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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June 25, 2012 - 8:13pm
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