Thrift stores are full of unwanted goods that others might want. Most items found there are used versions of merchandise you can see in stores, some are imported goods, and some are worth much more than the price they are being sold. It’s rare to find valuable treasures in thrift stores, but these shoppers were lucky to find a great catch:
1. 1959 Jaeger-Lecoultre watch
Zach Norris went to a Goodwill store in Phoenix, Arizona, to find a golf cart. But on his way, he decided to check the watch section first. Norris loved vintage watches, and as he was digging through a basket filled with watches with dead batteries, he found something that caught his attention. When he saw the slightly worn, 1959 Jaeger-LeCoultre Deep Sea Alarm watch, he eagerly bought it because he knew it was worth more than the $5.99 price tag.
While he wanted to keep the antique watch, he needed the money more. He put the watch for sale on a watch collector’s website. The watch was a rare find – only 900 of those has been made. Many people became interested in the watch and Norris received a lot of offers. He eventually sold it to a collector from San Francisco who bought it for $35,000, plus a $4,000 Mega Speed Master watch.
2. Declaration of Independence
Michael Sparks was a frequent visitor to the Music City Thrift store in Nashville, Tennessee. In 2006, he came across a yellowed, rolled-up document that had no price tag on it. When he unfurled it, he discovered it was a copy of the Declaration of Independence that he thought was an engraving. The clerk estimated the price to be $2.48 plus tax.
After buying it, he started researching the document and found out that it was an official copy of the Declaration of Independence, one of the 200 which President John Quincy Adams had commissioned in 1820. At that time, only 35 copies were known to still exist, and Sparks had found the 36th. He put it into an auction in Raynors’ Historical Collectible Auctions in Burlington, North Carolina in 2007 and it earned him $477,650.
3. Chinese libation cup
An anonymous man was shopping at a local thrift store in Sydney, Australia in 2013 when he came across a strange-looking carved cup. Since it was only four Australian dollars, he bought it. When he returned home, he took a photo of it and sent to a specialist at Sotheby’s. The expert said it was a real 17th-century Chinese libation cup that was carved from a rhinoceros horn. The man put it in an auction and sold it for 75,640 Australian dollars.
4. Vertical Diamond painting by Ilya Bolotowsky
Beth Feeback was an artist from North Carolina looking for inexpensive canvases on which she could paint cat images. One day in 2012, she stopped by a local Goodwill and saw a large, framed square painting that had just been donated by a church group. She bought it, along with another large painting on a canvass for only $9.99 each.
She went to an art show and showed her purchases to a friend who noticed a “Weatherspoon Art Gallery” label on the back of the canvasses. Her friend told her to research the name of the artists who painted them.
Months after, when Feeback was about to use the canvasses to paint her own art, she remembered her friend’s advice. She researched the paintings and the results shocked her. She found out that one of them was “Vertical Diamond” by Ilya Bolotowsky, which was worth an estimated price of $15,000 to $20,000, according to Sotheby’s. The fine art broker agreed to auction it for her and the painting was sold for $34,375. Fortunately, she hadn’t painted a cat on it yet when she knew how much it was worth.
5. Vince Lombardi’s sweater
A married couple, Sean and Rikki McEvoy, bought an old sweater from a Goodwill store in Knoxville, Tennessee back in 2014. It had “West Point” on the front and it only cost $.58. Rikki saw that it had moth holes in it so she put the sweater in the basement and forgot about it.
Months later, Sean watched a documentary about the legendary NFL coach Vince Lombardi. He pointed out to his wife that the sweater Lombardi was wearing was the same as the sweater they had bought from Goodwill. Rikki took the sweater downstairs and found the word “Lombardi” written in black ink on a cotton swatch inside the sweater.
The couple decided to check if the sweater really belonged to Lombardi. A uniform authentication company in Dallas confirmed that it was his and estimated the sweater to be worth $20,000. They sold it at an auction for a staggering $43,020, with a portion of the sale donated to Goodwill.
6. Alexander Calder necklace
Norma Ifill, a woman from Philadelphia, was shopping at the flea market when she saw a bold piece of jewelry, a necklace, that really caught her attention. She bought it and she loved it so much that she often wore it for special occasions. People would compliment her for that jewelry.
After three years, Ifill visited the Philadelphia Art Museum and came across an original Alexander Calder jewelry that looked just like the one she purchased from the flea market. She contacted the Calder Foundation in New York and confirmed that her piece was authentic.
In 2013, she put it up for auction at Christie’s, First Open Sale of Post-War and Contemporary Art. It was recorded that the necklace was sold for $267,750.
7. Bond’s watch
James Bond’s Geiger counter wrist watch from the 1965 thriller Thunderball went missing after the movie. The watch was used as an important prop that as it helped the secret agent locate stolen atomic weapons in underwater scenes. In 2013, it popped up in a Christie’s auction, after years of mystery as to its whereabouts. It turns out an Englishman bought it from a car boot sale, the British equivalent of a flea market, for just a mere $38 in US currency.
The watch was sold at a staggering $160,175. One probable reason for its high price is that the accessory was the first one modified by the Q Branch to include a Geiger counter, which helped Bond detect nuclear radiation.
8. 1650 Flemish painting
In a Goodwill store in Anderson County, South Carolina in 2006, a man named Leroy purchased a framed oil painting for only $3. He hung the artwork in his house where it remained for a year.
His daughter-in-law thought that the painting had more value than that, so she took it to an Antiques Roadshow to learn about its history. They learned that the painting had been finished in a Flemish school in Amsterdam at around 1650s. She received an appraisal of between $20,000 to $30,000.
In 2012, the painting was sold at an auction in Massachusetts for $190,000, nearly six times more expensive than the appraisal price.
9. Faberge egg
A scrap metal dealer bought the Faberge egg at a flea market for $14,000. He wasn’t aware of the history behind it – he was just interested with the gold and he was going to melt it down for scrap.
But before doing so, he discovered that it is a $30 million Faberge egg after reading an article online. What he did was he contacted the jeweler expert named in the article and flew to London to see her. It turns out, the egg was made in the late 19th century as an Easter gift by a Russian royalty Czar Alexander III to his wife, Maria Feodorovna, in 1887. It was eventually sold for $33 million.
10. Photo of Billy the Kid
Randy Guijarro loved to wander into thrift shops to look for some hidden treasures. He went to a thrift shop in Fresno, California and found three old pictures printed on thin metal sheets. He paid $3 for the pictures.
When he got home, he examined one of the photos using a magnifying glass. He was astounded when he recognized the famous outlaw, Billy the Kid. His wife looked it up online and found pictures of two other people in the photo, who were part of Billy’s gang. They wanted to authenticate the photograph, but it took more than a year for the researchers to confirm that it was real. The photo was appraised and insured for $5 million.