In 2018, art collector Laura Young bought this sculpture for $34.99 (£28.30) from a Goodwill store in Texas. Young suspected the statue was very old and spent the next few years getting it appraised by experts at auction houses and universities. But it turned out to be even older than she'd thought. According to a German museum, the bust dates from around the first century BC, making it an authentic Roman artwork.
Although the identity of the model has been disputed, the piece was discovered to have belonged to King Ludwig I of Bavaria, who built a full-sized replica of a Pompeiian house in the 1800s. The house was bombed during World War II and this bust somehow made its way to Austin, Texas. The Bavarian Administration of State-Owned Palaces, Gardens, and Lakes has agreed to lend the statue to the San Antonio Museum of Art until 2023 when it will finally return to Germany.
In December 2021, a guest on British TV show Antiques Roadshow got a surprise when she discovered the gold ring she'd bought in a local charity shop was more than 200 years old. Believing the ring contained a piece of glass, she'd paid just £1 ($1.33) for it. But according to jewellery specialist John Benjamin, the piece featured a real diamond and rubies and originally hailed from India. He valued the item as being worth at least £2,000 ($2,650), an impressive return on the stunned owner's investment.
Hoping to make a small profit, Kentucky resident Greg Estes bought a bicycle with flat tyres and apparently broken pedals for only $5 (£3.35) at a garage sale in 2010. Further research showed however that the pedals were not at all broken but a custom-made pair for professional cyclists. As it turned out, the bike originally belonged to US road racing cyclist Floyd Landis (pictured) but got blown off a transporter and found on the side of the road two years earlier. Estes sold it for $8,000 (£6k).
A seasoned collector stumbled upon a 16th-century engraving by Albrecht Dürer at a flea market in Sarrebourg, France and bought it for just a few euros. The Maria, crowned by an angel engraving, which is reportedly worth thousands of dollars, went missing from the Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart, Germany during World War II. Rather than hold on to the artwork, the benevolent collector returned it to its rightful home.
In 1970, a woman bought a plate in Rhode Island for less than $100 (£40), and it sat above her stove for years. In 2014 she took it along to be appraised on US TV show Antiques Roadshow and was shocked to discover it was a Picasso-designed Madoura plate from 1955 worth in the region of $10,000 (£5.9k).
In 2016 this rare 16th-century statue of the Tibetan Green Tara goddess was snapped up at a car boot sale in West Sussex, England for just £25 ($30). The anonymous buyer suspected it was worth a lot more, but was stunned when a valuer told her it was worth in the region of £5,000 ($6.3k). The statue went on to sell for an even more impressive £15,500 ($19.5k) when it went up for auction.
In 2002, music fan Warren Hill found an odd-looking acetate disc at a Manhattan flea market with 'The Velvet Underground' written on the label, and bought it for 75 cents (50p). The disc turned out to be a super-rare demo by the Velvet Underground. The demo was sold on eBay in 2006 for $25,000 (£14k).
In 2016 an amateur collector came across this beautiful metallic Chinese bowl in a charity shop in Somerset, England. The antiques enthusiast paid just £2 ($2.50) for the 18th-century bowl, which was later valued at £5,000 ($6.3k). It went on to sell at auction for a very respectable £21,000 ($26.4k). That's more than 10,000 times what the collector originally paid for it.
An impoverished German student lucked out big time in 2007 when she found a 17th-century oil painting in a second-hand couch she'd snapped up for just $215 (£110) at a Berlin flea market. The painting, Preparation to Escape to Egypt by a pupil of Italina artist Carlo Saraceni, was eventually sold for a whopping $28,870 (£23k) at an art auction in Hamburg.
Hunting for cheap canvases one day in 2012, Beth Feeback, a hard-up artist from North Carolina, made a beeline for her local thrift store and snagged a couple of oil paintings for $9.99 (£6.20), which she intended to paint over. Thankfully, before Feeback attempted to paint over one of the pictures, a knowledgeable friend recognised it as the work of abstract artist Ilya Bolotowsky. Feeback put the painting up for auction at Sotheby's not long after, where it fetched more than $34,000 (£27.1k).
A sensational Goodwill store find, bargain hunter Zach Norris was browsing in his local store in Phoenix, Arizona in January 2015 when he discovered a watch with 'LeCoultre Deep Sea Alarm Automatic' engraved on the face. Suspecting it could be worth a whole lot more than its $5.99 (£3.80) price tag, he bought the watch and had it valued. Turns out the vintage timepiece from 1959 was worth a fortune. Needless to say, Norris sold it a month later for a tidy $35,000 (£27.9k).
In the early 2000s a couple bought this glass vase for £1 from a car boot sale in Dumfries, Scotland because they liked the look of the plant it was carrying. When the plant died, the vase was stashed away in the loft and almost forgotten about until TV show Antiques Roadshow came to town in 2008. Half-jokingly, the couple brought along the vase, and were flabbergasted to discover it was a highly desirable piece by Art Nouveau icon René Lalique. They sold it later that year for $40,800 (£32.5k).
When Thea Jourdan from Hampshire, England bought a pink stone brooch, surrounded by what she believed were faux diamonds, for only £20 ($27), she thought it was just a 'flashy old tat' for her four-year-old daughter's toybox. Her little girl loved it and wore it a lot. When Jourdan was having a ring valued, the appraiser spotted the brooch, which turned out to be made of topaz and real diamonds and was thought to have once been worn by a Russian tsarina. It sold in 2011 for £32,000 ($42.6k).
This colourful painting of an Indian town scene caught the eye of a taxi driver at a car boot sale in north London. The bargain hunter successfully haggled down the £60 asking price to £40 before taking the artwork home with him, where it hung on the wall for some 30 years. In 2016, the man decided to redecorate and took the two-foot-wide canvas to Roseberys auction house. Exceeding all expectations, the painting, believed to be the work of Sikh artist Baba Bishan Singh, sold for a staggering £92,250 ($123k).
This 1936 painting by Australian artist John Wardell Power entitled A Basket of Fruit was last seen in Paris in 1945, until it turned up at a Dutch flea market in 2015. While the flea market price was never disclosed, the artwork was sold later that year at Bonhams auction house in Sydney for AU$170,800 ($125.6k/£94.2k).
A very fortunate bargain hunter, who has chosen to remain anonymous, picked up an old Breitling watch at a car boot sale in 2013 for just $31 (£25). The mock Geiger counter was a dead giveaway: the watch was revealed to be the timepiece worn by the late Sean Connery in the James Bond movie Thunderball. The customised Breitling Top Time watch sold later that year for $164,500 (£131k).
Goodwill retail stores in the US appear to be veritable troves of hidden treasure. In 2010, an 81-year-old South Carolina resident, who has chosen to remain anonymous, purchased a painting from his local Goodwill for just $3 (£2.40). On a whim, the man's daughter-in-law got it appraised by an expert from Antiques Roadshow – and the picture was revealed to be a 17th-century Flemish masterpiece. It went on to fetch $190,000 (£151.4k) at auction in 2012.
This dress, worn by Princess Diana to a state dinner in Bahrain in 1986, was found in a charity shop in Herefordshire, England in 1994 by a local woman. She bought it for just £200 ($300), paying in four £50 ($75) instalments. That's the equivalent of £400 ($560) today. The silk dress, designed by David and Elizabeth Emanuel, was discovered and went to auction in December 2018, selling for £156,000 ($195.9k), surpassing its £60,000-£100,000 ($75k-$125k) valuation.
Eagled-eyed antiques dealer Paul Fitzsimmons snapped up an antique wooden falcon for just £75 ($99) at an auction in 2019. The bird was later identified as belonging to Anne Boleyn, having been made in 1536, just three years before she was beheaded on the orders of her husband King Henry VIII. The king then had all traces of the ill-fated queen removed from the palaces, making the item a rarity. In excellent condition, the falcon still bears its original gilding and colours, and its true value is estimated at £200,000 ($263k). Fitzsimmons generously loaned the bird to Hampton Court Palace in London, where it's on display.
In 2012, Robert Darvell, a graphic designer from London, was gifted a small landscape painting by his father Robin, who had purchased the picture as part of a £30 job lot some years before. Robert did some research and discovered it was a genuine John Constable painting worth £250,000 ($313.9k). The story was featured on the TV show Treasure Detectives the following year.
While scanning a newspaper in 1967, one lady came across an advert selling a Tiffany Studios lamp with a fashionable gold base in an Art Nouveau style. She got in contact with the seller and bought it for $125 (£45), which is the equivalent of $970 (£785) today. Little did she know quite how much her new second-hand purchase was worth. The lamp made an appearance on Antiques Roadshow in 1999, and was given a valuation of $125,000 (£78k). A second opinion more than 20 years later has seen the lamp now valued at $350,000 (£284k).
If you’re looking to invest in some artwork, it definitely helps if you have a world-renowned Impressionist painter within your friendship circle. One lady who featured on Antiques Roadshow described how her parents had been friends with Joseph Kleitsch, and that following his death they were able to pick up this oil landscape for $100, which is the equivalent of around $1,715 (£1.3k) today. Fast-forward to 2015 and the painting's worth has skyrocketed, with art expert Dana Force valuing it at $500,000 (£400k).
A collector took a gamble on a cracked teapot at an auction in 2016, buying it for just $19 (£15). He then took it to Woolley and Wallis auctioneers, and ceramics experts established it was a piece by John Bartlam, who emigrated to America from Britain and was the first person to make porcelain in the US. As a truly historical artefact, it went for auction with an estimated price of $25,280 (£20k), but was sold for more than 20 times that when it was bought by the Metropolitan Museum in New York for $580,255 (£462k).
A man purchased this blue and white porcelain bowl at a yard sale in New Haven, Connecticut in 2020 for just $35 (£25). He didn't haggle over the price, thinking that this 6.25-inch bowl could be something rather special. The unnamed buyer then sent photos of the bowl to auction specialists, who immediately told him it was definitely of historical significance. After closer inspection the bowl was revealed to be from the court of China's Yongle Emperor, who ruled from 1403 to 1424, a period known for its porcelain techniques. Only six other known bowls have survived. Now called the lotus bowl, as it resembles a lotus flower bud, the rare item sold at auction for $722,000 (£517k) at Sotheby's in March 2021, surpassing its top estimate of $500,000 (£358k). That's more than 20,500 times the amount it was bought at the yard sale for.
With no idea what was inside, a couple from Long Island paid $100 (£57) at a blind auction for an unclaimed New York storage unit in 1989. However, their risk paid off as inside the container, covered under old blankets, was a real treasure – a Lotus Esprit sportscar used for the 1977 James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me as an underwater vehicle. In 2013 the couple put their lucky find up for auction with Sotheby's London, where it sold for a whopping £616,000 ($821.5k). The buyer, it was revealed later, was none other than Tesla CEO Elon Musk.
This beautiful 26-carat diamond ring was purchased in the 1980s from a car boot sale for a bargain £10 ($11). The ring is thought to have been cut in the 19th century, but the rest of its history is unknown. After years of being overloooked, the ring finally proved its worth when it went under the hammer at Sotheby's in London. The impressive piece of jewellery sold for a whopping £656,750 ($828k), almost double the auction estimate of £350,000 ($439.5k).
An Edinburgh antiques dealer bought this chess piece for just £5 ($14) back in 1964, the equivalent of £100 ($135) today, not realising its significance. It’s one of five lost pieces belonging to a set found buried in a sand dune on the Scottish island of Lewis back in 1831 that experts believe was made in the late 12th century/early 13th century somewhere in Scandinavia. The other ‘Lewis chessmen’, as they are known, are on display at London’s British Museum and Edinburgh’s National Museum of Scotland. Made from walrus ivory, the piece was passed down through the dealer’s family before being sold at Sotheby’s in London for £735,000 ($923k), a record for a medieval chess piece, in July 2019.
One of only two Ford Mustangs custom-made for the classic film Bullitt, which boasts one of the most awesome car chases in history, the car was found by a Mexican junkyard owner languishing in a corner. Acquired for peanuts, it has an estimated value of at least $1 million (£797k).
This still life was purchased for just $30 (£19), the equivalent of $50 (£35) today, in the 1990s by a factory worker from Indiana, who used it to cover a hole in a wall in his home. Several years down the line, the hard-up machinist was playing the art-based card game Masterpiece and spotted a similar painting by the same artist on one of the cards. The picture, which turned out to be a notable work by American landscape painter Martin Johnson Heade called Magnolias on Gold Velvet Cloth, went on to sell for $1.25 million (£777k) in 1999, which is the equivalent of $2 million (£1.5m) today. Heade's work has repeatedly turned up in garage sales and other surprising places, which experts attribute to his popularity among middle-class buyers before he became acknowledged as a modern American master.
A financial analyst from Philadelphia bought an old painting for $4 (£2.30) at a local market back in 1989 mainly because he liked the frame. But when he went to remove the painting from the frame, he discovered none other than an original copy of the US Declaration of Independence, one of just 24 existing copies, hidden between the picture and backing. Two years later, the document fetched a whopping $2.42 million (£1.3m) at auction, which is the equivalent of $4.6 million (£3.5m) today.
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In 2011, criminal defence lawyer Frank Abrahams purchased this photograph for $10 (£8) at a market in North Carolina, having no idea that it was an image of Billy the Kid alongside the man who would later shoot him dead, Pat Garrett. It wasn't until 2015 when he read about the Randy Guijarro photo being valued at $5 million that he realised he might have a valuable item on his hands. Experts concluded that it was taken between 1879 and 1880, just a few years before Pat Garrett captured Billy and shot him dead. We'll have to wait to see if he will sell it.
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The second work by Albrecht Dürer in our round-up, this drawing was bought at a yard sale for $30 (£23) in 2017. The Virgin and Child (pictured) is a previously unknown artwork by the German artist and is believed to have been drawn around 1503. Boston art collector Clifford Schorer was on his way to a party when he was asked to take a look at the drawing, which the friend of a friend had bought from an art dealer's son. Schorer was amazed to discover the drawing was "either the greatest forgery [he'd] ever seen or a masterpiece." It turned out to be the latter and has since been valued at $10 million (£7.5m).
In 2007, New Yorkers Thomas Schultz and Lawrence Joseph paid $2,500 (£1.2k) for a huge collection of artworks by the late Armenian-American artist Arthur Pinajian, which they bought along with the artist's former home in Long Island. Now an art world sensation, works by Pinajian have skyrocketed in value, and the collection was valued at $30 million (£24m) in 2013.
In 2012, a scrap metal dealer in the Midwest decided to do some online research on a blingy egg-shaped ornament he'd picked up for $13,000 (£8k), which he intended to melt down. The dealer searched for 'Vacherin Constantin', the name engraved on the ornament, and 'egg', and realised he had bought the Third Imperial Fabergé egg. Valued at $33 million (£26.3m), the egg was purchased in 2014 by a private collector.
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