The Most Valuable Garage Sale And Thrift Store Discoveries

The popularity of shows such as Garage Sale Wars and American Pickers has led many people to believe that valuable treasure awaits around every corner at yard sales and flea markets. There are plenty of examples out there of people who stumbled upon truly valuable finds while they were sifting through piles of things at their neighborhood Goodwill or church rummage sale.

Read on for some amazing found treasures that will have you out scouring your neighborhood yard sales this weekend. You might also get an idea of what to look for when you’re shopping for yourself!

Boredom Led To A $34,375 Find

Goodwill-painting
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justinarendt/Pinterest

Talk about lucky. When many of us are bored we scroll through Instagram or flip the channels on the TV. In 2012, an artist named Beth Feeback was bored and she headed on down to Goodwill. While scouring the home goods department she found two oil canvases and bought them as a group for $9.99. She intended to paint over them.

However, Beth’s friend thought she should have them investigated. It turned out that they were done by Ilya Bolotowsky, a famous Russian artist. Sotheby’s estimated that each painting might sell for $15,000-$20,000. The one pictured here, called "Vertical Diamond," sold for $34,375 on its own.

This Photo Is Priceless

Polaroid
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shabbyshoes/Pinterest

Would you ever guess that this old Polaroid camera would end up being a priceless family treasure? A teenaged boy named Addison Logan bought the camera at a Kansas yard sale for $1. He and his mother, Lois, took out the cartridge and discovered a snapshot of his Uncle Scott, who had died twenty years earlier.

"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."

A Valuable Flea Market Find Was Stolen Years Earlier

Renoir
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AoifeJoyce/Twitter

The famed French Impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir might have never dreamed that one of his paintings might end up being sold for a mere $50 in an American flea market, but that’s exactly what happened to this one titled "Paysage Bords de Seine." Painted in 1879, the piece was initially purchased from a Parisian gallery in 1926 by an attorney named Herbert L. May.

Many years later, the painting ended up being bought at the Shenandoah Valley Flea Market for just $7. The anonymous owner had its authenticity verified by an auction house, whoich also determined that the painting had been stolen from the Baltimore Museum of Art’s library in 1951. Valued at more than $75,000, the piece was returned to the museum.

One Of James Bond’s Most Iconic Watches

This watch was integral to the plot of the 1965 James Bond film Thunderbolt. It has a Geiger counter that helped the secret agent locate atomic weapons underwater. In real life, it’s a stainless steel chronograph timepiece manufactured by the Swiss watch company Breitling, and it somehow ended up at a flea market in London.

An Englishman snapped up the timepiece for roughly $38 USD, and Christie’s sold it for $160,175 in 2013. That’s quite a smart return.

Hidden Movie Poster Fetches $18,000

Thrift shop devotee Laura Stouffer was out looking for treasure one day when she stumbled on a print of "Shepherd’s Call," a painting that dates back from the early 1850s to the late 1870s. She loved the painting at face value.

However, she discovered that there was an original lithograph movie poster for the classic film All Quiet on the Western Front. Stouffer had it appraised and learned that the hidden lithograph was worth $18,000.

This Painting’s Owner Learned Of Its Value Through A Board Game

For years, this Martin Johnson Heade painting called "Magnolias on Gold Velvet Cloth" was used to cover up a hole in an Indiana man’s house. One day he was playing a board game about art, called "Masterpiece," when he recognized a painting that looked similar to his.

The man then found Kennedy Galleries, which handles Heade’s work, and emailed a photo of his painting to find out if it was a Heade. He was shocked to discover that it was, and even more stunned when the painting sold for $1.2 million at auction.

Lucky #6 Fetched Him $7,000

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On his quest for unusual and kitschy art to resell, Zachary Bodish found this poster which was an advertisement for a Pablo Picasso exhibit. He was drawn to the piece and plunked out $14.14 for it.

Upon later investigating, he discovered some red marks at the bottom of the poster that resembled Picasso’s signature. He brought it to some art experts who informed him that this was a linocut, made by carving a design into a piece of linoleum then inking it and pressing onto paper. Picasso himself had made this one, which was print #6. The print fetched Bodish $7,000.

Guess How Much This Torn Sweater Sold For?

Sean and Rikki McEvoy had already purchased this torn sweater from their local Asheville, North Carolina Goodwill outlet when they saw a television special about the former football player and NFL executive Vince Lombardi.

They recognized the name from the label in the tattered sweater and had the item clothing authenticated. Sure enough, it was the renowned coach’s personal property. The McEvoys’ $.058 investment brought them $43,020 at auction.

From $4 To $75,640

An anonymous Australian man who frequented thrift shops in search of treasure came across this unusual looking cup one day in 2013. He paid $4 for it and decided to check with Sotheby’s Australia and it turns out that this is a libation cup carved from rhinoceros horn. The auction house sold it for $75,640.

Sotheby’s consultant Ann Roberts said the unnamed buyer "was very pleased," but added that he had lucked out by buying the cup. "They don’t look immediately attractive to the untrained eye," she explained.

Frankenstein Poster Sells For $358,500

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asiscom/Pinterest

The whereabouts of an original Frankenstein poster from 1931 were completely unknown until 1970, where it turned up in a movie theater that was undergoing renovations. Frankenstein memorabilia is very popular with collectors, and as a result, can fetch high prices.

The collectors’ website Gemr reported on the monstrously valuable find. "It was estimated that this original poster would sell for $100,000-$200,000. But the Heritage Auction House in Dallas, TX sold the poster for $358,500." The March 2015 auction had only 12 active bidders but nearly 9,000 page views.

Antiques Roadshow To The Rescue With This Valuable Painting

For just $3, a man named Leroy snagged this painting at a local Goodwill in 2006. Something about it struck his daughter, who took it to an Antiques Roadshow event.

The show’s expert was drawn to the painting right away and determined it to be Flemish, dating back to around 1650. Its estimated value was between $20,000 and $30,000. When the family finally sold it, the artwork brought in the shocking price of $190,000!

Unusual Necklace Found At Flea Market Turns Out To Be An Alexander Calder Original

In 2005, Philadelphia resident Norma Ifill was scouring her local flea market for treasure when she spotted this highly unusual necklace. Fast forward three years when she’s viewing a collection at the Philadelphia Art Museum. The jewelry in the exhibit looked just like her necklace and was the work of famed jeweler Alexander Calder.

Ifill contacted the Calder Foundation and received confirmation that her piece was genuine. Listed by Christie’s as "silver wire and cord, executed circa 1940," the necklace fetched $267,750.

A First Copy Of The Declaration Of Independence Sold For More Than $2 Million

Now, where on Earth would someone go to find a first printing of the Declaration of Independence? If you’ve been paying attention to this list so far, you know that the answer is a flea market. In this case, an unidentified man bought an old framed picture for $4 at an Adamstown, Pennsylvania, flea market.

He soon discovered that there was something hidden behind the picture and found this amazingly well-preserved document. It ended up selling for a cool $2.4 million.

One Lucky Man Named Andy Found An Andy Warhol Original

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Andy, meet Andy. An art collector named Andy Fields was always on the lookout for valuable pieces. One day he went into a garage sale and walked away with five paintings, all for the meager price of five bucks.

He examined one of them more closely and discovered a sketch of the ’30s singer Rudy Valle behind it. That sketch ended up being the handiwork of none other than the iconic Andy Warhol. It has an estimated value of more than $22 million today! Never judge a book (or a painting) by its cover.

$30 Million And This Fabergé Egg Could Have Been Yours

This is no piece of scrap metal, but it was a scrap metal dealer who found this glitzy gold Fabergé egg at a flea market. He planned to melt it down and resell the gold. Good thing he didn’t!

The egg is one of just 50 Fabergé Imperial Eggs in known existence, and the estimated value given was more than $30 million. The full selling price later paid by a private collector was never revealed, but you can guess it was very high! After all, this was a birthday gift for Tsar Alexander III from Peter Carl Fabergé himself in 1887.

A Real Eye For Valuable Handbags

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John Richard, a retired UK man, spotted this handbag in a thrift shop in 2012. He was especially drawn to the unique Elvis Presley print on the bag’s exterior and paid around $30 for it. The bag was made by designer Philip Treacy but it was hiding a secret: that Elvis print was done by Andy Warhol.

"It is definitely one of our originals," explained Philip Treacy store manager Gee Brunet to the Sun. "I was surprised he found it in a charity shop. It could [sell for] £350,000. It’s a piece of art, not a bag." At the time, Richard said he had received offers up to $545,000 for his discovery.

$9,000 Red Nose Print

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amazinggoodwill/Pinterest

And here we have yet another Goodwill treasure. This one, a large abstract art print featuring red and black lines with a red triangle, was discovered by a woman named Karen Mallet. Although she recognized the signature of Alexander Calder in the corner of the piece, she had no way to verify it so decided it was worth risking the purchase price of $12.34.

After a bit of research, Mallet realized that she had a Calder lithograph on her hands. This one was titled "Red Nose." An art house estimated the print’s value at $9,000.

Junk Boxes Hid A $5 Million Photo Of Billy The Kid

You really never know what you might discover in a thrift store, and Randy Guijarro knows that better than most people. He was "thrifting" one day when he discovered a junk box that had old tintypes – photos printed on metal sheets — inside. He bought all three tintypes for $1 each and took them home to take a closer look.

What he discovered was a photo of the legendary outlaw Billy the Kid! Although collectors were dubious at first, after a year of research it was determined that Billy the Kid was indeed the man in the tintype. All 18 people in the shot have also been identified. The tintype was appraised at $5.

Couch Find Earns One Lucky Person $27,630

An unidentified German student who purchased a pullout sofa at a Berlin flea market ended up making out like a bandit. It turns out that there was a painting worth 100 times the purchase price folded up inside the couch. The artwork, a small 10-by-15 inch oil painting called "Preparation to Escape to Egypt," was created in the 1600s.

Auction House Kunst Kettler later confirmed that the painting, by an unknown artist, sold for $27,630. Not too shabby.

This Simple White Bowl Is Worth More Than $2 Million

In 2007, a family in New York found this simple, but elegant, white bowl while browsing at a yard sale. Six years later they decided to have the bowl appraised. They were stunned to learn that the bowl dated back to China’s Northern Song Dynasty and was estimated to be worth $200,000 to $300,000.

In 2013, the family put the piece up for auction with Sotheby’s. Imagine their shock when it sold for an astonishing $2.2 million.

A Bed Fit For A King

No, really. This bed is fit for a king. A four-post bed expert named Ian Coulson discovered this imposing piece for sale on the internet in 2010. He purchased the ornate bed for a bit less than $3,000, thinking it was an example of the Arts and Craft movement. It wasn’t long before he realized the bed was much older than that. In fact, a DNA test of the bed’s frame showed that it had belonged to King Henry VII!

"This has to be the most important piece of furniture in England, arguably the most important royal artifact," said Tudor historian Jonathan Foyle. The royal bed is estimated to be worth nearly $25 million.

Retired Truck Driver Stumbles Upon $50 Million Painting

Retired truck driver Teri Horton might be one of the most famous examples of someone finding valuable treasure in a thrift store. When she spotted this splatter-covered painting at a California shop, she initially planned to use it as a dartboard. Soon after, however, she later learned that it could very well be a real Jackson Pollock painting.

Her fight to sell the piece for $50 million made the news and became the subject of a 2006 documentary film titled Who the [Expletive] Is Jackson Pollock?. Horton died in 2019 without selling the painting.

$200 Million For Ansel Adams Plate Set

In 2000, artist Rick Norsigian found a set of glass plates printed with scenes of Yosemite National Park. He paid $45 for the lot, only to discover that they were created by the famous photographer Ansel Adams.

Initially, Norsigian sold prints of the plates for $7,500. But then he learned that the set of plates was worth a life-changing $200 million. Experts have verified the plates’ authenticity although Adams’ family denied that they had been made by the photographer.

A Piece Of History Was Almost Lost

This 2,500-year-old Egyptian bust of a cat was tossed out in Cornwall, southern England, after it failed to find a buyer at a yard sale.

Luckily for history, someone who knew its value got their hands on the bust and brought it in for authentication at the British Museum. In 2015, it went to auction where it fetched $20,000. Later, a dealer in London purchased the valuable cat for $80,000.

Goodwill Employees Recognized This Painting As Something Valuable

An anonymous donor dropped off this painting, a 1923 watercolor by Frank Weston Benson, at a Portland, Oregon Goodwill in 2006. Employees of the second-hand store quickly recognized its value and put it up for auction. An unnamed collector paid $165,002 for the impressionist work.

It turns out that valuable thrift store drop-offs are not all that uncommon. Dale Emanuel is the spokeswoman for Goodwill Industries of the Columbia-Willamette. She said, "We get donations that have come through the generations of a family, and as it goes from one person to the next the true value may not be understood. I’ve seen that many, many times."

This Tiffany Mirror Was Purchased For Only $2!

How much would you pay for this Art Noveau style antique mirror if you spotted it at a yard sale? The anonymous person who found this at a yard sale in Hurley, Arizona, shelled out $2 for it. It was later brought on to the Antiques Roadshow for appraisal in 2010, where the owner learned that they had made a pretty sold investment.

Antiques Roadshow appraiser Arlie Sulka estimated the mirror to be worth about $25,000. That’s roughly 12,500 times what the buyer paid for it. Mirror, mirror, on the wall… who is the luckiest buyer of all?

Vinyl Payday

In 2002, a record enthusiast named Warren Hill snagged a copy of the Velvet Underground’s so-called "Scepter Studios" record for 75 cents at a sidewalk sale in New York. He put the rare album in a safe, only to auction it off years later for $25,000.

The anonymous buyer said, "the significance of the record for music is unmistakable. It’s obviously a piece of musical history, but I wouldn’t have purchased it then if I didn’t see its potential as a financial investment."

$25,000 For A Single Video Game

In 2013, shopper Jennifer Thompson was browsing through the dollar DVDs in a North Carolina Goodwill store. She spied a video game locked behind the glass counter, an old NES cartridge called "Stadium Events." Luckily, Thompson had recently read an article about the rarest video games and decided to spend $7.99 on the title.

After buying it, she took the game to a video game store for appraisal and the owner there was so excited that he shouted "Oh my God!" when he saw it. Thompson sold "Stadium Events" to an orthodontist for $25,000.

$40,000 Goodwill Donation

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In what’s becoming a familiar scenario, this painting that was donated to a local Goodwill ended up being worth a ton of money. This one ended up in an Easton, Maryland, location and store employees thought the Impressionist piece looked like an original oil, not a print. They showed it to manager Terri Tonelli and she agreed.

Tonelli, Goodwill’s regional marketing director, told the Associated Press that the art "could have very easily ended up put in a pile, marked for $20." Instead, it sold for $40,600.

$1 Screen Print Was Worth $55,000

The animals you see here are George and Rufus, and they were screen-printed onto fabric by the reputed English artist Ben Nicholson in 1938. Jo Heaven was browsing in her local thrift store in Swindon, England, and was drawn to the print. She purchased it for about a dollar.

But in the car she noted the name on the back of the fabric, which she was somewhat familiar with. She told BBC, "My mum was an art teacher, so I’d vaguely heard of Ben Nicholson." After having the piece authenticated, she was able to get $55,000 at auction.

An Eye For Value

An artist herself, Englishwoman Liz Lockyer was immediately drawn to this painting at the Royal National Lifeboat Institution charity in 2013. A still life featuring a floral arrangement, and mounted in an elaborate gold frame, the painting was scooped up by Lockyer for a whopping $6.50.

Later on, she found out what a great purchase she had made. This was painted by Mary Moser, who was one of the Royal Academy of the Arts’ two female founders. It sold for $1,300.

This Cracked Pot Sold for $470,000

When it was discovered in a grocery bag filled with junk at a hospice charity shop in England, this wooden pot was full of cracks. Someone had unsuccessfully tried to repair it with glue. Despite its condition, and employee of St. Peter’s Hospice charity was able to identify the piece as a pot used for calligraphy brushes.

Carved by the famous Chinese artist Gu Jue between 1662 and 1722, the precious little pot eventually sold to a buyer in Hong Kong for $470,000.

They Say Green Is Lucky, And That’s True With This $139,349 Golfing Jacket

In 1994, an unnamed Canadian journalist found this green jacket in a Toronto thrift store. It was clearly from the Augusta National Golf Club and the name of its owner, who had to have been a Masters champion, had been cut off. He bought it for $5.

Months later, another journalist named Dominic Pedler became interested in the jacket, and his interest sparked attention within the larger golf community. The jacket eventually sold for $139,349.

Goodwill Employee Spots Treasure In The Donation Bin

In Manassas, Virginia, this tiny painting with an ornate gold frame appeared in one of Goodwill’s donation bins. An employee named Maria Rivera discovered it and said later that it reminded her of art that she’d seen in a museum. She pulled it from the bin.

Speaking with NBC News, Rivera said "I didn’t know at the time, but I said, ‘we have some money here’" and it turns out that her hunch was correct. The painting was the work of a famous Italian artist named Giovanni Battista Torriglia. It sold for $11,205.

A Very Lucky $27,000 Incense Bowl

In Surrey, England, a thrift store shopper spotted this unusual gold bowl and she snapped it up for slightly more than $2 USD. It was a lucky find, as the bowl turned out to be an 18th-century cloisonne Chinese censer made while the Qianlong Emperor was reigning.

Initially, appraisers estimated the item’s value to be around $6,500 to $10,000. But then the woman lucked out again because the piece was featured in John Nicholson’s "Oriental Auction" catalog in 2017. The censer ended up selling for $27,000.

Good Doggy Fetches New Owner $5,000

In 2015, Florida resident Maureen Flaherty went to her local Goodwill for the store’s grand opening. She ended up finding something pretty grand for herself. A large lithograph depicting a dog appealed to her, and she shelled out $44 for it.

On her way out, a fellow shopper who happened to be an antique dealer told her that she "just walked out with the most valuable thing in there." The dealer tried unsuccessfully to buy the piece from Flaherty but she refused. After some online research, however, she discovered the lithograph was the work of Alexander Pope. She then sold it online for $5,150.

$5 Stock Purchase Now Worth A Lot More

A California man named Tony Marohn bought a Palmer Oil Co. stock certificate for just five dollars in 2008. Palmer, it turns out, was a predecessor to the Coca-Cola Company.

Marohn thought he had struck it rich with the purchase of the 1917 certificate and filed claim for $130 million (1.8 million shares) against Coca-Cola. In 2012, however, an attorney said that due to "unnoticed reverse stock splits," the certificate was only worth $12,000 to $15,000. Hey, it was still a good deal!

A Rare Timepiece Earns One Man $35,000

In 2015, a 26-year-old watch collector named Zach Norris stumbled across an unusual find while browsing a Phoenix second-hand store. Priced at $5.99, Norris recognized the diving watch it as something much more valuable and bought it.

This was a rare Jaeger-LeCoultre Deep Sea Alarm timepiece, of which only 900 were ever made. Norris later sold it online for $35,000. He said he planned to use the money for his upcoming wedding.

Another Declaration Of Independence Located!

A man named Michael Sparks was browsing in a Nashville, Tennessee, thrift shop in 2006 when he uncovered a rolled-up document. It wasn’t marked, so the salesperson sold it to him for $2.48 (plus tax, of course). Sparks took the document home, unfurled it, and after some research learned that it was an incredibly valuable piece of United States history.

The document he’d bought was actually an 1823 copy of the Declaration of Independence. An anonymous buyer acquired the document for $477,650 the year after Sparks found it in the thrift store.

Denim Jacket With Hidden Treasure Inside

One California woman thought she’d found a good deal when she purchased a denim jacket at a yard sale for just $20. Sadly for her, the woman who sold the jacket claimed that the two diamond earrings inside one of the pockets were worth $18,000 and were hers. She wanted them back. And how could you doubt her, really?

"Not only are the earrings accompanied by a steep price tag, they also hold sentimental value," the woman said.