For the most part, people shopping at thrift stores, garage sales, or flea markets are simply looking for a cheap way to expand their wardrobe, or maybe decorate their home. Those looking to take the “thrift” in the title literally might take a different approach, though, attempting to find deceptively expensive items for a low price, then flipping them to a third or fourth buyer who actually understands and appreciates the true value they hold. It can take months or even years for this plan to actually pay off, but in rare cases, it manages to do so to the tune of thousands of dollars, if not significantly more.
Of course, making big bucks from a random discovery at a second-hand shop isn’t exactly easy. Even after someone believes they found a truly valuable object, it needs to get authenticated through the proper channels in order for the next buyer to accept it as legitimate. Sometimes, this process is borderline impossible due to poorly kept records and general confusion about how an artifact worth serious bank wound up in a random store, not to mention a random garage. Finding a buyer willing to shell out the approximated value can be even tougher.
Nonetheless, expert opinions and simple buyer’s intuition have caused a trip to a second-hand shop to suddenly leave customers with a windfall so large they’re pretty much set for retirement. To learn how, keep reading and discover 30 crazy thrift store finds that turned into thousands of dollars.
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30 Vintage Clothing Can Always Get Flipped To The Right Audience
While the real thrill of a thrift store find is making a huge amount of money from a single sale, some people are in it for the long game.
Take for example Arkansas native Alexandra Marquez, who claims to make around $3,000 to $5,000 per month purchasing second-hand clothing and reselling it on the Postmark app.
She’s not even looking for high-end fashion, simply dusting up department store brands and flipping them to interested parties. The other items on this list may ultimately be more extravagant, but Marquez’ example goes to show just how high the potential is to benefit from a thrift store.
29 Albrecht Dürer is No Bric-a-Brac
By and large, the people on this list made out huge for their thrift store discoveries, yet not everyone appears to be so monetarily minded. When an art enthusiast noticed a unique engraving at a French flea market, they purchased it for a “few Euros” due to the Staatsgalerie logo it featured.
Rather than attempt to cash-in, the buyer called up the museum and informed them of their find, learning it was a 1520 piece created by Albrecht Dürer.
Valuable as it was, the buyer decided to simply return it to the museum, which said it had been missing for some 70 years.
28 A Signed Print Created By Pablo Picasso
When a piece of artwork gets famous enough, it’s bound to get replicated thousands of times if not more, and it should go without saying that a reproduction has nowhere near the value of an original.
That’s why a man shopping at Volunteers of America in Clinton, Ohio naturally assumed the Pablo Picasso print he purchased for $14.14 was merely a poster based on the artist’s work.
To his surprise, the piece turned out to be an original linoleum lithograph signed by the artist himself. While some experts questioned it’s veracity, others were steadfastly convinced, to the extent he later made $7,000 off the discovery.
27 This Alexander Pope Painting Is No Dog
It’s all well and good to buy a painting by a famous artist due to of its value or the emotions it inspires, but if someone buys artwork simply because it has a cute dog on it, more power to them. That’s why Maureen Flaherty bought a lithograph for $44 at a Summerfield, Florida Goodwill on a whim, only for an antique dealer to catch her in the parking lot to let her know it was a classic.
The pooch was drawn by Alexander Pope, titled “The Brook Hill Dog,” and was later valued at $3,300.
True to her a dog loving nature, Flaherty gave half her earnings to canine-related charities.
26 Cute Pictures of “George and Rufus”
Certain trends in modern art are almost childlike in style, and certainly don’t look like antiques upon first glance. Jo Heaven was shopping at Barnardo’s charity store in Swindon, England and simply thought the fabric screen-print “George and Rufus” was cute when she purchased it for 99 pence, until she recognized Ben Nicholson’s name on the back after putting it in her car.
Because the woman’ mother was an art teacher, she instantly knew it was worth a whole lot more than she paid, and later managed to sell it for £4,200.
The money from her windfall went to a charity supporting Gambian causes.
25 Red Noses and Sharp Eyes Recognize Alexander Calder
Compared to some other artists on this list, Alexander Calder is a tad obscure, but that doesn’t make him any less valuable or important to the right collector. However, it does explain why a Milwaukee man shopping at Goodwill wouldn’t immediately realize what he was buying when stumbling upon a black and white lithograph for $12.34.
Thankfully for him, he eventually noticed Calder’s signature, and research revealed it was a rare print called “Red Nose;” one of only 75 in existence.
After getting appraised by experts, it was determined the piece was worth around $9,000.
24 75 Cents Lead to the Birth of a Pawn Star
Most items on this list merely added to the bank accounts of the people who found them, yet at least one also lead to a small amount of fame when the story wound up on television. As seen on an episode Pawn Stars, a man once paid 75 cents for an interesting medallion he found at a garage sale. The show’s Rick Harrison instantly recognized it was special, and offered him $6,000 for it, which the man quickly accepted.
Ultimately, it looks like Harrison got the better deal, as it was later determined the ornate piece was a Polish White Eagle Medal, with a total value ranging from $30,000 to $40,000.
We feel kind of bad for that guy now.
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23 NFL and Military History All In One Sweater
To the NFL, few names hold as much weight as Vince Lombardi. The iconic coach brought success to the New York Giants, the Army team at West Point, and most notably the Green Bay Packers, who won three Super Bowls under his direction. Of course, each of these teams are responsible for loads of merchandise,
so when an Asheville, North Carolina couple bought a West Point sweater for 58 cents, they assumed it had nothing to do with him, until one of them noticed the name on the tag.
It was soon authenticated as Lombardi’s clothing, worn from 1949 to 1953, and the connection boosted its value up to $43,020.
22 A Jacket Made For Golf Masters
Fans of Happy Gilmore know just how important a jacket can be to a golfer, making it all the more curious why one would give up their prized possession for any reason. Despite this, a man searching through a Toronto, Ontario thrift store in 1994 managed to find exactly such an outfit in the form of a green Master’s jacket from the early to mid-’50s. Only the tournament winner is allowed to take them out off the field, and Augusta National wouldn’t confirm which former champion did so with this one.
They would, however, confirm that the jacket was legit, turning a $5 find into $30,579.
Talk about dressing like a baller.
21 An Abstract Diamond Courtesy of Ilya Bolotowsky
Generally speaking, the worst thing a person can do to a classic piece of art is draw on it or deface it in any way. In all fairness to Beth Feeback, she had no idea a legendary artist created the $10 painting she bought at a Concord, North Carolina Goodwill, but that doesn’t change what a huge mistake it would have been for her to add a bunch of cats to it, as was her original plan.
Luckily, before that could happen, she discovered the artwork in question was Ilya Bolotowsky’s “Vertical Diamond” and was valued at over $30,000.
Looks like she has an eye for art.
20 A Luxury Watch That Works Underwater
Far more than just a way to tell time, some watches are extremely valuable status symbols and luxurious fashion pieces. One wouldn’t expect a $5.99 trinket sold in a Goodwill to be such a timepiece, yet Phoenix, Arizona resident Zach Norris recognized something special when he noticed one while looking for a golf cart. A small amount of research confirmed the watch was a 1959 Jaeger-LeCoultre diving watch, meaning it was both very valuable and rather special, able to keep on ticking for great depths underwater. What this means it that $5.99 quickly turned into $35,000.
19 17th Century Libations From China to Australia
Especially considering a chip on the design, it probably seemed wholly reasonable to a Sydney, Australian op-shop that this “libation cup” would sell for a mere $4. The person buying it didn’t initially realize it was special, either, simply thinking the design looked fancy. Indeed, it was later determined to date back to the 17th century, known as a “Magnolia and Prunus” cup carved out of a rhinoceros horn. With the full story known, the piece managed to sell for $75,640.
18 A Watch Worn by James Bond
Forget about high-end designers — nothing says true style quite like the name Bond. James Bond. Everything the iconic spy wore spoke to his extremely cool demeanor, especially when they were tweaked by his trusty scientist friend Q.
That was the case with this Brietling watch, which disappeared for years from the set of Thunderball, until it was discovered at a car boot sale and purchased for £25.
That it was actually the first timepiece Q enhanced for 007 only added to the value, leading to a resale value estimated in the £40,000 to £60,000 range. Unfortunately, though, it won’t locate atomic bombs like it did in the movie.
17 From a Car Boot to the Antiques Roadshow
In many respects, the fact thrift shops would sell the items on this list for such low prices is almost like throwing money away, and sometimes that’s not the end of it. Take for example the woman in England who bought a flower for £1, then planned to throw away the pot it came in after the plant withered. Luckily for her, the Antiques Roadshow happened to be in town and she had the vase appraised, learning it was a 1929 design of René Lalique.
Because of this, the piece that nearly became garbage ended up commanding a hefty price tag, somewhere to the tune of £32,000.
Good thing she didn’t throw it out!
16 An Iconic Acetate That Changed Music Forever
Aside from mainstream acts like The Beatles or The Rolling Stones, few bands come close to the influence of The Velvet Underground on the future of music. The band’s first album, The Velvet Underground & Nico, was especially iconic, though it took several decades for the group to truly get their due in the industry.
That time had definitely come by 2014, when a man purchased an original acetate demo from the album’s recording sessions at a Chelsea, New York flea market for 75 cents.
Only one other copy was known to exist at the time, owned by drummer Maureen Tucker. When sold on eBay, the unearthed copy made $25,200.
15 Lucky Buyers Praise This Tibetan Goddess
In order to find a buy like the ones on this list, people heading to a thrift store might want to say a quick prayer before starting their search. That may or may not have happened when a regular bargain hunter stumbled upon a statue of the Tibetan goddess Green Tara at a car boot sale, purchasing it for £25. Though she didn’t know what it was, the ornate designs gave her a hunch it was valuable, and indeed, it later turned out the piece was a Buddhist artifact from the 16th century.
When sold at auction, the price climbed all the way to £19,220, leaving the seller in shock.
Looks like it literally brought her good fortune.
14 Pulling Out This Couch Lead to More Than a Bed
Everyone has lost something in a couch, and it’s always a thrill to discover it somewhere down the line. Of course, recovering forgotten spare change or a lost cell phone doesn’t compare in the slightest to what a Berlin, Germany student found in her sofa after buying it at a thrift store for $215.
After sleeping on the couch for several nights and realizing it was a tad uncomfortable, she opened it up and found Preparation to Escape to Egypt, a piece of unknown origins that was nonetheless extremely valuable.
When sold at auction, it made $27,630.
13 A Video Game That Could Fill a Stadium
Thanks to the NES and SNES Classics, retro gaming is more “in” than ever before, but plenty of legendary titles were left off these throwback devices. One such missing game was Stadium Events, long considered the rarest and perhaps most valuable NES title ever released. Most copies were destroyed by Nintendo for marketing purposes, but a few survived, and one was rediscovered by a woman at a North Carolina Goodwill for only $7.99.
Even better, it was still in it’s original case, which was in perfect condition. Knowing what she found, the thrifty shopper instantly snatched it up, setting out to resell it for the reasonable price of $15,000.
From now on, we’re keep all of our video games.
12 An Ornate Oriental Censer Didn’t Burn the Buyer
In the modern era, most people burning incense don’t put all that much thought into where they stash their sticks, so long as the storage space is inflammable. During the 18th century, however, people apparently used ornate “censers” to do the trick, though it would be hard to spot one today.
When such a device showed up at a Somerset, England charity shop, it sold for only £2, but that price tag skyrocketed once it was appraised as hailing from the Qianlong dynasty, representing the era’s cloisonné technique.
With this information, it later resold for £21,000.
11 A Cavalcade of Iconic German Expressionists
Considering how valuable single paintings on this list are, finding a whole collection of unique art in one spot sounds like a literal goldmine. One lucky excavator found just that at a flea market in Odenwald, Germany when they purchased a brochure simply titled “Brücke” for €5. Upon opening the pages, they found work by an iconic collective featuring Ernest Ludwig Kirchner, Erich Heckel, Otto Mueller, and Max Pechstein, compiled to advertise a 1912 traveling exhibition in which they were all involved. Adding to the provenance is the fact Pechstein was kicked out of the group shortly after it printed. Once the buyer realized what they had, the pamphlet resold for $23,400.
10 A Piece of American History Sold for the “Standard Price”
When it comes to American history, no document is as meaningful or important as the Declaration of Independence. Naturally, this means the iconic statement liberating the US from British rule has been reprinted perhaps millions of times, and a version typed 200 years after the fact is barely worth the paper on which it’s printed. Assuming it was a replica, the Music City Thrift Store in Nashville, Tennessee sold such a replication for a mere $2.48.
However, this particular copy was especially historic, dating back to 1820, commissioned by future President John Quincy Adams.
With the additional provenance, it later sold for $477,650.
9 Diamonds Are a Thrifty Person’s Best Friend
While it’s understandable, some shops may not realize what they have with a random painting or statue, one might expect the value of a diamond ring is a bit more transparent.
Unless, that is, the seller assumes it’s a decorative fake, which was the case when this 19th century 26.27-carat gemstone sold for £10 at a 1980s car boot sale in England.
Once appraised by experts, it earned the nickname the “Tenner” thanks to its origin story, and the fact it was actually worth a whole lot more. When resold with the full story attached, the ring went for £656,750.
8 Philip Treacy’s Tribute to Andy Warhol’s Elvis
Upon first glance, a handbag featuring Elvis Presley’s image probably just looked like a cute novelty, which is why a man at a Kingston, UK Oxfam charity shop paid just $30 for one. Of course, there’s a huge difference between a random drawing of the King and one created by Andy Warhol, which the one on his bag happened to be. Also notable is the fact it was designed by Philip Treacy, adding fashion-world relevance to the already artistically valuable piece.
Though experts valued it at roughly $500,000, they also suggested he hold on to it, thinking the price tag will only go up with time.
Here’s hoping that was the right move.
7 A Chinese Bowl Made By Its “Ding’s”
Typically, a “ding” in ceramic art sends the value plummeting, albeit usually not all the way down to $3. That’s what a family in upstate New York paid for a Chinese bowl at a garage sale, and it seemed like a fair price at the time. Until they got it appraised, that is, at which point the family learned it was nearly 1,000 years old, dating back to the Northern Song Dynasty.
Not only that, but the item known as a Ding bowl was one of only two left in existence, making it one of the priciest Dings imaginable,
and an art dealer was willing to pay $2.22 million for it.
6 Covering a Hole with a Gold Velvet Cloth
Unlike the items on this list, it’s probably fair to assume most art purchased at a thrift store never had much of a chance to wind up at a museum. Best case scenario, someone might buy a painting of flowers and use it to cover up a hole in the wall, which is what an Indiana man did with the piece he picked up for “next to nothing” along with some furniture.
In a stroke of luck, he later recognized the same painting while playing the board game “Masterpiece,” learning it was the work of Martin Johnson Heade. With this information, he later resold it to a museum for $1.25 million.
Who said boardgames weren’t educational?
5 Andy Warhol and the Origins of Pop Art
Iconic as his drawings are, the appeal of Andy Warhol is that he found beauty in pop culture, making it hard for an untrained eye to differentiate his work from any old sketch of a celebrity.
Even so, Andy Fields immediately knew he had something special after purchasing five sketches for $5 at a Las Vegas garage sale. One of them was a picture of singer Rudy Valleé, and it happened to feature Warhol’s signature.
Warhol experts soon determined it was one of the artists earliest works, possibly made when he was about 10 years old. This unique situation lead to an estimated value of $2 million.
4 The Original Declaration of Independence Hidden Behind a Painting
As already noted, even a copy of the Declaration of Independence from a few short decades after it was written can be valuable. Of course, it doesn’t compare to the original version, or the first 23 copies that were made along with it. Amazingly, a Pennsylvania man found the real deal folded up and hidden behind a painting he had no interest in, purchased only because he liked the frame.
Thanks to the way it was stored, this copy was in fantastic shape and soon sold for $2.42 million.
It went for even more a few years later, when TV producer Norman Lear purchased the document and took it on tour.
3 A Fabergé Egg That Nearly Melted to Nothing
When it comes to outrageously expensive figurines, very little comes close to the value of Fabergé eggs. That’s why at $14,000, this item was already quite expensive when purchased at a flea market.
The buyer originally intended to melt it down for the gold it contained, but changed their mind upon realizing it was actually a gift from Czar Alexander III for his wife Empress Maria Feodorvna, and it’s a good thing they did.
After getting authenticated as one of the few remaining Fabergé’s in existence, that already high price tag shot up even higher, all the way to $33 million.
2 Jackson Pollock Answers a $50 Million Question
Understandably, a person reading this list who isn’t all that well versed in art may be wondering what makes some of the artists we’ve mentioned so special. That’s what Teri Horton thought after buying a giant abstract painting in a San Bernardino, California thrift shop for $5.
Originally intended as a gift, once it didn’t fit in her friend’s trailer, she planned to keep it as a dart board, until someone pointed out it may have be the work of Jackson Pollock.
The art community hesitates to agree, though forensic evidence suggests it could indeed be real, and believing it is, Horton will accept nothing less than $50 million for the piece.
1 Authentic Photos of historical people
In the modern era, every notable name is subject to paparazzi, not to mention publicists wanting to spread their picture all over the place. Back before cameras were commonplace, however, famous figures came and went without ever standing on the other side of a snapshot. One name almost entirely free from historical documentation is Billy the Kid, with only two known photos of the legendary outlaw in existence.
Amazingly, one of them was discovered in a Fresno, California antiques shop, originally purchased for $2.
Once authenticated as a 1878 picture of Billy with his gang the Regulators, it was valued at over $5 million.
References: The New York Times, ABC News, Business Insider, Time, PRI, Deseret News, ESPN, LA Times, CBS News, BBC, New York Post, Washington Post, Sydney Morning
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