preparation to Escape to Egypt,” painted by an unknown artist in the early 1600s. It sold at auction in 2007 for $27,630, the AP reported.
17. A very valuable Diamond
It was cold weather that drew Beth Feeback into a North Carolina Goodwill store in 2012. She stopped to buy a blanket on the way to an art show where she planned to sell her own work.
At the shop, she happened to notice a few paintings selling for $10 each and purchased them, thinking she’d paint over the large canvases. But a friend recommended that she do some research first.
When Feeback finally got around to doing that months later, she was surprised to learn that one of the works was Vertical Diamond by 20th-century abstract artist Ilya Bolotowsky. The painting eventually sold for $34,375.
16. A shopper’s great timing
Unlike many people who are astonished to learn the real value of the treasures they find at second-hand stores, Zach Norris knew exactly what he had discovered at Goodwill in Phoenix.
A vintage wristwatch lover, Norris was digging through a box of old watches in 2015 when he discovered a 1959 Jaeger-LeCoultre Deep Sea Alarm watch. Knowing that only 900 had been made, he gladly paid $5.99 for the timepiece.
After having it authenticated, Norris sold the watch to a buyer who offered $35,000 cash, plus a $4,000 Mega Speed Master watch.
15. The toybox treasure
When a British woman named Thea Jourdan bought a sparkly brooch for the equivalent of around $31 in 2011, she just thought it’d be a cool addition to her 4-year-old daughter’s toy box.
The girl wore the jewelry to school and on errands, and no one thought much about it. The family assumed it was a costume jewel surrounded by fake diamonds.
But an appraiser spotted it while Jourdan was having her engagement ring valued for insurance. Turns out the jewel was a royal gem once worn by a Russian czarina. Jourdan was able to sell it for about $43,000.
14. A legendary sweater
Sean and Rikki McEvoy loved picking out cool vintage clothing to sell online. One day in 2014, they picked up an old West Point sweater at an Asheville, North Carolina, Goodwill store for just 58 cents.
After discovering it had some moth damage, Rikki McEvoy decided to keep the sweater and fix it up for her husband.
Later, the two of them happened to be watching a documentary about legendary football coach Vince Lombardi and noticed he appeared to be wearing the same sweater.
Sure enough, the McEvoys found Lombardi’s name written inside the sweater. They got it authenticated, and sold it for $43,020.
13. This buyer’s cup runneth over
An Austrailian shopper found a personal Holy Grail of sorts in 2013 upon buying a strange-looking cup for $4 at a thrift shop. Due to the uniqueness of the cup’s design, the buyer decided to look into its origins to see if might be valuable.
Upon seeing a photo of the item, Sotheby’s revealed it was a 17th-century “libation cup” from China that had been fashioned from the horn of a rhinoceros.
The lucky buyer sold it at auction for over $75,000.
12. The Flemish find
When an 81-year-old former antiques dealer known only as “Leroy” spied a painting on sale for $3 at a South Carolina Goodwill store, it was the frame that first attracted him.
He could tell it was made in the 19th century, and wondered if the painting inside could be just as old.
His daughter-in-law took the piece to “Antiques Roadshow,” where Leroy’s instincts were surpassed: It turned out the painting was a 17th-century work of Flemish art. At a 2012 auction, it fetched $190,000.
11. A rewarding thing for bling
A Philadelphia woman’s bold taste in jewelry paid off when she picked up what she thought was a cheap necklace for $15 at a flea market in 2005.
Three years later, she was sporting the piece at an Alexander Calder exhibit at the Philadelphia Art Museum when she began to notice some similarities between her necklace and others on display.
As it turned out, her necklace was an authentic 1940s work by the famed sculptor valued at around $300,000.
10. The mini masterpiece
When Robin Darvell bought a box full of old junk at an auction in England for around $46, he didn’t think much of the postcard-sized painting inside. He tucked it in a drawer for more than 10 years until passing it along to his son Rob.
Intrigued by the faint signature on the back of the landscape, the younger man decided to try to uncover its story.
His curiosity paid off in 2013 when father and son learned the painting was an original work by early 19th-century English artist John Constable worth over $390,000.
9. A real diamond in the rough
Sotheby’s in 2017 auctioned a diamond ring that the owner had bought decades earlier at a London junk sale for about $13. Due in part to the low price for the ring, the buyer had always assumed it was costume jewelry.
After wearing it out shopping and to do chores over the years, she finally had it appraised.
It was then that she discovered it was actually a 26-carat diamond cut in the 1800s — and worth around $455,000.
8. Precious parchment
When Michael Sparks was browsing at a thrift shop in Nashville, Tennessee, in 2006, he found what he assumed was a reproduction of the Declaration of Independence. The copy seemed incredibly well done, so he purchased it for $2.48.
After doing a bit of research, Sparks discovered that he had no ordinary copy of the historic document. It was, in fact, one of 200 official copies commissioned by John Quincy Adams in 1820, and only the 36th every discovered.
Sparks sold the parchment for a price that should help in his personal pursuit of happiness: $477,650.
7. The handbag’s tale
In 2012, John Richard stopped into an Oxfam charity store in the U.K. and spotted the face of Elvis Presley staring back at him from the side of a handbag. He was intrigued, and bought it for around $30.
Markings indicated the Elvis bag was produced by Irish designer Philip Treacy (pictured), so months later Richard took it to a Philip Treacy shop in London to learn more, the Daily Mail reported.
It turned out the celebrity design was by pop artist Andy Warhol. Richard was told the bag was one of only 10 ever made, and that it was worth 350,000 pounds — more than $450,000.
6. Not your ordinary teapot
A bargain hunter who picked up a $20 teapot in an online auction was shocked to find out that it was no run-of-the-mill piece of porcelain.
What the buyer had was one of the first pieces of porcelain created in America. It was the work of British potter John Bartlam, who was a highly regarded artisan nearly 250 years ago.
Very few examples of Bartlam’s work survived the American Revolution. Though broken, the teapot sold at at a 2018 auction for about $806,000.
5. Billy the Kid’s photobomb
Randy Guijarro was looking through boxes at a Fresno, California, curio shop in 2010 when he discovered old tintype photographs that he bought for $1 apiece. The more he looked at one of them, the more he recognized one of the figures.
Upon doing some research, Guijarro discovered his hunch was correct and that the figure playing croquet was indeed the famous outlaw Billy the Kid. The other men in the photo were members of Billy’s gang.
One of the only two authenticated pictures of Billy the Kid in existence, it’s been appraised for $5 million.
4. The gag gift worth serious money
Teri Horton bought what she thought was a huge, ugly painting for $5 as a gag gift to cheer up a friend in 1992. Though the friend found the thrift-shop find hilarious, she had no room for it, so Horton took it back home.
When she tried to unload it at a garage sale, an art teacher told her that she should check it out to make sure it wasn’t a Jackson Pollock.
Horton ultimately hired a forensic specialist, who found a fingerprint from the famed splatter-painter on the piece and traced the paint to his studio. Horton has been offered $9 million for the painting, but she wants $50 million.
3. The seriously golden egg
A scrap metal dealer got an amazing bargain when he paid $14,000 for an ornate golden egg at a flea market.
He planned to have it melted down, and hoped to net a small profit. But he did some Googling first, and found a 2011 article describing the hunt for a long-lost Faberge egg made for Russian royalty in the late 1800s.
The scrap dealer took his egg to a Faberge expert and antiques dealer in London, who confirmed it was the real deal. The egg was later sold, for an undisclosed amount. Estimates put its value at $33 million.
2. The greatest good luck charm ever
This one wasn’t found at a thrift store but in a guy’s bedroom in the Philippines, where it had been kept for 10 years.
Then, in 2016, the fisherman walked into a tourism office in the city of Puerto Princesa, carrying what he had always thought was just a large rock. He explained that he’d been holding it under his bed for good luck.
That was indeed his lucky day, because the man would learn that his “rock” was the largest pearl in the world: 2 feet long, weighing 75 pounds and worth $100 million.
1. Ansel Adams rarities (or not)
At a garage sale in 2000, a Fresno, California, house painter noticed images of Yosemite National Park on glass plates of old photo negatives. After some negotiation, Rick Norsigian bought the lot for $45.
He had a hunch the images were by the iconic nature photographer Ansel Adams, so Norsigian asked some experts. They told him he was right — and that his find may have been worth more than $200 million, CNN reported.
But the Ansel Adams Publishing Trust disagreed and sued Norsigian for selling prints made from what he was referring to as Adams’ “Lost Negatives.” The painter eventually had to stop using the Adams name.
What to read next
If your retirement plans have been thrown off by inflation, here’s a stress-free way to get back on track
Mitt Romney says a billionaire tax will trigger demand for these two physical assets — get in now before the super-rich swarm
This article provides information only and should not be construed as advice. It is provided without warranty of any kind.
- There’s a new thrift shop in Tacoma where you can get discounts, help folks in need
- An ‘influencer thrift store’ wants to tackle fast fashion waste
- Give Thrift Store Frames a Glow-Up Using These 3 Ideas — All for Less Than $100
- Another Baton Rouge thrift store is closing; this one helps formerly incarcerated women | Business
- What Valuables Should I Look For at Thrift Stores?