Hidden Treasures: The 15 Most Valuable Attic, Wall, Garage Sale Finds
You’ve likely heard stories of hidden treasures found in walls during the remodeling of a kitchen or valuables found in the rafters of a house. Treasures are found all the time, long hidden away and forgotten by time.
This list features some of the notable hidden treasures found in attics, walls, garage sales, and thrift stores over the past several years. After learning about these discoveries, you may be inspired to find your own!
America’s most valuable hidden treasures
1. A lock of George Washington’s hair found in a book
An aged and worn, leather-bound almanac sat untouched for many years on a shelf at Union College’s library. No one knew it held a very personal memento from America’s founding father, George Washington. A lock of his hair was tucked into an envelope, neatly tied with a string. The envelope was marked “Washington’s hair, L.S.S. & (crossed out) GBS from James A. Hamilton given him by his mother, Aug. 10, 1871.”
Most people are familiar with Washington’s hairstyle from his iconic portrait on dollar bills. A common misconception is that he wore a wig. In fact, as a young man, his hair was red. Washington powdered his hair white, in custom with the times. In later years, his hair became whiter naturally.
The lock of hair had most likely been given by the President as a gift. The practice of giving hair as a keepsake was common at the time.
2. Civil war-era gold coins found walking the dog
3. Billy the Kid photo bought at a flea market for $10
He took the photo to experts, who verified that Garrett was the man on the far right of the photo. They also told him the second man from the left was Billy the Kid himself! Billy the Kid photos are rare and highly prized by collectors. A recent Billy the Kid photo find (see Croquet Photo below) valued about $5 million.
The most interesting hidden treasures
4. Billy the Kid playing croquet photo
In 2010 a man paid $2 for an old tintype photo of a group of people playing croquet in front of a cabin. Expert authenticators identified Billy the Kid in the photo holding a croquet mallet and wearing a top hat. The photo was taken at the New Mexico ranch owned by cattleman John Tunstall. Tunstall hired Billy and his gang to defend against cattle rustlers and rival ranchers. The appraised value of the tintype photo is $5 million. A good return on a $2 investment!
5. Unopened packs of baseball cards in aunt’s attic
6. Incredible find of rare tobacco baseball cards
The most popular hidden treasures
7. Superman Comic #1 found in a wall
Valuable items are often found during the remodeling of older homes. In 2013, a house in Minnesota was being renovated. A contractor discovered a rare comic book in a wall he was tearing down. It was the first-ever appearance of Superman in Action Comics No. 1 from 1938. The comic had been used along with newspapers to insulate the walls. The rare comic sold for $175,000 at auction. It is one of about 100 copies known to exist.
8. Jackson Pollack original painting at a thrift store
This next story will make you want to check your local thrift store. In 2015 truck driver Teri Horton bought a painting at a thrift store for $5. She believes it is an original masterpiece from the abstract expressionist Jackson Pollack. Experts disagree on whether it is real or not. But if it is, it could be Horton’s winning lottery ticket. A Pollack painting called “Number 5” recently sold for $140 million.
The most valuable hidden treasures
9. Ancient Chinese bowl at a garage sale
10. $200,000 coins found in the wall
A Pennsylvania family thought there might be cash or other hidden treasures in the old family home. They were right. Inside the walls, they discovered thousands of dollars of old, valuable coins. The coins’ face value equaled $8,500, but the collectible value is close to $200,000. The home had sat unoccupied for almost 20 years before revealing its hidden treasures.
Historical hidden treasures
11. Declaration of Independence found behind a painting
In 1989 a Pennsylvania collector bought a $4 painting at a flea market because he liked the frame. When he got it home, he discovered the first printing of the Declaration of Independence had been hidden behind the painting. The print’s condition was preserved by its location between the painting and its backing throughout the years. At the time, only 24 copies were known to exist. He sold the Declaration for $2.4 million at a 1991 Sotheby’s auction.
12. Norman Rockwell original painting is hidden in a wall
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13. Man finds $150,000 buried in a garden
Good luck came to a man out in his garden in the summer of 2011. Wayne Sabaj, an unemployed carpenter, found bags of cash buried amongst the broccoli plants. The total value of the find was $150,000. Several people contested ownership of the money. Unfortunately, Sabaj would die before he could collect any of the money.
14. $500,000 found in ammunition cans hidden in walls
In 2001 two sisters sorted through their father’s estate after his death. They found many hidden valuables, including gold and cash. After a thorough cleaning, they sold the house. But had they found all of their father’s hidden treasures?
The new homeowners hired contractors to make some repairs. Inside the walls, they found cash-filled ammunition cans. The find was worth $500,000. A dispute occurred over ownership of the money; the sisters and buyers of the house went to court to work out an eventual split of the money.
Literary hidden treasures
15. Original Mark Twain script found in the trunk
In 1990 a discovery was made in a California attic. Inside a trunk was the missing handwritten manuscript for “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” The famous book by Mark Twain was first published in 1884. The finding included the rare draft along with other old documents and letters from important authors. James Gluck collected the material in the late 1800s.
BONUS HIDDEN TREASURES!
Buried treasure found in the backyard
A Staten Island couple discovered a rusty, decaying metal box buried in their backyard. They dug the box out of the ground as they were planting trees. What looked like garbage turned out to be an old safe. Inside the safe was $52,000 worth of valuables, including $100 bills, gold, diamonds, and jade. Papers inside the safe helped the couple determine its rightful owner—their own neighbor! The neighbor’s home was burglarized about seven years prior. The contents were all returned to the very grateful neighbor.
Cash found in rafters while remodeling
A Cleveland, Ohio man discovered old metal boxes in the rafters of his home while remodeling. Inside the boxes and wrapped in the old paper were $20, $50, and $100 bills. He also found a gold certificate and star notes (misprinted currency) in the boxes. The treasure’s total value of $45,000 helped pay for the home remodeling project.
One-of-a-kind Qing dynasty vase discovered in the attic
An ornately decorated porcelain vase sat unnoticed in an old shoebox in the attic of a house in France. The owners discovered the vase and were curious about its value. So they asked Sotheby’s Paris to appraise its value. To their shock and amazement, the vase turned out to be from the Qing dynasty and dating from the 18th-century. It appraised at $590,000 to 825,000 and sold at auction for about $19 million!
Hopefully, these tales of hidden treasure found in old houses, attics, flea markets, and thrift shops have inspired you to go looking for your own valuable discoveries!
— Greg Johnson
Greg is a writer and co-founder of Listcaboodle.
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