Thanks to shows like “American Pickers” and “Storage Wars” there has been renewed interest in the lost art of “picking.” While millions of Americans are now paying more attention to the items they find at thrift stores and garage sales, some people have just been incredibly lucky. We compiled a list of the most outrageous thrift store and garage sale finds of all times. By spending just a few dollars, many of the people on our list became incredibly wealthy. From $200 million photographers to unearthed copies of the Declaration of Independence, you won’t believe what they thrifty shoppers bought without knowing what they were getting. You’ll learn which things you should never get rid of!
A Signed Picasso Poster: $7,000
Zachary Bodish was sifting through various items at a local thrift store in search of some kitschy art to resell. He eventually stumbled upon a poster advertising an exhibit of Pablo Picasso. He loved the art and purchased it for $14.14. While he was investigating the piece, he noticed red marks on the bottom of the poster. He believed the marks could be Pablo Picasso’s signature. Bodish showed the poster to art experts and discovered it was a linocut. Picasso had carved a design into linoleum, which was then inked and pressed onto paper. Only 100 of the posters were ever created and Bodish had accidentally purchased print number 6. Bodish sold the print for $7,000.
Vince Lombardi Sweater: $43,020
An old ripped sweater at a Goodwill store? Most people would just walk away but Sean and Rikki McEvoy thought they were getting a great deal when they picked up this sweater in Asheville, N.C back in 2014. It wasn’t until the couple was watching a Vince Lombardi television special that they realized it was the famed coach’s personal property. After the origin of the sweater was authenticated it was taken to auction where it fetched $43,020. That’s a nice sale price for an item the couple paid just $0.58 to acquire.
One woman found the original movie poster for All Quiet On The Western Front! Read on to see how much it’s now worth!
Chinese Libation Cup: $75,640
In 2013, an anonymous Australian walked into a thrift shop in Sydney and discovered a rather strange looking cup. He decided the item was worth the $4 purchase price and he took it home. After conducting some research it was determined that the libation cup was from 17th century China and carved from rhinoceros horn. The cup was taken to auction and sold for a life-changing $75,640 Australian dollars. If the true owner of this cup ever found out what they gave away they probably felt sick to their stomach.
Bond Watch: $160,175
An Englishman roaming a flea market picked up this watch for $38. The watch was later determined to be worn by James Bond in the iconic film “Thunderball.” The item was eventually taken to a Christie’s auction where it sold in 2013 for $160,175. Typically, movie memorabilia doesn’t sell for this type of price, however, the watch was the first ever modified by the “Q Branch” to include a Geiger counter to help James Bond detect nuclear radiation. This James Bond watch proves that when the circumstances are right, bidders will overpay.
All Quiet On The Western Front: $18,000
Laura Stouffer was browsing through a thrift shop when she came upon a small print of “Shepherd’s Call.” The painting that was completed sometime between the early 1850 and late 1870s. She purchased the item because she genuinely liked what she was buying. After taking the item home and evaluating it further, she realized there was a lithograph of an original movie poster for the film All Quiet On The Western Front. She quickly had the lithograph appraised and was excited to learn she had bought a thrift shop item work a whopping $18,000.
1650 Flemish Painting: $190,000
In 2006, a man named Leroy purchased a painting for $3 at a local Goodwill store. His daughter thought the painting was unique and took it to an Antiques Roadshow event. The appraiser was immediately interested in the painting and placed a value on it of $20,000 to $30,000. The family decided to sell the painting in 2012 and were shocked when it fetched a price of $190,000. The painting ended up being a Flemish work of art that dated to around 1650. It’s not the most exciting painting to look at but it sure was worth a ton of money.
Alexander Calder Necklace: $267,750
A Philadelphia woman shopping at a flea market found a piece of bold jewelry she thought would be a nice addition to her collection. Three years after she purchased the necklace she noticed similar jewelry in a display at the Philadelphia Art Museum. The jewelry was the work of Alexander Calder. The woman quickly called the Calder Foundation in New York and received confirmation that her piece was real. She decided to sell her discovery at Christie’s, First Open Sale of Post-War & Contemporary Art. The necklace was listed as ‘silver wire and cord, executed circa 1940.’ Her cheap find turned into a $267,750 payday.
Declaration of Independence: $2.4 million
The Declaration of Independence has been a hot seller in the 21st century. In 1991, an unidentified man paid $4 for an old picture with a wooden frame during a trip to a flea market in Adamstown, PA. As he took a closer look at the picture, he noticed there appeared to be something behind the frame. He was shocked to open the frame and find a hidden document. The original copy of the Declaration of Independence would go on to sell for $2.4 million. Since that time, we’re pretty sure thrift stores throughout the world now check for hidden paintings behind old worthless photos.
Faberge Egg: $30 million
A scrap metal dealer paid $14,000 for a Faberge Egg at a flea market. The man weighed the gold item and believed he could earn his money back by melting it down. It’s a good thing he didn’t melt the item down for scrap metal. The egg was soon discovered to be one of only 50 Fabergé Imperial Eggs known to exist. The estimated value of the egg was over $30 million. The item was eventually sold but the full price paid by a private collector was never made publicly available. Only 43 of 50 Faberge eggs have been discovered at this moment in time.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s “Paysage Bords de Seine”: $100,000
A painting by renowned French Impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir was given away at a flea market for $50. The painting was purchased at the Shenandoah Valley flea market and an anonymous owner delivered it to a Virginia auction house where experts verified that it is Renoir’s Paysage Bords de Seine from 1879. The scene was originally purchased from a Paris gallery in 1926 by international lawyer Herbert L. May. It’s a rather small painting at just 5.5-by-9-inches. It’s a beautiful work of art but you’ll have to get up close and personal with the painting to really enjoy it.
Philip Treacy Handbag: $317,000
John Richard was always on the lookout for valuable treasures and he struck it rich while visiting Oxfam, a British thrift store. Hidden inside an old dusty box was a high-quality purse that Richard just had to have. The purse was priced at £20 ($32) and he tried to haggle over the cost. When the cashier refused to change the price, he accepted the cost and moved on. He brought the bag to a Philip Treacy store and the origin of the bag was confirmed. It was, in fact, the work of world-renowned milliner, Philip Treacy. The hand-stitched bag was created by Andy Warhol and only 10 of these bags were produced. Richard soon revealed that two different offers of £200,000 ($317,000) had been made for the handbag.
Red Nose Print: $9,000
Karen Mallet was visiting a Goodwill when a single picture caught her eye. It was a large abstract print featuring black and white lines with a large red nose-like triangle. She soon noticed the signature in the corner of the painting — Alexander Calder. She couldn’t verify the famous artists’ signature on the spot so she gambled a measly $12.34. Mallet started researching Calder when she got home and found out that he had created lithographs—authorized copies—that were similar to her own print. After she had the signature validated she discovered her piece was a lithograph of Calder’s Red Nose. A fine art company set the print’s value at $9,000.
Photo Of Billy The Kid: $5 Million
Randy Guijarro was walking through a thrift shop when he discovered a few “junk” boxes. He found three tintypes inside one of the boxes. A tintype is an old picture printed on thin metal sheets. He paid a whopping three dollars for all three photos and headed home. Upon a closer examination of the work, he was shocked when he recognized the famous outlaw, Billy the Kid. At first, collectors were very skeptical when Guijarro told them of his find. The artwork was examined for a full-year by a team of professionals. They ended up identifying all 18 people in the photo, including Billy, his gang, and their friends and family. The photo was later discovered to have been taken in Chaves Country, New Mexico. They even found the remains of the building in the photo. Guijarro’s photo was appraised and quickly insured for $5 million.
Preparation To Escape To Egypt: $27,630
This painting was found inside a house. A student in Germany purchased the pullout for $215 when visiting a Berlin thrift store. He thought it was a strange find and his research paid off. It turns out the tiny oil painting was the work of a famous artist. Titled Preparation to Escape to Egypt the painting was created somewhere between 1605 and 1620. The excited student was soon the proud owner of $27,630 which he earned with a quick sale of the artwork. This is why you should never donate anything until you make sure you’re not giving away a small fortune.
Martin Johnson Heade Painting: $1.2 Million
A man in Indiana wanted to find a painting to cover a hole in his wall at home. He happened upon a still photo that he was willing to pay $30 to take home. Later, he was playing a card game that happened to feature famous works of art. The man was shocked to realize the $30 painting he picked up at a thrift store was actually the work of Martin Johnson Heade, an American still-life painter. The painting was sold for $1.2 million. Sometimes you have to be lucky twice, once in the purchase of your hidden treasure, and once when the true value of the item is accidentally revealed.
An Andy Warhol Original: $2 Million
Art collector Andy Fields was searching all over Las Vegas for potentially valuable items when he walked up to a garage sale and purchased five paintings for $5. He decided to examine the paintings more closely and soon found that behind one of the works of art was a sketch of 1930s singer Rudy Valle. The artist behind the work? Andy Warhol. It’s one of the painter’s more famous works and has a value just north of $2 million. It’s just another reminder that before you sell any junky looking works of art — check behind the frame for other more valuable finds!
Ceramic Bowl: $2.2 Million
A New York family purchased this simple white bowl for $3 while attending a garage sale 2007. After owning the bowl for six years, the family had the item appraised. It turns out the family had purchased a significant piece of history. The bowl was created for China’s Northern Song Dynasty, and was worth $200,000 to $300,000. In March of 2013, the family put the bowl up for auction at Sotheby’s and it sold for an unexpected $2.2 million. Not everyone has an eye for this type of antique but the people who do can make a fortune from a very small investment.
Tudor Bed Frame: £20 Million
This Tudor Bed was being thrown away in the hotel parking lot of the former Redland House Hotel in Hough Green, Chester, England. Ian Coulson fell in love with the unique piece and offered to purchase the bed for £2,200. In 2010. Coulson, a four-post bed specialist, saw the item listed on the internet. He purchased the bed and approached TV historian, Jonathan Foyle for a second opinion. DNA testing of the bed’s wood revealed that it belonged to King Henry VII, back in 1486. The bed was estimated to be worth over £20 Million and is the last remaining true Tudor Bed in the world.
Jackson Pollock: $50 Million
A lucky retired truck driver had one of the best days of her life. Teri Horton wasn’t the type of gal who would go out of his way to prove a point about how authentic a piece of art was but she did it with the right painting. She found this painting at a California thrift shop and only paid five dollars for it.
Her intentions were to throw darts at it before it came to her attention that it may have been a real Jackson Pollock. She said,”who the [expletive] is Jackson Pollock?” Her story became a documentary, and the painting has been valued at $50 million.
Ansel Adam Prints: $200 Million
In 2000, painter Rick Norsigian purchased a set of glass plates that had been printed with images of Yosemite National Park. Norsigian loved the composition of the photos and was willing to fork over $45 to take home the works of art. He soon discovered that the glass plates were the work of famed photographer, Ansel Adams. Norsigian started by selling prints from the work for $7,500 until he found out that his discovery was worth a mind-boggling $200 million. The family of Ansel Adams denied the authenticity of the work but various experts were able to verify the artists’ hand-writing and dated the photos to the early 1940’s based on cloud formation captured in one of the photos.
Egyptian Cat Bust: $80,000
This ancient feline was almost thrown away at a yard sale in Cornwall, southern England. It’s 2,500 years old and originated in Egypt (why would you want to throw this gem away?). Once the yard sale ended it was left over but the owners did end up throwing it away.
Fortunately, someone got ahold of the artifact dating back to at least 500 B.C. and it was authenticated by an Egyptian expert at The British Museum. It was auctioned in London back in 2015 and sold for $20,000. A London dealer would later buy it for $80,000.
Tiffany Mirror: $25,000
An unknown customer bought this 1905 Tifanny Mirror Peacock Mirror in Hurley, Arizona. If you took a guess at how much it was bought for, you might pull out some hair. It went for only two dollars! It was then brought on to the Antiques Roadshow to be appraised in 2010.
It comes equipped with leaded and reflective glass and the iconic “Tiffany Studios New York” logo. The Antiques Roadshow appraiser, Arlie Sulka appraised the antique at $25,000, which is leaps and bounds over what it was originally bought for. Steal of the century?
Velvet Underground Record: $25,000
A lucky gentleman by the name of Warren Hill, from Montreal, was able to get ahold of this classic vinyl album for a measly 75 cents when he happened to spot it on a sidewalk sale in New York back in 2002. His excitement was flowing simply because he wanted to enjoy the music, not because he got it for dirt cheap.
Once he learned that it was a rare EP demo that the group did for Colombia Records in 1966, he nearly lost his mind! It also happened to be the only known copy of that session. He posted it on eBay and the final bid came out to $25,000!
Stadium Events Video Game: $25,000
Jennifer Thompson was shopping in the dollar DVD section on a spring day back in 2013 at a Goodwill store in North Carolina when she spotted a video game behind the glass counter. It was only going for $7.99 and it was an NES cartridge for “Stadium Events”. It reminded her of an article she read about the rarest games.
She found it was worth thousands of dollars and she prayed the cashier wouldn’t notice he was letting go of a mini-fortune. She drove it to a video game store and showed it to owner Wilder Hamm. “Oh my God!” Hamm yelled. Thompson auctioned the game to an orthodontist for $25,000.
Ben Nicholson Screen Print: $55,000
Jo Heaven was in her local charity shop (which is the British term for a thrift store) in Swindon, England, when a landscape image with livestock came to her attention. She thought it was “quirky” so she got it for only one dollar in American currency. When she got in the car she noticed something…
A note on the back naming the artist Ben Nicholson who was an influential British modernist. “My mum was an art teacher, so I’d vaguely heard of Ben Nicholson,” Heaven told BBC. After having it authenticated, she auctioned it off for about $55,000.
Mary Moser Painting: $1,300
Liz Lockyer visited the Royal National Lifeboat Institution charity in 2013 that was in her hometown of Teignmouth. A special painting of flowers in a gold frame immediately caught her eye. Being an artist herself, she thought it would be ideal for her own work.
She spent $6.50 for it and when she got home she found out it was special. It was a Mary Moser, one of the two female founders of the Royal Academy of Arts. “There was a definite risk I was going to rip out the painting and keep the frame,” Lockyer said.
Chinese Pot: $470,000
This pot was cracked everywhere and the base had been reattached with some type of glue. Some of it had lost its color and it was donated in a measly grocery bag with multiple other things. Still, a St. Peter’s Hospice charity shop employee in England was able to identify it.
It was really a bamboo pot used for calligraphy brushes. It was carved between 1662 and 1722 by Chinese artist Gu Jue. Experts say it describes the poem “The Agreeable Life in a Land of Transcendents”. A buyer in Hong Kong eventually bought the pot for $470,000.
Augusta National Green Jacket: $139,349
Who better than a sports journalist to notice a green blazer among a heap of used suit jackets in a Toronto thrift store? Once he pulled the jacket from the pile, he instantly noticed the Augusta National Golf Club logo patch on the pocket. The only person who can wear these jackets today are the current Master’s champions.
Eventually, a British golf journalist by the name of Dominic Pedler convinced the other journalist to sell him the jacket with “an offer he couldn’t refuse.” In April 2017, the jacket went up for auction and the final bid was $139,349.
Giovanni Battista Torriglia: $11,205
A Goodwill employee, Maria Rivera, found a small painting the store’s donation bin over in Manassas, Virginia. It was an oil painting and was bordered in an ornate gold frame. Rivera said it reminded her of something she had seen in the museum, which is why she pulled it from the pile.
“I didn’t know at the time, but I said, ‘we have some money here’,” she told NBC News. It ended up being worth a lot of money. Once authenticated, it turns out it was the work of Italian artist Giovanni Battista Torriglia.
18th-Century Chinese Censer
A fortunate woman in Surrey, England found a gold-rimmed bowl while thrifting a charity store in Somerset. Well, as it would turn out, the bowl happened to be a 18th-century Chinese censer (incense bowl) which was made during the Qianlong Emperor. It was made through an ancient technique called cloisonne.
“Appraisers at the John Nicholson’s auction house estimated the censer’s value at £5000 to £8000 (about $6500 to $10,000)—quite an upgrade from the £2 charged by the charity shop,” reported Mental Floss. “But the sharp-eyed thrifter who scored the item earned an even greater payday when John Nicholson’s included the bowl in their “Oriental Auction” in March 2017. Only 4.4-inches wide, the censer sold for £21,000 (about $27,000).
Dog Lithogram: $5150
Maureen Flaherty from Florida went to a grand opening of a local Goodwill store in 2015. She saw a huge lithograph print of a canine on the wall. She ended up paying $44 dollars for it. As she was walking out the store, a local antique dealer told her, “you just walked out with the most valuable thing in there,” and they tried to buy it from her but she said no because she loved it.
She got home and did research to find out it was a painting called “The Brook Hill Dog by Alexander Pope. She ended up auctioning it off on eBay for $5,150
Edouard Leon Cortes Painting: $40,600
This discovery was more of a group effort by Goodwill employees in Easton, Maryland when they were filing through donations in 2008. They uncovered a painting of a street scene done in an Impressionist style and it looked like an original oil painting, not print. So when the manager Terri Tonelli came back from vacation, the employees told her they might have found something of value.
“It could have very easily ended up put in a pile, marked for $20,” Goodwill’s regional marketing director said to the Associated Press. Well, it ended up going for $40,600.
Polaroid Camera: Priceless
We know what you’re thinking, it’s just a camera, however, you don’t know the story quite yet. A teenage boy bought this camera for a dollar at a yard sale and once he removed the cartridge he found a photo that was priceless.
It was an image of his Uncle Scott that passed away over a decade ago! “The photo showed Scott sitting on a sofa with a high school girlfriend, Susan,” The Witchita Eagle wrote. “Lois guessed it was taken in 1978 or 1979, about 10 years before his death. She didn’t remember the photo, but thought it must be one of her old ones.”
Denim Jacket With Earrings Inside: $18,000
A denim jacket was purchased in California at a yard sale for twenty dollars. Unfortunately, the woman who sold it had forgotten she left valuable jewels in the pocket of the jacket! They were worth $18,000 dollars and she hoped that they would be returned.
“Not only are the earrings accompanied by a steep price tag, they also hold sentimental value,” reported Laist. “One of the diamonds was a gift from her father to her mother, who later gave the diamond to Rhoades.” Would you return these precious earrings or go off and sell them?
Original Frankenstein Movie Poster: $358,500
This original Frankenstein poster from 1931 was in the back of everyone’s minds up until it was found in 1970 in the projection booth of a newly remodeled theater. Anything Frankenstein can be highly popular with collectors and in the case of this poster, the price of it shot up quickly.
“It was estimated that this original poster would sell for $100,000-$200,000,” Gemr reported. “But the Heritage Auction House in Dallas, TX sold the poster for $358,500. The online auction, held in March of 2015, had 12 active bidders and over 8,900 page views.”
Stock Certificate: $130 Million
If this isn’t the luckiest story you’ve heard then we would like to hear yours. A man from California bought a stock certificate for a company called Palmer Oil Co. for only five dollars. It turns out, they were a predecessor company to Coca-Cola.
“In 2008, the now-deceased Tony Marohn bought a number of documents at a garage sale for around $5, one of which was a stock certificate for an oil company called Palmer Union Oil Co., The Daily Mail reports. “Marohn then discovered the company’s successor is Coca-Cola and claimed that the certificate represented 1.8 million shares of the company or a $130 million stake.”
Frank Weston Benson Painting: $165,002
A donor dropped off a watercolor at a Goodwill store in 2006 over in Portland Oregon. But of course, it wasn’t a regular watercolor and employees senses that too because it was so eye-catching. Goodwill put it up for auction for a mere ten dollars but the offers started to shoot up when it was determined that it was the work of Frank Weston Benson.
“Frank Benson is a top-tier impressionist,” Mattew W. Gerber a local gallery owner said to The Oregonian. “When they put this up, they didn’t have a clue what it was.”
1959 Jaeger-Lecoultre Watch: $35,000
Zach Norris was walking through a Goodwill in Phoenix, Arizona when he spotted a timepiece he thought looked worth the $5.99 price tag it had attached to it. He picked up the watch, not realizing that it was a 1959 Jaeger-Lecoultre. He showed off his find on a watch collector’s website and it sold for $35,000. His story doesn’t end there, along with receiving a very handsome payday for his $5.99 purchase, he was also gifted a $4,000 watch as a thank you for the sale. We bet you won’t look at watches in thrift stores the same way ever again.
Vertical Diamond by Ilya Bolotowsky: $34,375
In 2012, artist Beth Feedback was bored and decided to wander through her local Goodwill. She found a few oil canvases and bought them for a combined $9.99. When her friend saw the paintings she suggested that Feedback conduct some research on the artist, Ilya Bolotowsky. She soon discovered that the paintings were created by a famous artist. Sotheby’s put the value of each painting at $15,000 to $20,000 range. The pair sold for a very impressive $34,375. Beth, an artist by trade, didn’t realize what she had, which explains why so many people give away their valuables without realizing what they’re worth.
Declaration of Independence (Sparks): $477,650
An original copy of the U.S. Declaration of Independence was discovered by a man named Michael Sparks in 2006. Sparks was browsing a Nashville, TN thrift store and came across a rolled up document with no price tag. The clerk told him he could take the document off her hands for $2.48, plus tax. Sparks purchased the item, did some research, and soon discovered that it was a 1823 copy of the Declaration of Independence. In 2007, the document was sold to an anonymous buyer for $477,650. The document was sold at Raynors’ Historical Collectible Auctions in Burlington, North Carolina.