Sometimes, scanning the shelves of charity shops can lead to lucrative finds. Here are eight such stories to inspire you in your own hunt for discarded treasures.
With some pieces fetching sums of millions, here are the eight best second-hand finds:
On June 14, 2019, a beautiful dish made of gilt copper from the end of the 17th century was sold at Uppsala Auktionskammare. The dish was originally bought many years ago from a flea market for SEK20 ($2.25), but ended up selling for SEK16,000 ($1,800).
In Sweden, a man found a pair of beautiful candlesticks, specifically in Hälsingland. He immediately saw that the designer was Anna Petrus for Svenskt Tenn. The pair were bought for nearly $1,300 by the man and, when they were later auctioned, they brought in just over SEK72,000 ($8,000) by the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm, where they are now included in their collection.
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Many of us lose keys, pocket change, jewelry and other small items among the cushions of the sofa, but this is a bit more unusual than that: in 2007, a student in Berlin bought a sofa bed for affordable $215 at a flea market. When she finally came home with her new furniture she found an oil painting tucked away in the furniture’s drawer function. The work's name was Preparation to Escape to Egypt and is believed to have been painted by 17th-century artist Carlo Saraceni in Venice. The work was sold for resounding €19,200, that is, about $25,000, at an auction house in Hamburg.
In June 2017, ‘the Tenner’ was auctioned at the Sotheby's Fine Jewels sale in London, a white gold ring set with a 26-carat diamond. The final price landed at nearly $850,000, a relatively common price-tag for a diamond of that size from the 19th century.
See also: Barnebys’ Guide to Diamonds
What made the ring special however, was the fact that it had been bought in the 1980s by an unsuspecting woman at a flea market, where the ring was sat in a bowl along with other jewelry. During the next 30 years, she used the ring (which she thought was a cheap imitation of an older variant) everyday, when she worked, cleaned and carried out chores. The price she paid for the ring? About $10.
In the summer of 2007, an American family bought a porcelain bowl for $3 at a flea market. Over the next few years, the white-glazed bowl was safely stored in the family's mantelpiece. But soon, curiosity took over and the family decided to consult an expert on the background of the dish and its value.
It turned out that the dish was a thousand-year-old Chinese antique that could be dated to the Chinese Song Dynasty and had been produced in the 12th century. On March 19, 2013, the dish was auctioned at Sotheby's New York with an estimated price of $200,000 to $300,000. After intensive bidding between four aspirants, the dish was purchased by art collector Giuseppe Eskenazi – for $2 million.
In March 2019, Sotheby's arranged their Important Chinese Art auction in New York. One of the sale’s top lots consisted of a seated Bodhisattva figure. It had been bought at a garage shop about twenty years earlier for around $100. After the figure's then-owner brought the statue to the TV program Antiques Roadshow, she got quite the shock – the statue was made of gilt bronze and dated to early-15th-century China.
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The antique program’s expert valued the Buddha at between $100,000 to $125,000, but it came to generate a significantly higher end price than that. After seven minutes of intensive bidding, the incumbent Buddha went down for no less than $2.1 million.
In 1989, a man in Pennsylvania, USA, decided to purchase a painting he found at a local flea market. He wasn’t particularly fond of the painting itself but planned to put something else in the ornate frame. When he came home and unmounted the painting, he discovered a carefully weighted paper behind the frame, and not just any paper – but a copy of the US Declaration of Independence of 1776.
The man's version is one of the 25 well-known copies made from the year in which the Declaration of Independence was signed. Since the new-found specimen was in excellent condition, it reached a high price when it was sold in 1991 – for $2.4 million.
Sotheby's, the auction house that sold the document was, like the document's previous owner, more than satisfied, as the document became the then most expensive US document ever sold at auction. At the turn of the millennium however, it was resold and multiplied its value as the hammer fell at $8.1 million.
Between 1885 and 1917, the jeweller Peter Carl Fabergé made richly ornate Easter eggs on behalf of the Russian tsar. The expensive tradition lasted for three decades and 52 different eggs were produced. After the Russian Revolution, the jewel eggs spread – Empress Maria Fjodorovna had one, while some were stolen or forgotten but most of them were sold during the 1930s, when Stalin was in great need of cash, for a fraction of their actual value.
Until 2014, eight of the 52 eggs were still missing, until an incomparable discovery was made. In 2014, an American scrap dealer visited a flea market in the Midwestern United States and laid his hands on a richly decorated golden egg. The scrap dealer still paid a fair sum for it: about £6,900 ($9,000), which was only based on the materials from which it was manufactured.
See also: Fabergé Eggs: 8 Little Known Facts
After careful research, it turned out that the dealer’s finding was the third egg that Fabergé made for the Russian ruling family and was likely created in 1886 or 1887. The egg thus proved to be one of the world's eight missing Fabergé eggs. While the piece was later sold for an undisclosed amount, some have estimated its worth to be $33 million.