10 Accidental Discoveries Worth Millions: What’s Hiding in Your Attic?

Treasures in the Attic
Jamie Beverly under Creative Commons

While taking a walk last year, a couple found a stash of rare coins worth $10 million. That’s a nice additional benefit to the fresh air and exercise!

This story was big news because of the value, but ordinary people find treasures more frequently than you might think. For example, I’ve written before about treasure hunting around your home. You can find the most interesting — and valuable — items in a variety of unexpected places.

Could you be the next person to discover a hidden treasure worth hundreds or thousands of dollars? Here are some of the most valuable items found by ordinary people.

1. A Bowl Worth Millions at a Rummage Sale

Rummage sales are the starting point for many true stories of treasure discoveries. When it’s just an old magazine someone buys for a buck and sells on eBay for $50, it doesn’t make the news. But when it’s a $3 bowl from a garage sale that turns out to be a 1,000-year-old piece of art from the Northern Song Dynasty in China, you can expect to see it on NBC News.

The New York family that bought the $3 bowl had Sotheby’s auction it for them. Final bid: $2.2 million.

2. Rare Coins in a Wall

Jeff Bidelman, the owner of a collectibles store, was helping a local family appraise furniture in a house that had been empty for 20 years, reported the Tribune-Democrat in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. He saw a hole in a wall, and the previous owners’ daughter mentioned rumors about money being thrown in it. Bidelman tapped the wall and, liking what he heard, he broke it open.

The coins that had been piled up inside for years poured out. The dates on them ranged from 1793 through 1964, and he estimated that the cache was worth about $200,000.

3. Precious Metals in a Storage Unit

A&E’s Storage Wars shows people buying the contents of self-storage units, hoping for — and sometimes finding — valuable items. But sometimes the best treasure discoveries happen when the cameras aren’t running.

When they weren’t filming, American Auctioneers, the company featured in the program, sold the contents of one unit to a San Jose, California man who wishes to remain anonymous, reported ABC News. His winning bid: $1,100.

Those contents included a dusty blue Rubbermaid container. Inside were several silver and gold bars, plus many rare coins. The value of the cache was estimated to be in the neighborhood of $500,000.

4. The Declaration of Independence at a Flea Market

This one goes back a few years, but is a worthwhile reminder to keep your eyes open at flea markets.

At a market in Pennsylvania, a man bought a painting because he liked the frame, according to The New York Times. Behind the canvas, he found one of the original 24 copies of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, which was estimated to be worth $800,000.

Ever wonder about those “estimates” of value? Are they exaggerations? Certainly not in this case. The document sold for $2.4 million.

5. Boxes of Cash Hidden in a Wall

Here’s another true story that’ll make you want to open the walls in your home.

Amanda Reece hired contractor Bob Kitts to remodel a bathroom in her Ohio home, according to a Fox News report. During the course of the work, he found a couple of metal boxes hidden in a wall. They contained $182,000 in currency from the 1920s and 30s.

It became a drama at that point, with Kitts and Reese arguing about who should get the treasure. By the time 21 descendants of Patrick Dunne, the man who hid the money in the first place, sued to get their share, most of the money was gone. Reece had spent $14,000 on a vacation and she said $60,000 was stolen.

At least one report says the old currency was worth much more than its $182,000 face value, because some of the bills were rare. The stash may have been worth $500,000.

6. A Diamond and Gold Medallion

Last year, Florida held a python hunt in an effort to control the population of these non-native snakes in the Everglades.

While participating in the hunt, Mark Rubinstein found a mysterious diamond-studded gold medallion that may be hundreds of years old, according to Fox News. Some theorize that it may have been part of the debris from one of two plane crashes that happened in the area years before.

The antique value of the medallion is unknown, but the gold alone could be worth at least a few hundred dollars.

7. A Valuable Painting in a Second-Hand Couch

This story comes from Berlin, Germany where, according to NBC News, a student bought a couch for $215 at a flea market and later found a painting inside it. The title of the work was “Preparation to Escape to Egypt.” The artist is unknown, but because the piece was painted between 1605 and 1620 by someone “close to Venetian painter Carlo Saraceni,” it’s considered a valuable piece of art.

Should you start probing the couch cushions in used furniture stores? Maybe; the painting sold at auction for the equivalent of $27,630.

8. Savings Bonds in a Used Book

Books are a natural hiding place for currency and other flat items, and sometimes those stashes are forgotten. That may explain how 18 savings bonds came to be in a used book bought by Paula (last name withheld) from a Liberty, Missouri bookstore, according to the local Fox News station. Her husband discovered the bonds between the pages after she brought the book home.

They are looking for the rightful owner of the bonds, which are valued at about $1,400.

9. A Civil War Sword

Could you learn how to use a metal detector to find treasure? Lucas Hall, a seven-year-old in Virginia learned quickly enough, according to the Washington Post. Just a week after getting it for his birthday, he used his metal detector to find a Civil War sword six inches underground.

He has decided to keep his discovery, and it has not been appraised.

10. A Painting Worth Millions… Maybe?

You may have seen 74-year-old Teri Horton on CBS News online, or on 60 Minutes. The Texas woman bought what she considered to be an ugly painting as a joke for $5 at a thrift store, and it turned out to be a Jackson Pollack — at least, it may be. She and a friend were going to throw darts at the colorful canvas, but they drank too much beer and never got around to it.

When she tried to sell it at a yard sale, an art teacher mentioned that it looked like a painting by the famed Jackson Pollack. That started Horton’s years-long struggle to get the painting authenticated. A documentary about the effort is titled, “Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock?” Despite the evidence collected, the art community has not yet accepted that it’s a Pollack.

If the painting is authenticated, it could be worth millions. One Pollack painting has sold for $140 million. An art collector offered Horton $2 million for hers and she refused, saying, “Be fair with me and I’ll sell it.”

Your Turn: Are you ready to buy a metal detector or to start checking the walls, thrift stores and flea markets for treasures?