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5 More People Who Accidentally Found a Fortune

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We’ve all found something that we thought might be worth a lot of money. We have not all been fortunate enough to stumble across anything actually worth a fortune. Rob has shared some of these stories before, but here are a few more people who accidentally discovered something incredibly valuable.

1. A 500-Year-Old Pendant

Taking a three-year-old out to use a metal detector is mostly about showing the kiddo a device that beeps when you find a quarter or an old can. And to be fair, that’s really all Jason Hyatt expected to do when he took his son James on his very first expedition. Just minutes after getting started, the detector buzzed and the father-son duo started digging. About 8 inches under the surface, they discovered a gold locket with an image of the Virgin Mary clutching a cross.

The pendant is what’s known as a reliquary, and it dates back to the 16th century, during the reign of Henry VIII. Experts claim it may have even belonged to a member of the royal family. There are only three other reliquaries of this type known to exist.

As a bonus (sort of), James will learn a valuable lesson about sharing. Part of the reliquary's $4 million sale will go to the owner of the property where it was discovered.

2. A Vase Fit for the Emperor

When a pair of siblings set out to clean their deceased uncle’s home, they certainly weren’t expecting to become millionaires in the process. As they started packing up his things, they ran across a vase that seemed so worthless they stuck it up on a bookshelf and continued working on boxing up the rest of his items. Eventually their attention returned to the vase, and they realized it might be worth something, so they took it to an auctioneer who told them the piece was from the 1740s and was almost certainly created specifically for the Qianlong Emperor.


Naturally, the pair put the vase up for auction, where the piece ended up breaking the record for any Chinese artwork –closing at $69 million. Now that’s one heck of an unexpected inheritance.

3. A 260-Year-Old Violin

One evening in 1967, a woman thought she saw a baby on the side of the freeway, so she got out and investigated. Fortunately, it wasn't a baby, but a violin case with a pretty nice-looking violin inside. The woman kept the violin, eventually giving it to her nephew, who then lost it to his ex-wife, Theresa Salvato, during a divorce settlement. When Theresa decided to take violin lessons, her instructor thought there was something unusual about her instrument. He asked to borrow it, and then took it to a violin dealer who examined it and declared it to be the $800,000 violin that had been missing from UCLA’s collection since 1967.

Named "The Duke of Alcantara," the rare instrument was a Stradivarius that had been borrowed from the school’s collection by the school orchestra’s second violinist, David Margetts. David reported the violin stolen, but it turns out he likely put it on top of his car and forgot about it.

Salvato contacted the school, but refused to hand over the instrument after they sent two campus police officers to her home and accused her of theft. Eventually, the matter had to be settled in court, where Salvato was pronounced the rightful legal owner of the instrument. She then sold the violin back to the school for $11,500 — a fraction of its actual worth. Even so, it’s not too shabby for something found on the side of the freeway.

4. A Missing Mark Twain Manuscript

For years now, the second half of Mark Twain’s manuscript for Huck Finn has been treasured and cared for in the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library. But what about the first half? As it turns out, it’s been hidden away inside of a trunk in the attic of the very book collector that convinced Mark Twain to donate the book to the library in the first place. After Twain handed the manuscript over to James Fraser Gluck, the collector managed to lose the first half before giving it to the library.

Finally, over 100 years later, Gluck’s granddaughters discovered the manuscript and intended to put it on auction at Sotheby’s in New York. Before the auction date, an ownership claim arose after the library pointed out that Twain had promised the manuscript would go into their collection. Rather than making a legal battle out of the matter, the sisters decided to sell the manuscript to the library for an undisclosed, but reportedly low, six-digit sum. While it was far less than the piece would have earned at auction, the sisters claimed they agreed to sell it to the library as an act of charity.

5. A Lost Van Gogh Masterpiece

Sometimes valuable items can be hiding in plain sight. Just ask the unnamed middle-aged couple living in Milwaukee who happened to have an original van Gogh masterpiece hanging on their wall. They thought the painting was just a simple reproduction, but when they invited an art appraiser to take a look at another painting in their home, he noticed the van Gogh and realized it was the 1886 original. When “Still Life With Flowers” sold at auction, the couple quickly ended up $1.4 million richer.

So, any of you guys ever find an original van Gogh? How about something valuable but maybe not Stradivarius-level valuable? We've heard the Atari 2600 is worth a few bucks.

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This Just In
By the Numbers: How Americans Spend (More of) Their Money
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Every day, Americans spend an average of $101, according to Gallup. The bulk of that money goes to housing, food, and, transportation—but a surprising amount of it gets spent on Funyuns. Previously, we broke down where the $10.7 trillion that Americans spent in a single year went. Here’s an updated look at the lesser known slices of America’s big financial pie chart.

Touring Civil War battlefields: $442 million [PDF]

(That’s the tally for 15 NPS Civil War battlefields in five states. “[B]lue and gray makes green,” says Kevin Lanston, a deputy commissioner for tourism in Georgia. [PDF])

Drinking beer on Independence Day: $1 billion

Lighting up fireworks: $800 million

Lighting up (legal) marijuana: $6.9 billion

(“Sales are projected to increase to $21.6 billion by the year 2021,” according to Arcview Market Research.)

Eating Cheetos, Doritos, and Funyuns: $4.8 billion

Fixing car damage caused by potholes: $3 billion

De-icing streets with road salt: $2.3 billion

Buying bags of ice: $3 billion

Shopping for (artificial) Christmas trees: $854 million

Chopping (real) Christmas trees: $1.3 billion

Enjoying the great outdoors: $646 billion [PDF]

(If this number appears inflated, that’s because it reflects the total impact of outdoor recreation, including trip-related sales such as hotels, food services, and vacation expenses.)

Fishing trips: $41.8 billion

Bicycling trips: $81 billion [PDF]

Rock climbing/hiking trips: $12 billion [PDF]

Treating trips and falls: $76.3 billion

Birdwatching: $26 billion [PDF]

Paying for wild birdfeed: $3 billion

Treating dog bites: $570 million

Going under the knife for aesthetic cosmetic surgery: $13.5 billion

Purchasing cosmetics: $62 billion

Getting your nails done: $7.47 billion [PDF]

Getting hammered: $223.5 billion

(According to the CDC, this includes the cost of lost workplace productivity, health care expenses, law enforcement expenses, and impaired driving accidents.)

Binging at food trucks: $2.7 billion

Treating acid indigestion: $2 billion

Eating quinoa: $1.32 billion

Chewing chewing gum: $2 billion

Chewing chewing tobacco: $5.93 billion

Buying chew toys: $32 million

Going back to school: $75.8 billion

Prepping for standardized tests: $12 billion

Treating stress-related illnesses: $300 billion

Purchasing fake degrees: ~$100 million

(More than 100,000 fake degrees are sold each year in the U.S., at approximately $1000 a pop.)

Giving graduation gifts: $5.4 billion

Playing Fantasy Football: $4.6 billion

Watching the Patriots-Falcons Super Bowl: $14.1 billion

Eating pizza: $32 billion

Eating supermarket hot dogs: $2.4 billion

Treating Ischemic heart disease: $88.1 billion

Buying heartfelt Valentine’s Day jewelry: $4.3 billion

Taking a risk with lottery tickets: $80.55 billion

Taking a risk with online dating: $2 billion

Buying flowers: $31.3 billion

Freshening up with mouthwashes, gargles, and rinses: $1.8 billion

Going to the bar: $20 billion [PDF]

Hitting the nightclub: $1.9 billion

Popping Himalayan Viagra: $5 to 11 billion

(Yarsagumba, or caterpillar fungus, is a parasitic fungus made by ghost moth larvae. This “Himalayan Viagra” has been considered an aphrodisiac for millennia. Numbers reflect global sales.)

Tuning the radio to smooth jazz: $190 million

Pregnancy: $55.6 billion

Last time we did this, a handful of readers expressed interest in seeing these numbers arranged in ascending order. If you’re drooling to see these numbers neatly ordered, a sheet is linked here. Enjoy!

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Health
Dirty Money: The Cash In Your Wallet Is a Magnet for Germs
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If an item is handled by the public, whether it's a library book, a subway pole, or an ATM, you can count on it being filthy. One of the worst offenders is something most people carry around wherever they go: money. As TIME reports, a new study confirms that paper money is a magnet for germs and other microorganisms.

For their paper, which appears in the journal PLOS One, researchers swabbed dozens of $1 bills collected from New York City banks over the course of 2013. The results showed microbes from numerous sources living within the fibers. Most came from the human body, like skin bacteria, oral bacteria, and even vaginal bacteria. But non-human DNA was also prevalent. In the summer, researchers were most likely to find traces from pets like dogs and horses, while microbes from indoor fungi were more common in the winter. Skin break out lately? The bacteria to blame for acne were the most common microorganisms detected.

That list alone is enough to make you feel squeamish when leafing through your wallet, but it doesn't end there. American paper currency is 75 percent cotton and 25 percent linen; this composition makes it a cozy environment for other microorganisms like viruses. According to SmartMoney, the flu can survive on paper money for more than 10 days under the right conditions. E. coli and salmonella have also been detected on paper bills.

While these facts make a good case for washing your hands after each transaction, there's no reason to make the full switch to plastic. The same properties that make money such a good home for bacteria also make it hard to spread those germs to people. When microbes settle into the woven material of a dollar, they tend to stay there, even when you take it out and pass it to someone else. And if some microbes do rub off on you, your skin does a great job of keeping them from getting inside your body where they can do real harm. But you should still remember to use hand sanitizer before eating that burger you just paid for.

Unfortunately, objects touched by strangers aren't the only germ-infested environments to be aware of. Here are some of the dirtiest surfaces lurking in your home.

[h/t TIME]

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