Stocks, bonds, mutual funds — there is money to be made in investing in financial markets, but far more excitement to be had hunting at thrift stores and estate sales for a rare find worth millions, or using an insightful eye to snag a piece of land or furniture on the cheap and turning a major profit! Here are 22 lucky and/or clever people who turned investments of a few—or a few thousand—dollars into big-time returns.
22. Stock Value
Tony Marohn wasn’t looking to invest in the stock market when he bought a collection of documents for $5 at an estate sale, but then he found a certificate for stock in the Palmer Union Oil Company. After researching the history of the company and discovering its link to the Coca Cola Company, Marohn estimated that the document entitled him to 1.8 million shares in the company! Unfortunately, Coca Cola thought differently, and waged a lawful battle that outlived Marohn, whose family is still trying to collect the $130 million the stock certificate is estimated to be worth.
21. Worth More Than A Thousand Words
Local neighbourhood historian John Maloof picked up a cache of photographs and negatives at an auction for $400—but after poring over the images, he realized he had something special on his hands. The photographs were the work of then-unknown photographer Vivian Maier, who is now regarded as one of the top street photographers of her time. Negatives can fetch up to $2,000 each!
20. Nest Egg
A trinket bought for the scrap gold value by an unidentified flea market treasure hunter in 2004 turned out to be an almost priceless treasure—one of eight missing Imperial Fabergé Eggs, worth $30 million. The decorative egg was created by Peter Carl Fabergé for the Russian Tsar as gifts for family members; only 43 out of 50 survive today.
19. Undercover Velvet Underground
In 2004, a Montreal man visiting New York City found a preview copy of a record with “Velvet Underground” scrawled on it at a yard sale. Purchased for 75 cents, the record turned out to be a demo copy of the Velvet Underground’s first album, worth a whopping $25,000!
18. Sneaky Sneaks
The “Red October” sneaker, a collaboration between Nike and Kanye West, was cloaked in mystery, but their partnership ended before the shoe was even released, leaving only a smattering of shoes available for retail. Those who were able to snag a pair of these special-edition sneakers were lucky though—pairs pop up on eBay for several thousand dollars, and one pair even hit an auction price of $17 million.
<17. Gotta Spend Money To Make Money
Richard Branson was only 28 when he scraped together $100,000 to buy an uninhabited island in the British Virgin Islands. He may as well have planted money-growing trees on the 74-acre island: the island itself is worth $60 million today, and the luxury villa he built rented for a reported $65,000 USD a night until it was destroyed by Hurricane Irma in 2017.
16. Smells Like Money
The lucky fan who snagged the setlist from a Nirvana show in the 1990s got a whole lot more than they bargained for. The set list—a scrap of paper with the list of songs to be played at a concert, scrawled by Kurt Cobain himself—sold for $8,750 at auction in 2015.
15. A Magical Return
Today, Harry Potter books line millions of bookshelves worldwide, but the franchise wasn’t always so popular. After being rejected by 12 publishers, JK Rowling finally sold her first manuscript, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, to Bloomsbury, who only printed 1,000 copies (500 of which were distributed to libraries). The savvy readers who took a chance and purchased a first edition of that book are extra lucky: not only were they among the first to discover Harry Potter, those first editions are now worth between £16,000 and £25,000.
Long-haul trucker Teri Horton found a painting she considered hideous at a garage sale, which she purchased for $5. The painting, which featured abstract drizzles of paint, was by abstract painter Jackson Pollock—worth up to $9 million! Horton's chance find was the subject of a documentary, titled Who the #$&% is Jackson Pollock?, which is reportedly the first thing she said when informed of the value of her find.
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13. Black Cat = Good Luck
A blackened cat head was judged too ugly to sell at a yard sale in Cornwall: left over after the sale ended, it was thrown in the trash. Luckily, someone saved the small statue, and it went from worthless to almost priceless when it was discovered to be a 2,500-year-old Egyptian bronze statue, worth $80,000.
12. Worth More Than A Song
Bought for $3 at a garage sale, a New York family decided to take a chance and have a ceramic bowl appraised. The bowl—actually a rare piece from China’s Song Dynasty—was appraised at upwards of $200,000. The bowl surprised the family again, however, when it sold for $2.2 million at auction.
11. National Treasure
Historical treasures are popular with treasure hunters at garage sales, and valuable copies of the Declaration of Independence have been unearthed not once but TWICE. A Tennessee man purchased what he thought was a poor quality reproduction at a garage sale for $2.48—it turned out to be an unknown 36th copy of a 1920 reproduction, worth $477,650. But that windfall doesn't even compare to that of a Philadelphia man, who noticed a folded sheet of paper fall from the frame of a $4 yard sale painting; that sheet of paper was one of 24 surviving copies of the original Declaration from 1776, which sold for $2.4 million.
10. Eye Of The Beholder
To the untrained eye, a lot of modern art can look like mere scribbles. That’s what 49-year-old Andy Fields must have thought of the cartoonish portrait of Rudy Vallee, which he bought along with a bundle of drawings at a yard sale for $5. Fields spotted a signature in the corner, which identified the drawing as that of Pop Art icon Andy Warhol—estimated to be worth just under $2 million!
9. Literary Treasure
When one thinks of valuable old books, it’s common to picture ancient leather-bound tomes. But if you happen to spot a 1980 copy of A Confederacy of Dunces by Jon Kennedy Toole, buy it! Orignallly sold for just a few dollars, a copy of this now-iconic work of American fiction can fetch up to $4000!
8. Monster Value
Movie posters from bygone eras can fetch a pretty penny in the collector's market, and can often turn up in places where their value isn’t appreciated, such as yard sales. A poster from the 1931 Frankenstein film sat unappreciated in a movie theatre projection booth until the 1970s, when it was unearthed and put up for auction. The value of the poster is as terrifying as Frankenstein’s monster: the poster sold for $358,500 in 2015!
7. Liquid Assets
Bern’s Steakhouse in Tampa, Florida, has amassed over 500,00 bottles of fine wines to cater to those with discerning palates and disposable incomes. With the world’s largest restaurant booze collection, it’s easy to imagine some bottles slipping through the cracks. That seems to be what happened with a bottle of 1947 Chateau Latour, unearthed in 2010. The bottle, likely bought in the 1960s, is now priced on the menu at $30,000!
6. Sports Legend
When Sean and Rikki McEvoy purchased a vintage sweater for only 58 cents, they had barely heard of Vince Lombardi, but after viewing a documentary on the football legend, Rikki wondered about a name tag sewn into the sweater with the Lombardi name. An auction house in Texas verified the connection through fabric analysis, and the sweater sold for $43,020!
5. Developing Investment
Boxes of old photographs and negatives are common at garage sales and auctions. In 2000, Rick Norsigian paid $45 for a collection of glass negatives depicting Yosemite National Park, a place he worked as a young man. The stunning photographs, taken between 1919 and 1930, were authenticated to have been taken by Ansel Adams and are worth up to $200 million.
4. Mirror, Mirror
Garage sale hunters dream of finding that elusive treasure worth millions. A New Mexico woman didn’t quite hit that mark, but she did manage to turn $2 into $25,000 when she purchased an art nouveau mirror at a yard sale. Appraised on the TV show Antiques Road Show, the 1905 Tiffany peacock mirror brought a return of 12,500 times what she paid for it.
3. Diamonds In The Rough
A $5 piece of costume jewellery turned into a woman’s dream when she discovered what she thought were rhinestones were actually real diamonds, and that the pendant was owned by none other than Lebron James. The tiny jersey-shaped pendant was covered with 2 carats of diamonds worth $10,000.
2. Rookie Investment
Kids who scorned savings accounts and blew their allowances on baseball cards may have a thing or two to say to their parents, provided they scored certain cards. Whippersnappers who got a Topps Mickey Mantle rookie card in 1952 likely paid a few cents for a card now worth $1 million and climbing—this card, worth $525,000 in 2016, has doubled in value in the last year alone!
1. Put Your Money To Bed
An intricately-carved four-post bed was first dumped in a parking lot, then sold on the internet. That is, until eagle-eyed furniture historian Ian Coulson spotted it. He purchased the bed frame for £2,200 and took the bed to an expert to have it appraised. Not only was the bed determined to be the only surviving bed frame from the Tudor period, DNA belonging to King Henry VII was found on the bed, increasing Coulson’s investment 10 000 times to £20 million!