Most Valuable Thrift Store Finds of All Time
Scouring thrift stores for that ultimate find is a favorite pastime of many, and while we often usually find small things we love and can’t do without, it's rare to find truly valuable items. However, it does happen.
Some unsuspecting people find collectibles that change their lives forever. These are the most valuable thrift store hauls and the stories behind them.
30. A Victorian-Era Marriage Certificate
Store: Hope Chest Thrift Store
Location: Bolivia, North Carolina
What makes it so special: The couple, William Deworth and Katey Havey in Bordentown, New Jersey, were married in 1872. This unusual thrift store find was tucked behind a painting someone had donated to the thrift store.
With the help of a genealogist, the store’s proprietors were able to track down Irene Cornish, the couple’s great-granddaughter, and give her the certificate. Cornish said that her great-grandmother or grandmother must have put it behind the frame for safekeeping and forgotten about it.
"I still can’t believe it," Cornish added. "I’m going to have it for my family — I’m so overwhelmed."
29. DeForest Kelley Memorabilia
Value: Priceless (for Star Trek fans)
What makes it so special: In 2021, one Redditor posted about his unexpected thrift store haul. He had just purchased a copy of Nat King Cole’s "Wild Is Love."
When he got home and opened the record, he found signed photographs from the actor who played "Star Trek" doctor Leonard "Bones" McCoy, Deforest Kelley.
The images, signed to his cousin, feature Kelley in the early days of his acting career. Clipped newspaper articles were also included, as well as some model shots.
28. Mule Deer Fawn
Location: Heber-Overgaard, Arizona
What makes it so special: In August 2021, someone left a two-week-old fawn at a thrift store in Arizona, which another woman picked and took home. Perhaps the person who dropped it off thought something had happened to its mother.
However, according to wildlife veterinarian Dr. Ole Alcumbrac, that was not necessarily the case. "The mother is not far away. She sees and smells and can hear in the woods. She will vacate and let the deer be camouflaged. She has not abandoned the baby deer. She will leave it, but mom will come back. ...The mother is likely searching for her baby."
With no way of knowing where the fawn came from, it will live the rest of its life in captivity.
27. Salvador Dali Artwork
Store: Hotline Pink Thrift Shop
Location: Kitty Hawk, North Carolina
What makes it so special: In 2020, thrift store volunteer Wendy Hawkins came across a piece of art on the floor of the Hotline Pink Shop and knew immediately it was a special piece. She was right. It was a piece from surrealist painter Salvador Dali and part of a series of illustrations depicting "The Divine Comedy" by Dante.
Initially priced for under $50, the 1950s woodcut print known as "Purgatory Canto 32" was signed by Dali. With the help of nearby art store owners, the thrift shop repriced and sold the piece, but they may never know where it came from as donations are dropped off outside the shop at all hours.
26. NASA Space Suits
Store: Salvation Army
Value: $1,500-$5,000 each
What makes it so special: Anything having to do with the space race is highly collectible because it is next to impossible to come by.
Two Florida college students, Skyer Ashworth and Talia Rappa found not just one, but six suits, which included American flag patches and sewn-in name tags from 1980s missions.
They purchased the suits for a whopping 20 cents each and hoped to use the money they earned from their auction to pay some of their tuition.
25. Matt Groening Paintings
Location: Bremerton, Washington
Value: $2,000 each
What makes it so special: In 2015, Gwen Atwood made her usual trek to a local thrift store where she found paintings by "Simpsons" creator Matt Groening in an old book. She paid a quarter each for them and took them to nearby Evergreen College, Groening’s alma mater.
Evergreen confirmed they were probably old storyboards of Groening’s and asked her to donate them to the school. She said, "I kind of ... told them, 'Eat my shorts.'"
24. Gerritjen Wijmer Painting
Store: Value Village
Location: Courtenay, British Columbia
What makes it so special: Dermatologist Stephen Burgess was first attracted to the ornate gold frame that the painting was in, so much so that he paid $130 for it. However, he also recognized it could be something special and is certain that it’s a Wijmer.
"I’m still in the process of trying to get the thing authenticated, but from my preliminary research and everything, I can see it’s almost certainly an original. Just with respect to the markings on the back of the canvas, you can see the oil brush strokes wrapping around the painting onto the sides of the canvas."
23. Alexander Pope Jr. Lithograph
Location: Summerfield, Florida
What makes it so special: In 2015, dog lover Maureen Flaherty spotted a lithograph of a dog and bought it for a little under $44. A man suggested it may be more valuable than she thought as she left the store.
She did a little digging and found the litho was indeed valuable. Artist Alexander Pope Jr. painted "The Brook Hill Dog" in 1911. Pope was a noted woodcarver. Some of his wildlife carvings and other works are in the National Museum of Wildlife Art.
After auctioning the piece off, she put the money toward a good cause. "I foster dogs so [I thought] let’s auction it off so half the funds will go to a dog fund." The second half went toward a book she wrote about fostering.
22. Ben Nicholson Artwork
Location: Swindon, Wiltshire, South West England
What makes it so special: Bargain Hunter Jo Heaven bought the picture, entitled "George and Rufus," simply because she thought it was "quirky." It wasn’t until she got home that she realized it had a provenance when she turned it over.
Nicholson created the fabric screen print in 1938. It is one of four made. Another one of the four is in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
21. Picasso Artwork
Store: Volunteers of America
Location: Columbus, Ohio
What makes it so special: In 2012, Columbus resident Zach Bodish saw what he thought was a Picasso reproduction poster with a crudely drawn face and text advertising the exhibition of the artist’s work to pay $14 for it before leaving the store.
With help from Ohio State University and an auction gallery, he found that the art was a linocut and artist’s proof. It was, in fact, the real deal. "[I made] a pretty darn good return," he said. "Can't get that at the bank."
20. Alexander Calder Print
Location: Milwaukee, Wisconsin
What makes it so special: Karen Mallet was initially hesitant to buy the Alexander Calder print she spotted at her local Goodwill. The piece, entitled "Red Nose," didn’t strike her fancy, but when she saw Calder's signature, she decided to make the $12 purchase.
Calder created the piece in 1969, although he was mostly known for his mobiles and sculptures. "Red Nose" never went to auction. According to Mallet, she’s grown to love the piece and plans on keeping it.
19. Beatles Demo Single
Store: British Heart Foundation Store
Location: Midhurst, West Sussex, England
What makes it so special: In 2019, this "holy grail" single of "Love Me Do" was given to the charity shop with about 25 other records. Employees noted its rarity right away, but were unable to find the donor, so they sold it on the store's eBay page.
This rare promo single is labeled "Not For Sale," and Paul McCartney’s name is spelled as "McArtney." In 2011, a copy of the single in its original paper sleeve sold for $17,350.
18. 'All Quiet on the Western Front' Movie Poster
Location: Summerville, South Carolina
What makes it so special: In 2009, antique dealer Laura Stouffer spotted a framed print of "Shepherd’s Call," which depicts a border collie finding a lost lamb in the snow.
While the lithograph, which dated back to the 1800s, was more valuable than what she paid for it, it was what was behind it that proved to be more exciting.
Backing the print was a rare window card from the World War I film classic "All Quiet on the Western Front," which was released in 1930.
17. Four Pounds of Weed
Location: Monroe, Washington
What makes it so special: In 2017, someone donated an old cooler to Goodwill. Its story would have soon been forgotten if the employees had not discovered four pounds of marijuana stashed inside.
While weed is legal in Washington, it is against the law to have more than one ounce for personal use. Anything more than that is a felony, punishable by five years in jail and a $10,000 fine.
16. Andy Warhol Print
Location: Summerlin, Nevada
What makes it so special: This brightly colored portrait caught the eye of Craig Smith who learned he had found a Warhol portrait of Queen Ntombi Twala of Swaziland.
It was part of the artist’s Reigning Queens Series and was unusual in that it was highlighted with diamond dust.
15. Abstract Art by Ilya Bolotowsky
Location: Oak Ridge, North Carolina
What makes it so special: Concord, North Carolina, resident Beth Feeback bought the piece in 2012 for just under $10. Also an artist, she was looking for canvases to paint over. While at an outdoor art show, someone pointed out Bolotowsky’s name and a label stating that the painting originated from the Weatherspoon Art Museum and The University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
She soon found that Bolotowsky was one the most highly regarded abstract artists of the 20th century, and the painting, "Vertical Diamond," was originally owned by Burlington Industries, Inc. and had been loaned to the Weatherspoon in 1979.
After the auction, Beth said, "I’ve been basking in relief that it did so well, and we have the opportunity to catch up (on finances). I’m just really happy and excited and relieved that it’s over."
14. 1959 Jaeger-LeCoultre Diving Watch
Location: Phoenix, Arizona
What makes it so special: In 2015, Zach Norris went to Goodwill in search of golf accessories, but saw the watch and knew it was something special. He purchased it for just $5.99. While it was well worn, it was one of only about a thousand made.
Norris couldn’t believe his luck. "I’ve found some stuff in the past that I have been really excited about and stoked, but this is one of those things you’re like, 'One day, one day it will happen,' and it happened for me," he said.
13. Impressionist Painting by Edouard-Leon Cortes
Location: Baltimore, Maryland
What makes it so special: In 2008, someone dropped a painting of a Parisian street scene in a pile with other mostly worthless donations outside a Baltimore Goodwill. A store employee spotted the painting, entitled "Marche aux fleurs" right away and knew it was something special.
Store manager Terri Tonelli said employees alerted her to the painting, and when she did research, she found Cortes’s works had previously sold at auction for up to $60,000.
12. Stadium Events Video Game
Location: Mecklenburg County, North Carolina
What makes it so special: Bargain shopper Jennifer Thompson found the 1987 Nintendo Entertainment System video game in 2013. She recognized immediately what it was and paid the $7.99 price, hoping no one would notice. As the employee cashed her out, he realized the store’s folly and offered her all the money in the register for the still-sealed copy, which she turned down.
It’s title is what makes "Stadium Events" so sought after. Only 2,000 copies of the game were made, with only a handful making it to U.S. shores. Less than 20 have been found since. In 1988, its name was changed to "World Class Track Meet."
This makes the North American version with the original title rare. Only about 10 copies of the original have been seen since.
11. Vince Lombardi’s Sweater
Location: Asheville, North Carolina
What makes it so special: Sean and Rikki McEvoy sell vintage clothes and picked up the sweater in a bulk purchase for only 58 cents. They thought it was a vintage baseball warm-up jumper until they noticed "Lombardi" written on a tag inside.
Their suspicions turned out to be correct. It belonged to legendary football coach Vince Lombardi, who was the offensive coordinator for the New York Giants before becoming head coach of the Green Bay Packers. Under his guidance, the teams won a total of three NFL championships and two Super Bowls.
Before he became a legend in the NFL, Lombardi was an assistant coach at West Point for Army, coaching offensive linemen and honing his future coaching style under another legendary head coach, Earl "Colonel Red" Blaik.
10. Maud Lewis Painting
Store: Mennonite Central Committee Thrift Store
Location: New Hamburg, Ontario, Canada
What makes it so special: A simple painting of a shoreline by a Nova Scotia folk artist named Maud Lewis turned up in a thrift store in 2017. The painting, "Portrait of Eddie Barnes and Ed Murphy, Lobster Fisherman, Bay View, Nova Scotia," was spotted by a volunteer in the donation bin and was quickly authenticated by art experts.
Maud Lewis lived in poverty and sold her paintings for about $3 during her lifetime. After she died in 1970, her work became popular and now fetches five figures at auction.
9. Topaz Brooch
Location: London, England
Value: £32,000 ($45,001)
What makes it so special: Daily Mail contributor Thea Jourdan found the brooch in a London junk shop in 2011 and paid just £20 pounds ($27.69 today) for it before discovering it was from the 19th century and made with topaz and diamonds.
Her toddler daughter, Imogen, fell in love with the piece, played with it and wore it when playing dress-up. Before it went up for auction, Thea said, "I didn’t have the faintest idea that my daughter’s trinket had such an illustrious pedigree — and such a stupendous price tag. I’m a little sad that Imogen is going to lose it, but we’ll put the money it raises into a trust fund for her education and buy her a few pearls of wisdom."
8. Painting by David Bowie
Location: South River, Ontario, Canada
What makes it so special: An unidentified person found the painting, a 9.75-inch by 8-inch portrait, outside of a thrift store near a South River landfill and was shocked to find David Bowie’s signature on the back.
The painting, known as "D Head XLVI," is one in a series of portraits Bowie painted between 1994 and 1997.
7. Master’s Jacket
Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canda
What makes it so special: The green Master’s jacket of the Augusta National Golf Club is iconic. While all members of the club get a jacket, only Masters winners can wear it offsite. In 1994, a man found one such jacket in a Toronto thrift store, which was with several other blazers.
He purchased it for $5 and in 2017, finally decided to let it go to auction. The jacket dates back to the 1950s, and while a Master’s winner was likely its original owner (unless someone else smuggled one out), it no longer had the name tag attached.
Its origins, therefore, remain a mystery.
6. An Oil Painting from the 1650s
Location: Anderson, South Carolina
What makes it so special: In 2012, a former antique dealer found an unusual oil painting that he thought might be worth something. After paying only $3 for it, his daughter-in-law took it to "Antiques Roadshow" where she was told it was from a Flemish art school and dated back to the 17th century.
The buyer, who went by the name "Leroy," said of the purchase: "It's the biggest find I've ever had. It's that one thing you're always looking for. I'd like to get the big one. Well, that was the big one. I can only thank Goodwill for that."
5. Princess Diana’s Dress
Store: Chameleon Thrift Store
Location: Hereford, England
What makes it so special: In 1996, a ball gown worn by Princess Diana was donated with other royal outfits. An employee bought the dress for about $250 and intended to wear it to a local ball. She never did, and instead stored it where it remained untouched for 22 years.
It wasn’t until she saw a documentary featuring Diana wearing the dress that she realized just how valuable it was. It was eventually won by a museum at auction.
4. The Declaration of Independence
Store: Music City Thrift Shop
Location: Nashville, Tennessee
What makes it so special: In 2007, music equipment technician Michael Sparks purchased a 184-year-old copy of the Declaration of Independence for just $2.48.
He was surprised when he discovered it was an "official copy” commissioned by John Quincy Adams and was dated to 1823.
3. Philip Treacy Handbag
Location: Kingston, England
What makes it so special: John Richard bought the thrift store bag for about $30 because he liked the unusual print of Elvis Presley it was made from.
Little did Richard know that the print was designed by none other than Andy Warhol.
The buyer soon discovered that it was one of only 10 ever made.
2. Andy Warhol Painting
Store: Angel View Thrift Store
Location: Yucca Valley, California
Value: $500,000-$2.5 million
What makes it so special: Joshua Tree art collector and enthusiast Michael P. Wilson was attracted to the painting, but did not know it was a Warhol because it looks nothing like the pop art style he’s known for.
Wilson purchased it for around $40 and held onto it for years. It was only when he recognized the signature that he knew he had a Warhol.
1. Jackson Pollock Painting
Location: Southern California
What makes it so special: A retired truck driver named Teri Horton bought the Pollock for $5 dollars and was the subject of a 2006 documentary, "Who the $&% Is Jackson Pollock?" which is exactly what she said to an art teacher who spotted it at a yard sale she hosted in 1992.
A forensic art expert later discovered one of Pollock's fingerprints on the painting and concluded it was an original. However, the International Foundation for Art Research wasn’t convinced as there was no provenance.
Despite receiving up to $9 million in offers, Horton, who felt the painting was worth $50 million, died without selling it. Her son, Bill Page, possesses the painting to this day. It may very well be one of the most expensive things found at a thrift store if he decides to sell.