The Most Amazing Finds From Second-Hand Markets
Finding a valuable work of art or a rare vintage item at a thrift store, flea market or garage sale is something many people dream about. These days, you can even join in someone else’s joy, watching along with YouTubers as they prowl shops looking for unusual finds.
Occasionally, people stumble across real treasures: antique Chinese porcelain, famous historical documents, photos, clothes or watches that turn out to be valuable memorabilia.
Here are 23 real treasures people found have found while hunting in second-hand stores or markets. All amounts are in U.S. currency.
Bought for: $3
Sold for: $2.2 million
A family bought a shallow cream-colored Chinese bowl at a garage sale in New York for $3. An appraisal found that the bowl dated to the Northern Song Dynasty in the 10th or 11th century, and was quite valuable.
A London art dealer purchased the "Ding" bowl, as its now called, for $2.2 million.
James Bond’s Watch
Bought for: $38
Sold for: $160,000
In 2011, a man bought a Breitling watch for $38 at a flea market in England. The timepiece was unusual in that it had been modified to hold a Geiger counter. The watch turned out to be the same one worn by Sean Connery in the James Bond film “Thunderball.”
The owner later sold it at a Christie’s movie memorabilia auction in 2013 for $160,000.
The Third Imperial Egg
Bought for: $14,000
Sold for: An estimated $33 million
The House of Faberge was a jewelry firm that made unique jeweled eggs with precious stones for the Russian royal family in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Only 43 of the 50 eggs made are known to exist and are either in museums or private collections.
A Midwestern scrap metal dealer, however, bought a gold egg at a flea market presumably somewhere in the midwest – the man remains anonymous in press reports, and he didn’t reveal the location of the sale – for $14,000. He thought he’d melt it down for the gold.
He soon discovered that what he had purchased was the missing Third Imperial Egg made by Faberge in 1887 for Czar Alexander III, which is worth more than $30 million.
In 2014, the man sold the egg to a private collector for an undisclosed amount. Trade publication JCK wrote that the sale was rumored to by $33 million.
Vince Lombardi’s Sweater
Bought for: $.60
Sold for: $43,000
Sean and Rikki McEvoy were shopping in a Goodwill store in North Carolina when they found an old West Point sweater. The sweater had the nametag “Lombardi” sewn inside. The McEvoys bought the sweater for $.60.
Much later, the couple was watching a special on Vince Lombardi, best known for coaching the Green Bay Packers NFL football team, and realized that they might just have one of his old sweaters. After having the item authenticated, the sweater sold at auction for $43,000.
“Magistrate of Brussels” by Van Dyck
Bought for: $500
Estimated value: $650,000
A priest in England bought an oil painting in an antiques shop for about $500. The painting subsequently appeared on an episode of “Antiques Roadshow.”
The hosts advised the priest to have the painting restored, believing it may have been painted by the famous 17th century Dutch painter Van Dyck. After restoration, experts confirmed that the rare Dutch master painting “Magistrate of Brussels” was indeed by Van Dyck, and it is now valued at $650,000.
Chinese Offering Cup
Bought for: $4
Sold for: $54,000
A man shopping in a thrift store in Sydney, Australia found a carved cup, with a price tag of $4. After buying the cup, and taking it to be evaluated, the man discovered that what he had was an antique offering cup from 17th century China, carved from rhinoceros horn. The cup sold at auction for $54,000.
A Flemish Painting From the 1600s
Bought for: $3
Sold for: $190,000
A man who only identified himself by his middle name of Leroy purchased a painting for $3 at a Goodwill store in South Carolina. His daughter-in-law took the painting to an “Antique Roadshow” event, where it was appraised at $20,000-30,000.
The painting was by a lesser-known Flemish painter, dating to about 1650. In 2012, the family sold the painting for $190,000.
A Martin Johnson Heade Painting
Bought for: $30
Sold for: $1.25 million
A man in Indiana went to a local Goodwill thrift store looking for a painting to cover a hole in his wall. He bought a still-life painting of magnolia flowers for $30 and hung it over the hole.
Some time later, the man was playing the board game Masterpiece with friends. He was struck by the similarity between a painting in the game, by 19th century American painter Martin Johnson Heade, and his own.
He had the painting authenticated by a gallery in New York that handles Heade’s work and sold the still life to the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston for $1.25 million.
Copies of the Declaration of Independence
Bought for: $2.50/$4
Sold for: $477,000/$2.4 million
When Michael Sparks saw what he thought was a reprint of the Declaration of Independence in a thrift store in North Carolina, he bought it for $2.50. The document turned out to be one of 200 copies authorized by John Quincy Adams in 1820. Sparks’ “reprint” went on to sell at auction for $477,000.
In a separate incident, a man bought an old picture at a flea market in Adamstown, Pennsylvania. On closer inspection, he found a document hidden between the frame and the picture. The hidden document turned out to be an original copy of the Declaration of Independence and later sold for $2.4 million.
Velvet Underground Demo
Bought for: $1
Sold for: $25,200
In 2004, record collector Warren Hill paid a dollar at a sidewalk sale for a record in a plain sleeve. The words “Velvet Underground” were handwritten on the outside. The disc turned out to be a demo the band made for Columbia Records, making it not only the only one of its kind, but also the first ever Velvet Underground record.
Hill sold the disc on eBay, the online auction site, for $25,200, according to Rolling Stone.
A Picasso Linocut
Bought for: $38
Sold for: $160,000
Zachary Bodish was shopping in a thrift store in Ohio and found what he thought was an old poster for an exhibit of works by Pablo Picasso, the 20th century painter and sculptor.
After buying the piece for $14, he took it home and had a closer look. Bodish found red marks on the poster that he thought might be Picasso’s original signature. He had the poster evaluated and discovered it was actually a linocut and one of a series of one hundred. A linocut is a print made from a design cut into a linoleum surface.
Bodish sold the piece for $7,000.
An Alexander Calder Necklace
Bought for: $15
Sold for: $267,750
A woman shopping at a Philadelphia flea market found an unusual necklace made with silver wire, which she bought for $15. She later saw similar jewelry in the Philadelphia Art Museum, made by the sculptor Alexander Calder.
She contacted the Calder Foundation in New York, which confirmed that she had indeed purchased a genuine Calder necklace. The necklace was later auctioned at Christie’s for $267,750.
A Philip Treacy Bag With an Andy Warhol Print
Bought for: $25
Estimated value: $445,000
John Richards found an unusual looking purse in a dusty box inside an Oxfam charity shop in England. He recognized the brand – Philip Treacy, a famous maker of bags and hats. After haggling over the price with a store employee, he bought the purse for $25.
Richards then took his find to a Philip Treacy store where he was told that the bag was a piece of art created by the artist Andy Warhol, and one of only ten ever made. Richards has received offers of up to $445,000 from Chinese collectors for the piece.
Renoir’s Stolen Painting "On the Shore of the Seine"
Bought for: $50
Estimated value: $75,000-$100,000
A woman in Virginia bought a box of assorted items at a flea market for $50. Among the items was a small 5.5-by-9 inch painting of a river scene. The woman took the small painting to an auction house, where a fine arts expert told her the painting was "On the Shore of the Seine" by French impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir.
The auction house valued the painting at between $75,000-$100,000.
However, things took a twist when the painting turned out to be the same one that was stolen from the Baltimore Museum of Art in 1951 and never recovered. In 2014, a court ordered that the painting be returned to the museum.
A Lost Painting by Saraceni
Bought for: $215
Sold for: More than $27,000
A student in Berlin bought a second-hand folding couch at a flea market for $215. When she got home and opened the sofa-bed, she found a small, 17th century oil painting of the Biblical story of Mary and Joseph’s flight to Egypt hidden inside.
When she took the painting to an auction house to be appraised, she was told it dated to the early 1600s and may have been painted by a well-known Venetian artist, Carlo Saraceni. The painting sold at auction for more than $27,000.
Antique Card Table
Bought for: $25
Sold for: $541,500
In 1998, a retired schoolteacher in New Jersey bought an old card table at a yard sale for $25. She used it in her house for the next 30 years. Thinking it might be an antique the woman had the table appraised on “Antiques Roadshow.”
The table dated from the 18th century and was made by the well-known Boston furniture maker, John Seymour & Son. The show’s appraiser valued the table between $200,000-300,000. The table later sold at auction for $541,500.
A Giltwood Cabinet
Bought for: Found in a pizzeria
Sold for: $1.4 million, with companion piece.
An ornate painted and giltwood cabinet, dating from the 17th century, was found in Ask Pizzeria in Yorkshire, England. The cabinet had been separated from its carved wooden base and was believed to be lost. The Head of Furniture at Sotheby’s auction house, Mario Tavella, had been searching for the cabinet for more than 20 years.
Once the two pieces were reunited, Sotheby’s sold the cabinet and base for $1.4 million at auction to a private European collector.
Old Duck Decoy
Bought for: $20
Sold for: $11,750
A man bought an old duck decoy – used for luring ducks for hunting – for $20 in a thrift store. The decoy turned out to be handmade by Ira Hudson – the man who invented duck decoys, and was known as his Standing Black Drake model.
The decoy was not in good shape, but still sold on eBay for $11,750. Had the man restored the decoy, experts estimate he could have sold it for up to six figures.
A First Edition “Crime and Punishment”
Bought for: $17
Sold for: $17,000
A woman in Lancashire, England bought a box of miscellaneous books at auction as a single lot for $17. Later, when she went through the books, she found a rare copy of the first English edition of “Crime and Punishment” by Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky, published in 1886.
The woman contacted a local auction house, which told her that less than ten copies of the book still survived. The book later sold for $17,000.
Stadium Events Video Game
Bought for: $7.99
Sold for: $25,000
In 2013, Jennifer Thompson was shopping at a Goodwill store in Charlotte, North Carolina, when she spotted a vintage video game behind the counter. What she saw was an old cartridge for a game called Stadium Events, with a price tag of $7.99.
Remembering an article she had read about rare, vintage video games, Thompson quickly checked the Internet to confirm her suspicion that she had found a valuable game. After buying the cartridge, Thompson drove straight to a local game store. The owner confirmed Thompson’s find and told her that Stadium Events was worth a lot of money. She later sold the game on GameGavel.com – an auction site for gamers – for $25,000.
Vintage Fine Art Photos
Bought for: $1 each
Estimated value: Five images appraised for $24,000-$36,000 total
In 2016, Kent Shrewsbury was shopping with his son Ken in a thrift store in Anaheim, California. While Ken was looking through old vinyl records for sale, he spotted a collection of 23 photographs, slotted in between two of the records. He took them over to Kent, who recognized Marilyn Monroe and her third husband, playwright Arthur Miller, in one of the prints. The pair bought the photos for $1 each.
Later, Shrewsbury took five of the photos to an episode of “Antiques Roadshow” to have them appraised. The show’s photography expert told Shrewsbury that the photos were gelatin silver prints, taken by a number of famous 20th-century photographers, including Eve Arnold. She valued the five photos alone at $24,000-$36,000.
And now for a couple of finds that people didn’t even have to buy.
An Ancient Egyptian Statue
Bought for: Found in the trash
Sold for: $80,000
After holding a yard sale in Cornwall, England, a family threw away a cat statue that failed to sell, thinking it was a worthless replica. Someone else found the statue in the trash – an Egyptian-style stone cat, and took it to be authenticated at the British Museum in London.
The statue turned out to be over 2,500 years old – dating from 500-700 BC – and was valued at around $20,000. The statue later sold at auction for $80,000.
A Pedrazzini Violin
Bought for: Found beside a road
Estimated value: $35,000-$50,000
In 2013, a man in San Antonio, Texas, found a violin discarded with trash by the side of a road. He took the instrument to the Amati Violin shop in Houston for appraisal. The violin dealers quickly determined that it was made in 1922 by a famous Italian violin maker named Giuseppe Pedrazzini and was worth between $35,000-$50,000.