Hidden Treasures - Every Collector's Dream



2015-06-26 10:50:37

While for some the sale of Munch’s ‘The Scream’ may stand out as this year’s top auction tale, the stories that resonate most with the majority of on-a-budget collectors are those of discovery. The ten dollar canvas from a thrift store that reveals itself to be a forgotten masterpiece. The flea market hiding long lost objects d’art. The routine hunt through a relative’s attic that unearths an unprecedented collection, setting experts reeling.These stories are encouraging to the garden-variety collector. For those who don’t possess the millions to buy headline items that make the auction news, the stories demonstrate that such a windfall discovery could happen to any one of us, expert, aficionado or mere dabbler alike.

There are thousands of rare and valuable collectibles, lost, perchance forgotten, and waiting to be found. Read on to be inspired, and remain patient for your own windfall, it could happen any day.

Discoveries of yesteryear

The Staffordshire hoard

In 2009, an unemployed man from Staffordshire, UK, who had purchased his metal detector from a car boot sale for just £2.50, used it to uncover the largest Anglo Saxon treasure hoard ever seen. Gem-encrusted items, swords, helmets, trophies and more are thought to have belonged to the royalty of the 7-8 century Mercian Kingdom. The unemployed Mr Herbert, and the farmer on whose land the treasure was buried, received £1 million each. Experts were particularly perplexed as no record of such a vast buried treasure exists from the Mercian era. News came this December that yet more fragments of gold and silver have been discovered at the site.


The Buffalo Michelangelo

A painting hung for years behind a sofa in Buffalo, New York, was used as a tennis ball target, and subject to all manner of family wear, tear, and jokes. Finally, they researched the piece, employing x-rays and chemical pigment analysis, and the painting was revealed almost certainly to be the work of Italian Renaissance master Michelangelo. Experts valued the family heirloom in the region of $100-$300 million.

Declaration of Independence

In 1989, a Philadelphia finance analyst picked up a picture frame for $4 at a flea market. Once he had removed the picture, he discovered behind it a folded document. This turned out to be one of the finest copies of the Declaration of Independence ever seen, one of the 200 manually printed Dunlap Broadside copies, made just hours after the signing. He sold it for $2.42 million in 1991. In June 2000, the same copy sold for $8.14 million.

This year’s discoveries

So what are this year’s equivalents? Here we have chosen some of our favourite stories of discoveries that went on to sell at a 2012 auction.

With a metal detector

A lucky metal detector enthusiast, trawling a Long Island potato field, unearthed a coin which at the time made the record for the most valuable American coin ever found with a metal detector. The famously rare 1652 New England sixpence was one of the first group of coins ever struck in the future United States. The coin sold in November this year for $431,250.

Flea market/thrift store finds

A North Carolina artist, whose speciality was psychedelic portraits of cats with wide staring eyes in bright acrylic colours, often picked up old canvases at thrift stores to up-cycle and paint over. On this occasion, she spent $9.99 on a canvas featuring a cubist diamond. A friend persuaded her to investigate the piece before whitewashing it, and it revealed itself to be an abstract work ‘Vertical Diamond’ by leading 20th century artist Ilya Bolotowsky. She sold it for $34,375 in September.

A similar story, with a less happy ending, was that of the flea market Renoir. Hidden in a box of miscellaneous items, also including a plastic cow and a Paul Bunyan lumberjack doll for which the buyer parted with her $7, was a lost masterpiece by none other than Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Entitled ‘Paysage Bords de Seine’, the piece was set for a $100,000 sale. However, investigation suggested the item had been stolen in 1951, so the auction was postponed.

Attic/basement discoveries

The memorable ‘Black Swamp’ find was termed ‘the most startling and significant find in baseball card collecting history’. A foray into a grandfather’s attic in Defiance, Ohio revealed an unprecedented turn-of-the-century collection of almost 700 antique baseball cards from the 1910 E98 ‘set of 30’, including some of the great rarities featuring the greatest baseball legends from this era.

With just three exceptions, every card in the collection was graded the highest or equal-to-highest in existence, something almost inconceivable for cards over 100 years old. The whole was valued at $3 million, and sold this July.

Similarly, the Billy Wright comic book collection, gathered together over a lifetime and kept in immaculate condition by a passionate collector, was valued at $3.5 million. Many of the most valuable comic book issues in existence were present in the collection, found lingering in a basement by the collector’s great-nephew. The last of the comics were sold in February.

Being used as loft insulation

A trove of thirty three exceedingly rare movie posters were discovered, all stuck together with wallpaper glue, being used as loft insulation in Berwick, Pennsylvania. Some of the most sought after posters in history were steamed off the pile carefully one by one, and the whole sold in March for $503,000.


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