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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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Switzerland Flushes $1.8 Million in Gold Down the Sewer Every Year
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Switzerland has some pretty valuable sewer systems. As Bloomberg reports, scientists have discovered around $1.8 million worth of gold in the country's wastewater, along with $1.7 million worth of silver.

Scientists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology examined sewage sludge and effluents, or discharged liquid waste, from 64 water treatment plants and major Swiss rivers. They did this to assess the concentrations of various trace elements, which are "increasingly widely used in the high-tech and medical sectors," the scientists explained in a press statement. "While the ultimate fate of the various elements has been little studied to date, a large proportion is known to enter wastewater."

The study, which was recently published online in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, revealed that around 94 pounds of gold makes its way through Switzerland's sewage system each year, along with 6600 pounds of silver and high concentrations of rare metals like gadolinium and niobium. For the most part, these metals don't harm the environment, researchers say.

With gold and silver quite literally flowing through their sewers, is there any way that Switzerland could turn their wastewater into wealth? Scientists are skeptical: "The recovery of metals from wastewater or sludge is scarcely worthwhile at present, either financially or in terms of the amounts which could be extracted," the release explains.

However, in the southern canton of Ticino, which is home to several gold refineries, the "concentrations of gold in sewage sludge are sufficiently high for recovery to be potentially worthwhile," they conclude.

Switzerland is famous for its chocolate, watches, and mountains, but it's also home to major gold refineries. On average, around 70 percent of the world's gold passes through Switzerland every year—and judging from the looks of it, much of it goes down the drain. As for the sewer silver, it's a byproduct of the chemical and pharmaceutical industry, which is a cornerstone of Switzerland's economy.

[h/t Bloomberg]

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14 Things You Owned in the '70s That are Worth a Fortune Now
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DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images

From old toys and housewares to books and records, these pieces of '70s memorabilia have aged (and increased in value) like fine wine.

1. THE LORD OF THE RINGS KNICKERBOCKER PLAYSET

A vintage ringwraith toy from Lord of the Rings by Knickerbocker toys, still on the yellow blister pack.

eBay user butamaru999

Peter Jackson wasn’t the first one to take a crack at J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy. In 1978, Ralph Bakshi directed an animated version with the voices of John Hurt, William Squire, and Anthony Daniels, among others. There was a toy promotion to go along with the movie, of course, and though the action figures look a little cheap by today’s standards, they’re anything but. According to eBay, a complete set can sell for up to $17,000.

2. DAVID BOWIE’S DIAMOND DOGS ALBUM

Photo of David Bowie
RALPH GATTI/AFP/Getty Images

Check your old vinyl! In 1974, David Bowie released the Diamond Dogs LP, which featured artwork of a cartoonish Bowie-dog. The top half of the creature was Bowie, while the bottom half was all canine—including its genitals. Right before the album was released, RCA decided to avoid controversy and had the artwork retouched to remove the offending parts. However, some enterprising employees were able to snag some of the originals, and in 2003, one of them sold for $3550.

3. LUKE SKYWALKER ACTION FIGURE

Luke Skywalker action figure still in the Kenner packaging from the 1970s.
DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images

OK, you probably didn’t own this exact Luke Skywalker action figure with double-telescoping lightsaber when you were a kid, because there are only 20 known toys in existence. If you are one of the lucky few, though, get thyself to Sotheby’s: In 2015, this 1978 Kenner toy sold for a whopping $25,000.

Even if you don’t own this ultra-rare figure, don’t despair: Your old Star Wars toys could still be worth hundreds—or even thousands—of dollars.

4. THE SEX PISTOLS’S “GOD SAVE THE QUEEN”/“NO FEELINGS” 45

The Sex Pistols
Graham Wood/Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The infamously offensive Sex Pistols signed to A&M Records in 1977—and were dropped by the label exactly six days later for proving to be just too much to handle. But in those six days, 25,000 copies of the band’s “God Save the Queen” single had already been pressed. Just nine copies have surfaced over the years, making the rare records worth a pretty penny: In 2003, a copy with the paper sleeve sold for £13,000 (about $17,600).

5. WALK LIVELY STEFFIE BARBIE

Walk Lively Steffie doll

Image courtesy of bklyngrl44 on eBay

Remember Barbie’s friend from the 1970s, Steffie? Not many people do—which may be why a mint condition Walk Lively Steffie doll that's still in its box can be worth nearly $800.

6. THE GARDEN OF ABDUL GASAZI BY CHRIS VAN ALLSBURG

A copy of The Garden of Abdul Gasazi

Your book collection provides you with hours of entertainment, and can also be a great source of extra income. A first edition of The Garden of Abdul Gasazi, a 1979 children’s book by Chris Van Allsburg, is worth nearly $1000 (if it's in “Fine” condition). If you have a collection of Van Allsburg first editions, by the way, you’re doing well: A first edition of Jumanji from 1981 is worth hundreds, if not thousands, and a signed first edition of The Polar Express from 1985 is worth $2500.

7. ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE BY GABRIEL GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ

The green, floral, leafy cover of the first edition of One Hundred Years of Solitude.
Image courtesy of cnos.mich on eBay

Who knew an exclamation point was worth so much? In some early copies of Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, the first paragraph of the dust jacket blurb featured an exclamation point instead of a period. That little mistake makes a first edition with the exclamation point worth $740. (Even the version with the intended period is worth some cash, though—about $400.)

8. LIMITED EDITION VERSION OF THE FIRST STAR WARS COMIC BOOK

Star Wars Comic Book
Image courtesy of heisman1944 via eBay

Here’s a riddle for you: When is five cents worth $7500? Answer: When rare Star Wars memorabilia is involved. When the first issue of the Star Wars comic book was released in 1977, Marvel published about 1500 limited edition copies for 35 cents instead of the usual 30 cents. Spending that extra nickel 40 years ago is worth more than $7000 today—and there’s currently one on eBay being sold for more than $10,000.

9. REMCO BATMAN UTILITY BELT

A vintage Batman utility belt stilli n packaging, with plastic handcuffs, decoders, and watch.

This Remco Batman Utility Belt from the 1970s came with all of the bells and whistles: a communicator, decoder glasses, a toy watch, handcuffs, a Gotham City decoder map, a secret identity card, and a secret message, among other things. Not only is it cool, that’s a lot of little pieces to keep track of, so you can see why a complete set in decent condition sells for more than $3000.

10. ALPINE MAN PEZ DISPENSER

Image courtesy of tobor1010 via eBay

To commemorate the 1972 Olympics in Munich, PEZ released the “Alpine Man” Pez Dispenser. There were two variants—a mustachioed figure in a green Alpine hat and a clean-shaven one wearing a brown cap. The green hat can be worth up to $3000; the brown one is worth “considerably more,” but is apparently so extremely rare that no pricing seems to actually exist.

11. ORIGINAL MEGO ROBIN ACTION FIGURE

Tom Simpson, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The Mego company doesn’t produce action figures anymore—it went bankrupt in 1982—but for a decade, it was considered “The World’s Greatest Action Figure Company.” Many of their figures are worth a nice chunk of change today, but the original Robin the Boy Wonder figure from 1973 takes the cake. The first version came with a removable mask, while later versions came with the mask painted on. As you might imagine, that teeny little piece of cloth was often lost by the kids who played with the toy, so finding a Robin in good condition with the mask is pretty rare; one sold for $7357.

12. IKEA FURNITURE

A car topped with boxes of IKEA furniture
iStock

IKEA has become known for their affordable furniture and housewares, but certain vintage pieces will set you back a bit more than a $9.99 LACK table. Today, a teak bookshelf and cabinet combo from the 1970s can fetch up to $3000—surely a good return on investment.

13. PYREX DISHES

A green Pyrex mixing bowl with red ribbons and holly on it, sitting on top of three pyrex collecting books.

Image courtesy of qualityqueen62 via eBay

Your parents and grandparents shouldn't have passed those Pyrex dishes down—they're worth a lot of dough these days. Whole sets of certain patterns or colors can go for thousands of dollars, but even single bowls can fetch hundreds, like the above Christmas bowl from the early '70s, which is going for $370 on eBay.

14. THE ADDAMS FAMILY LUNCHBOX

They’re creepy and they’re kooky ... and they’re worth a lot of money. This metal lunchbox by King Seeley depicts the cartoon version of everyone’s favorite ooky sitcom family. A good-condition set containing the lunchbox and matching thermos can be worth up to $325.

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