20 Amazingly Valuable Thrift Store Finds

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Thrift stores are always a treasure trove of vintage clothing items, posters of kittens, and old kitchen appliances—but sometimes a lucky shopper comes across an actual treasure.

1. A BEN NICHOLSON SCREEN PRINT

In November 2014, Jo Heaven was browsing her local “charity shop”—the British term for thrift stores that raise money for philanthropic organizations—in Swindon, England, when she came across a landscape print with stylized livestock. Liking the “quirky” screen print, she snapped it up for 99 pence (just over $1), and it was only once she got it to the car that Heaven noticed a note of provenance on the back, naming the artist as Ben Nicholson, the influential British modernist.

“My mum was an art teacher, so I’d vaguely heard of Ben Nicholson,” Heaven later told the BBC. “I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, what have I found here?’” The screen print turned out to be one of a set of four made from a single piece of cloth in 1938; another print from the set is in the collection of London's Victoria and Albert Museum. After having the print authenticated by the art experts at Bonhams, Heaven sold it through the auction house for £4,200 (about $5500). She donated 10 percent of the proceeds to the charity shop where she bought the artwork, and invested the rest of the money to a charity she runs called Empower, which supports development projects in the Gambia. “I didn’t earn this money so it seems only right to benefit others rather than gain myself,” Heaven told the Swindon Advertiser.

2. VINCE LOMBARDI’S SWEATER

Lombardi west point sweater
Heritage Auctions, ha.com

On a June afternoon in 2014, Sean and Rikki McEvoy were rifling through the bins at a Goodwill store in Asheville, North Carolina, looking for items they could resell through their vintage clothing business. Sean saw an old sweater with “West Point” emblazoned across the front. Thinking it looked like a vintage basketball warm-up, he tossed the sweater in their pile of goods, which they paid for by weight—58 cents a pound. Five months later, he was watching a documentary about Vince Lombardi, the famed coach of the Green Bay Packers, when a black-and-white photo flashed on the screen. The picture featured a young Lombardi during his 1949–1953 tenure as an assistant coach for Army’s football team, wearing a West Point sweater that looked rather familiar. And Rikki had noticed just the night before that the sweater had a name tag sewn into the neck. “It wasn’t Lombardi, was it?” her husband asked. “Yes, it’s Lombardi,” she replied. Sean nearly passed out.

Sean called the NFL Hall of Fame, and when he told them of his find, they tried to convince him to donate it to them—for free. The McEvoys passed, and in February 2015, they sold the sweater to an anonymous collector for $43,020 at a New York City auction of sports memorabilia.

But how did Lombardi’s sweater end up at the Asheville Goodwill in the first place? It was donated by Ann Wannamaker, whose late husband, Bill Wannamaker, had coached with Lombardi at West Point for a single season in 1952 and somehow ended up with the sweater. More than 60 years later, Ann was cleaning out her house and tossed the sweater into a pile of items to donate, leading to a very lucky find for the McEvoys. “It’s like winning the lottery,” Sean said.

3. A FLEMISH-SCHOOL PAINTING

In late 2010, a South Carolina man was browsing his local Goodwill when he noticed an oil painting in an antique frame—a still life of a dinner table. “I figured the oil painting was out of the 1800s because of the frame it was in,” said the man, who used his middle name, Leroy, in the press to maintain his privacy.

A former antiques dealer, Leroy thought the painting might be worth a “couple of hundred” dollars, so he bought it for $3. About a year later, his daughter took it to be appraised on Antiques Roadshow, whose appraisers offered an initial estimate of $20,000 to $30,000. That’s no chump change, but the painting turned out to be worth even more than that. Painted around 1650 by a Flemish school in Amsterdam, the still life sold for $190,000 in March 2012 through an auction house in Massachusetts. Leroy told reporters that he planned to split the money with his son and daughter-in-law. “It’s the biggest find I’ve ever had,” he said.

4. A PICASSO PRINT

picasso print found in a thrift store
Zach Bodish

In early 2012, Zach Bodish, an avid thrifter, was tracing his usual route through the Volunteers of America store in Clintonville, Ohio, looking for items to fix up and sell, when he came across a framed poster for a 1958 Picasso exhibition. Penciled in the lower left corner was the notation “6/100,” suggesting that the print was a numbered edition. Scrawled on the back were a few lines in French, which Bodish couldn’t read, though the word “originale” looked promising.

Bodish shelled out $14.14 for the poster and frame, and once he got home, he started Googling. He soon realized he had gotten his hands on a linocut poster created by Picasso for an exhibition of his ceramics in the French village of Vallauris in 1958, of which only 100 had been produced. And as for that writing on the back, it meant, “original print, signed proof.” A faded red scribble in the corner of the print was Picasso’s signature. “I started shaking a little bit,” Bodish recalled. The poster he had found was not only a limited edition, but an artist’s proof, one of a batch of initial prints that are approved by the artist before printing the other copies for the series. “You could have knocked me over with a feather,” Bodish wrote on his blog. He initially thought the poster might be worth $3000 to $4000, but after having the print authenticated, he sold it for $7000 in a private sale.

After an article in The Columbus Dispatch highlighted Bodish’s thrift shop discovery, a retired English teacher from Columbus named Ed Zettler contacted the paper, saying he was the one who had donated the print, which he thought was simply a reproduction. According to Zettler, a friend had given him the Picasso print as a housewarming gift in the 1960s, and it had sat in his basement for decades before he decided to donate it while clearing out his house. But Zettler had no hard feelings toward Bodish, telling Today, “That’s the risk you take when you bring something to the thrift store.”

5. AN ILYA BOLOTOWSKY PAINTING

When Beth Feeback first saw the big red abstract painting, she didn’t like it. Still, she ended up paying $9.99 for it at the Goodwill in Oak Ridge, North Carolina, because she hoped to reuse the canvas for one of her own paintings, which featured cartoonish cats. Luckily, a friend suggested that Feeback check the labels on the back, leading her to Google the name Ilya Bolotowsky and discover that he was a celebrated abstract painter who had fled Russia for the U.S. as a teenager—a painter whose works command prices upwards of $15,000. Though she originally found the painting unappealing, once she learned its value, Feeback quipped, “This is the most beautiful damned painting I’ve ever seen in my life.” She soon sold the painting, called Vertical Diamond, through Sotheby’s for $34,375, a price that includes an unspecified buyer’s premium (the final gavel price for the painting itself was about $27,000).

So how did this painting by a Russian émigré end up at a Goodwill in North Carolina? On the back of Vertical Diamond, a sticker reading Weatherspoon Art Gallery provided a clue. The registrar at the Weatherspoon Art Museum at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro looked for traces of the painting in museum records and found that Burlington Industries, a North Carolina fabric manufacturer, had loaned the painting to the Weatherspoon for a 1979 show. Burlington Industries presumably sold the painting at some point, or it may have floated around after the company filed for bankruptcy in 2004 and moved out of its headquarters, dispersing much of its art collection. But regardless of how the painting found its way to Goodwill, Feeback was very glad it did.

6. A CHINESE LIBATION CUP

A few years ago, a shopper in a Sydney op shop (“op shop” or “opportunity shop” is the Australian term for thrift store) found an interesting carved cup in the shape of a flower and spent $4 to take it home. The man later experienced quite the windfall when it turned out his purchase was a 17th-century Chinese “libation cup” made from a rhinoceros horn. He sold it through Sotheby’s [PDF] in June 2013 for $75,640.

7. A JAEGER-LECOULTRE WATCH

When Zach Norris saw a diving watch marked LeCoultre at a Phoenix Goodwill in January 2015, he knew he’d come across something valuable—and he didn’t want to let it go. Produced by the Swiss luxury watch brand Jaeger-LeCoultre, whose modern timepieces sell for thousands of dollars, this vintage watch was tagged just $5.99. “I didn’t even want to give it to [the cashier] to scan,” Norris told KTVK. “I was like, you can scan it in my hand if you want to.” Though he knew vintage Jaeger-LeCoultre diving watches were worth thousands to collectors, Norris soon discovered that his watch was particularly special, a model called LeCoultre Deep Sea Alarm. Produced beginning in 1959, the model was one of the first watches with an alarm for divers to use, and less than 1000 of them were ever made.

Norris had the watch authenticated by a local Jaeger-LeCoultre dealer, and after a website for watch collectors called HODINKEE highlighted Norris’s find, he was flooded with questions and offers to buy it. Norris accepted an offer from Eric Ku, a San Francisco-based vintage Rolex dealer and watch enthusiast, for $35,000—plus an Omega Speedmaster Professional worth $4000 (a watch Norris had long desired). In addition to donating a portion of his profits back to Goodwill, Norris earmarked a good chunk of his earnings to pay for his wedding the following fall.

8. AN 1823 EDITION OF THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE

The United States Declaration of Independence
iStock

In March 2006, a music equipment technician named Michael Sparks was looking through the Music City Thrift Shop in Nashville, Tennessee, when he noticed a rolled-up, yellowed document—a copy of the Declaration of Independence. Sparks happily bought the document for $2.48. “I’ve seen Declarations of Independence in thrift stores before,” Sparks later said. “This one was so beautiful I thought it was an engraving.”

When he examined the paper further upon getting home, he noticed that it was marked 1823, and that it said “by order of the government.” Sparks soon learned that his thrift store purchase was an “official” copy of the Declaration, one of 200 commissioned by President John Quincy Adams in 1820 and printed by William Stone three years later. Only 35 such copies had previously been found. Sparks’s Declaration had been shellacked, and the varnish kept the ink dark, making his document one of the best preserved of its kind. Sparks sold the 1823 Declaration through Raynors’ Historical Collectible Auctions in 2007. The winning bid? $477,650.

It turns out the Declaration had been donated to the Nashville thrift shop by locals Stan and Linda Caffy. Stan had bought the document at a yard sale in the mid-1990s for around $2, then hung it for decoration in his garage where he works on bicycles. His wife urged him to get rid of it, and other items, when the couple was cleaning out their garage in 2006. “I’m happy for the Sparks guy,” Stan Caffy told USA Today. “If I still had it, it would still be hanging here in the garage and I still wouldn't know it was worth all that.”

9. A GIOVANNI BATTISTA TORRIGLIA PAINTING

In late 2012, a Goodwill employee in Manassas, Virginia, named Maria Rivera discovered a small portrait in the store’s donation bin. Depicting an elderly woman holding a cup of tea, the oil painting had cracks in its surface and was housed in an ornate gold frame. The painting reminded Rivera of something she’d seen in a museum, so she pulled it from the pile, thinking it seemed potentially valuable. “I didn’t know how much at that time, but I said, we have some money here,” she told NBC News4. A lot of money, it turns out. The painting was authenticated as the work of 19th-century Italian artist Giovanni Battista Torriglia. Goodwill auctioned off the portrait on its website in January 2013. It earned a winning bid of $11,205.

10. AN ALEXANDER CALDER PAINTING

When Karen Mallet saw a lithograph with the signature “Calder” while shopping at a Goodwill outside of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, she didn’t want to get her hopes up. She recognized the name of Alexander Calder—a celebrated American sculptor, painter, and printmaker—and decided she had to buy the print, just in case it was an original. “I thought, I don't know if it’s real or not but it’s $12.99. I’ve wasted more on worse things,” she told the Associated Press.

Her Goodwill loyalty card brought the price down to $12.34, which Mallet forked over happily. Then, when she got home, Mallet started Googling. She quickly found pictures of numerous works by Calder in the same style (a similar painting, the basis for a set of lithographs, is in the collection of MoMA in Manhattan). Soon Mallet felt confident enough to take her Goodwill purchase to an expert for authentication. Jacob Fine Art Inc., in suburban Chicago, verified that the print was an original 1969 Calder lithograph called Red Nose, number 55 of 75 such lithographs. The appraisers set the replacement value at $9000, but Mallet told reporters in late 2012 that she has no plans to sell the print. While she didn’t connect to the piece originally, “It grew on me,” she said. “Now I love it.”

11. A PHILIP TREACY HANDBAG

In February 2012, John Richard was browsing at an Oxfam charity shop in London when he opened a dusty box and discovered an eye-catching handbag. The 73-year-old retired chef was intrigued by the bag’s print—images of Elvis Presley by Andy Warhol rendered in shades of brown—and decided to take it home, though he balked momentarily at the listed price of £20 (about $26). He tried to haggle the cashier down to £15 but decided to make the splurge when she refused to budge. Still, he put the bag aside once he got home and didn’t think about it for several months.

Remembering the bag later that year, Richard examined it and noticed a Philip Treacy label. Treacy is an Irish designer best known for making sculptural hats, including the one Princess Beatrice wore (to much mockery) to the royal wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. A luxury designer handbag—might it be worth some money? Richard contacted the Philip Treacy shop in London and asked them to examine the bag. Store manager Gee Brunet confirmed that it was a hand-sewn, limited-edition Treacy design, of which only 10 were ever made. “It’s a piece of art, not a bag,” Brunet said.

Richard had the handbag appraised at £350,000, and he told reporters that he’d received two offers, for £250,000 ($325,000) and £350,000 ($455,000), from buyers in China. “I’m rather glad I didn’t put it back now,” Richard told the Daily Express.

12. A STADIUM EVENTS VIDEO GAME CARTRIDGE

stadium games video game screenshot
Bandai

On a spring day in 2013, Jennifer Thompson was perusing the $1 DVD section of a Goodwill store in Charlotte, North Carolina, when she noticed a video game sitting behind the glass counter. Tagged for $7.99, it was an NES cartridge for Stadium Events—a name that reminded Thompson of a Yahoo! article she’d read about the rarest and most sought-after games. She drove across the street to use the Wi-Fi at McDonald’s and confirmed her intuition: Stadium Events was a highly-coveted game that sold for thousands of dollars. Returning to Goodwill, Thompson purchased the cartridge, praying the cashier wouldn’t notice the golden egg he was letting go, then she drove to a local used video game store to test the desirability of her latest purchase.

She showed Wilder Hamm, the owner of Save Point Video Games in Charlotte, a few common games she said she wanted to sell, before revealing Stadium Events at the bottom of the pile. “Oh my God!” Hamm blurted out. “Normally in this business, we try not to show our cards,” Hamm explained later, but Thompson had surprised him and he couldn’t hide his excitement. “I felt honored just to hold it,” he told Kotaku.

Thompson auctioned off Stadium Events through the website GameGavel.com, ultimately selling the game to an orthodontist from Bedford, Indiana, for $25,000.

13. A VALUABLE DOG LITHOGRAPH

the brook hill dog painting by Alexander Pope
Public Domain

In March 2015, Floridian Maureen Flaherty attended the grand opening of a local Goodwill store, where she noticed a large lithograph print of a dog hanging on the wall. Two cashiers took the print down and Flaherty handed over $44 for it—adding a 50-cent donation to the listed price of $43.50. But Flaherty hadn’t even made it to her car when a local antiques dealer flagged her down in the parking lot. He told her, “You just walked out with the most valuable thing in there,” and tried to buy the print, but Flaherty declined his offer because she “just loved it” and wanted to keep the lithograph for herself. But the antiques dealer’s offer had piqued her curiosity, and when she got home, Flaherty did some internet research and realized that she’d just bought a print of a 1911 Alexander Pope painting called The Brook Hill Dog, which had been distributed to bars as advertising for distillery brand Friedman, Keiler & Co.’s “Brook Hill” whiskey.

Learning that a similar print had recently been sold for $3300, Flaherty decided to auction off her find for charity. “I foster dogs so I had the idea that since it’s a dog print, let’s auction it off so half the funds will go to a dog fund,” Flaherty told ABC News. The lithograph sold on eBay for $5150 and Flaherty donated half her earnings to a local animal rescue. She kept the remaining money to fund a book she was writing about fostering dogs, which came out the following year.

14. AN 18TH-CENTURY CHINESE CENSER

A woman from Surrey, England, discovered a colorful, gold-rimmed bowl while exploring a charity shop in Somerset. The metal bowl turned out to be an 18th-century Chinese censer, or incense bowl, produced during the reign of the Qianlong Emperor. Created using a technique called cloisonné, the censer is decorated with a scrolling lotus pattern against a turquoise background. Appraisers at the John Nicholson’s auction house estimated the censer’s value at £5000 to £8000 (about $6500 to $10,000)—quite an upgrade from the £2 charged by the charity shop. But the sharp-eyed thrifter who scored the item earned an even greater payday when John Nicholson’s included the bowl in their “Oriental Auction” in March 2017. Only 4.4-inches wide, the censer sold for £21,000 (about $27,000).

15. AN EDOUARD LÉON CORTÈS PAINTING

Workers at a Goodwill in Easton, Maryland, were sorting through donations in March 2008 when they unearthed a painting depicting a street scene of a flower market. Done in an Impressionist style, it seemed to be an original oil painting, not a print, and when store manager Terri Tonelli returned from her vacation, the employees told her they suspected the artwork was valuable. Thanks to Google, Tonelli figured out it was likely the work of noted French Impressionist Edouard Léon Cortès, who produced a number of paintings of flower markets. Goodwill shipped the painting to Sotheby’s auction house in New York, where it was authenticated, cleaned, and auctioned off. “It could have very easily ended up put in a pile, marked for $20,” Goodwill’s regional marketing director told the Associated Press. Instead, Goodwill sold the painting, called Marche aux fleurs, for $40,600.

16. AN AUGUSTA NATIONAL GREEN JACKET

green jacket auctions
Green Jacket Auctions

In 1994, a sports journalist noticed a green blazer in a stack of used suit jackets at a Toronto thrift store. When he unearthed the green blazer, he immediately recognized the patch on the pocket: the logo of the Augusta National Golf Club. While all members of the Georgia club get such jackets, nowadays they are only allowed to wear them at the club (though they were allowed to take them home in the 1950s and 1960s); the only person who can sport the green blazer outside club grounds is the current Masters champion.

Since 1949, the winner of the Masters Tournament—which is one of the most prestigious competitions in professional golf and is held each year at Augusta—receives one of the club’s famous green jackets as a trophy. One of the most coveted golf memorabilia items for collectors, this thrift store jacket was priced at $5. The journalist snapped it up on the spot. While he later tried to trace the provenance of his purchase, the Augusta National Golf Club refused to help. The tag dates the jacket to the 1950s (but before 1957), and otherwise little is known about the blazer’s origin—the name tag had been cut out.

Soon a British golf journalist named Dominic Pedler had convinced the lucky thrifter to sell him the jacket with “an offer he couldn’t refuse.” Then, over 20 years later, the jacket went up for auction in April 2017, garnering lots of media attention, as well as a final bid of $139,349.

17. A MARY MOSER PAINTING

In 2013, Liz Lockyer stopped into the Royal National Lifeboat Institution charity shop in her hometown of Teignmouth on England’s southern shore. She noticed a still life painting of flowers housed in an ornate gold frame. An artist herself, Lockyer thought the antique frame would be perfect for her own work, so she plunked down £5 (about $6.50) to take home the set. It was only later that she realized the painting was something special when she examined the signature.

The painting was by Mary Moser, a celebrated 18th-century English painter and one of only two female founders of the Royal Academy of Arts. Moser was known for her lush depictions of flowers, and the auction house Christie’s confirmed that Lockyer’s thrift store find was indeed one of Moser’s still lifes. The painting is worth at least £1000 (about $1300). “There was a definite risk I was going to rip out the painting and keep the frame,” Lockyer said. “I’m very glad I didn’t, but it’s one of those things—you had to look at it closely.”

18. PHOTOS BY FAMOUS MID-CENTURY PHOTOGRAPHERS

One day in 2016, Kent Shrewsbury stopped by the Habitat for Humanity ReStore in Anaheim, California, with his son, 20-year-old Kenneth Solis. As Shrewsbury wandered the store, Solis went directly to the records. While flipping through the vinyl, he discovered a stack of black-and-white photos between two records. One showed a dog with a giant stick. Another was an artistic nude of a pregnant woman. A third showed a couple dancing. There were 20 others. Solis grabbed the photos and took them over to his dad, who recognized the dancing couple as Marilyn Monroe and her third husband, playwright Arthur Miller. Solis and Shrewsbury purchased the photographs for $23—$1 apiece. Shrewsbury then went about deciphering the signatures on the pictures and Googling the names. That’s when he realized they’d found something more than random antique snaps: the prints seemed to be from famous 20th-century photographers including Eve Arnold, Burk Uzzle, and Elliot Erwitt. The images were gelatin silver prints (a photo process introduced in the 1870s that remained popular with fine art photographers through the 1960s), so maybe they were originals.

A few months later, Shrewsbury took five of the photos to an Antiques Roadshow taping in Palm Springs, where he showed them to appraiser Aimee Pflieger, a photography specialist at Sotheby’s. She authenticated the prints, calling them a “fantastic find.” She estimated the combined value of the five photos as $24,000 to $36,000. Shrewsbury and Solis hope to sell the photos and use a portion of the money to buy Solis a car, with the rest going to Habitat for Humanity of Orange County as a donation.

19. A FRANK WESTON BENSON PAINTING

In 2006, an anonymous donor dropped off a watercolor at a Goodwill store in Portland, Oregon. Employees thought the painting of a couple paddling a canoe looked like an original rather than a print, and its Impressionist style was eye-catching. Goodwill put the painting up for auction on its website with a starting bid of $10, but offers soon spiked when local gallery owner Matthew W. Gerber determined that the watercolor was, in fact, an original work by celebrated American Impressionist Frank Weston Benson.

Benson’s work hangs in museums like the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., and commands prices of as much as $100,000. “Frank Benson is a top-tier impressionist,” Gerber told The Oregonian. “When they put this up, they didn’t have a clue what it was.” A Goodwill spokeswoman suggested that the donor also likely did not know the painting’s value. And that value turned out to be considerable. The winning bid? $165,002.

20. A CHINESE POT

The wooden pot was cracked all over, and its rim and base had been reattached with glue that oozed out and hardened. Sections of the pot were discolored, and it had been donated in a grocery bag alongside various household items. And yet somehow, an employee at St. Peter's Hospice charity shop in Bristol, England, recognized that the pot, which looked very old, might be culturally valuable. In fact, it was a bamboo pot meant for calligraphy brushes that was carved between 1662 and 1722 by the important Chinese artist Gu Jue. Experts believe the pot depicts the poem “The Agreeable Life in a Land of Transcendents” and features the philosopher Lao Tzu sitting on an ox, as well as other figures. The pot generated considerable interest from collectors and ultimately went to a buyer in Hong Kong for £360,000 (about $470,000).

10 Facts About Christopher Marlowe

A stone in memory of Christopher Marlowe at Kings School, Canterbury
A stone in memory of Christopher Marlowe at Kings School, Canterbury
John K Thorne, Flickr // Public Domain

Christopher Marlowe is more than a footnote in William Shakespeare’s life, even though that’s the position he’s most often relegated to, especially in fiction. It’s obvious why: Shakespeare is the most famous English playwright, and Marlowe is merely one of the most famous English playwrights. Plus, since Marlowe was a contemporary of Shakespeare's, he ends up bursting onto the scene in cameo appearances during tales focused on the Bard.

The other reason? We simply don’t know that much about him.

Born in 1564, Marlowe led a brief, extraordinary life even before you get to all the mythology and conspiracy theories that have grown up surrounding him. He offered a memorable poetic voice that paved the way for Shakespeare while crafting stories of outsized personalities forever flying too close to the sun (or the Devil).

Here are 10 facts about a man we should know more about.

1. Christopher Marlowe achieved a lot in a short time.

Rupert Everett was almost 40 when he portrayed Marlowe in Shakespeare in Love, but Marlowe only lived to age 29. Marlowe built on the work of Thomas Norton and Thomas Sackville among others, and his unrhymed, iambic pentameter—specifically the wildly popular and oft-imitated Tamburlaine the Great—represented an evolution in style that became an accepted structure in Renaissance English theatre. It’s what Shakespeare used, and what you probably learned about in high school literature class.

2. Christopher Marlowe wasn’t going to graduate Cambridge until the government intervened.

A portrait of an unknown 21-year-old man said to be Christopher Marlowe, discovered at Cambridge in 1952
A portrait of an unknown 21-year-old man said to be Christopher Marlowe, discovered at Cambridge in 1952
Wikimedia // Public Domain

In 1587, Marlowe had the Elizabethan equivalent of too many absences from his master’s program at Cambridge University, and there were rumors that he was preparing to go to France to become a Catholic priest. Cambridge officials considered refusing to award his degree, but the Privy Council (Queen Elizabeth’s advisers) sent them a letter denouncing the rumor and explaining that Marlowe had been operating to “the benefit of his country” and had done “her Majesty good service.”

3. Christopher Marlowe might have been a spy.

The "good service" he was doing for Her Majesty? The Privy Council never explained. Nevertheless, the secretive work, the religious nature of the rumors during an era when England persecuted Catholics, and the fact that Queen Elizabeth’s spymaster, Francis Walsingham, often recruited young men attending Cambridge, have created the foundation for the theory that Marlowe was part of a spy network. At the very least, Marlowe did some undisclosed work for the government, which got him a helping hand that explained his school absences.

4. Christopher Marlowe was arrested for counterfeiting coins in Holland.

In 1592, about five years after the wild success of Tamburlaine, Marlowe was arrested for counterfeiting coins in the Dutch town of Vlissingen. This was a crime punishable by death, but Marlowe seems to have walked away with no, or very light, punishment. Naturally, some think this supports the idea that Marlowe worked as a spy.

5. Christopher Marlowe translated ancient poetry.

In addition to his plays (he wrote at least four, and some say seven), Marlowe also wrote poetry—"The Passionate Shepherd to His Love" and "Hero and Leander" most notably. In the former, a shepherd woos a lover by glorifying nature, and the latter retells a Greek myth where a man swims a narrow sea to reach the woman he loves. Marlowe also translated ancient works, including the first book of the Pharsalia, a Roman epic by Lucan about Caesar facing Pompey the Great in battle, and Ovid’s books of love poetry, Amores.

6. Christopher Marlowe was arrested for holding heretical views.

In 1593, the English government had a largely welcoming attitude to Protestant immigrants, so authorities were livid when anti-immigrant tracts began being posted on the streets of London. One that was judged to "exceed the rest in lewdness" alluded to two of Marlowe’s plays and was signed “Tamburlaine.” As part of a sweep targeting suspicious characters, authorities arrested and then tortured Marlowe’s friend and fellow playwright Thomas Kyd, who asserted that an unorthodox religious tract found in his room belonged to Marlowe. A warrant was issued, and Marlowe presented himself to the Privy Council, who told him to check in with them every day with them until further notice. He died 10 days later.

7. Christopher Marlowe's death inspired conspiracy theories.

The official story is that Marlowe was killed on May 30, 1593 while arguing about money in a boarding house with an associate named Ingram Frizer, and that very well may be the truth. But the strange circumstances around the event are numerous: Marlowe had been arrested for being an "atheist" only 10 days prior but received no real punishment for it; Frizer (and the two other men there) had all been employed by spymaster Walsingham; and even contemporaries doubted the plausibility of the coroner’s report. The list of people who apparently might have had cause to want Marlowe dead is long (right up to the queen herself), but the most fanciful theory is that the whole event was faked so that Marlowe could escape a very real death if convicted for religious heresy.

8. Christopher Marlowe pushed against anti-LGBT bigotry in his work.

Some scholars think Marlowe may have been gay, but (like so many other elements of his life) there is no conclusive evidence. However, there is concrete evidence that he treated same-sex relationships differently than other writers of the time. In other work of the same period, gay characters were usually villains, but Marlowe wrote about Edward II’s relationship with Piers Gaveston with humanity and beauty in Edward II. Some experts believe the play upheld conventional views on gay relationships by “punishing” Gaveston with death and killing Edward II in a way that evokes sodomy, but, even if so, Marlowe still covered the topic throughout the play with greater complexity and consideration than his contemporaries.

9. Westminster Abbey installed a window memorializing Christopher Marlowe in 2002.

The Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey is home to the graves of over 100 poets and writers, starting with Geoffrey Chaucer, who was buried there in 1400. Marlowe is buried in an unmarked grave in St. Nicholas's Church in Deptford, London, but shares a memorial in the form of a window at Poet's Corner with Elizabeth Gaskell, Oscar Wilde, and more. The space was donated by The Marlowe Society, who included a question mark next to his death date.

10. Shakespeare paid tribute to Christopher Marlowe in verse.

There would be no Shakespeare without Marlowe. Honoring the young trailblazer after his death, Shakespeare included one of Marlowe’s lines from Hero and Leander in As You Like It (“Who ever lov’d that lov’d not at first sight?”) and had a character possibly allude to Marlowe’s killing. There are also nods in Hamlet and Love’s Labour’s Lost. Of course, Shakespeare’s highest homage came in how often he echoed Marlowe’s poetic style and dramatic themes. (Though definitely not written by Shakespeare, there’s also a 1981 rock ‘n’ roll musical tribute to Marlowe that’s set in the 16th century but somehow also included miniskirts.)

10 Bold Breaking Bad Fan Theories

Bryan Cranston as Walter White and Aaron Paul as Jesse Pinkman in Breaking Bad.
Bryan Cranston as Walter White and Aaron Paul as Jesse Pinkman in Breaking Bad.
Ben Leuner, AMC

It’s been nearly six years since Breaking Bad went out in a blaze of gunfire, but fans still haven’t stopped thinking about the award-winning crime drama. What really happened to Walter White in the series finale? What’s the backstory on Gus Fring? And what did Jesse Pinkman’s doodles mean?

While El Camino, Vince Gilligan's new Breaking Bad movie, offers definitive answers to at least one of these questions, these fan theories offer some alternative answers—even if they strain the limits of logic and sanity along the way. Read on to discover the surprising source of Walt’s cancer diagnosis, and why pink is always bad news.

1. Walter White picks up traits from the people he kills.

Walter White is an unpredictable guy, but he’s weirdly consistent on one thing: After he kills someone, he kind of copies them. Remember how Krazy-8 liked his sandwiches without the crust? After Walt murdered him, he started eating crustless PB&Js. Walt also lifted Mike Ehrmantraut’s drink order and Gus Fring’s car, leading many fans to wonder if Walt steals personal characteristics from the people he kills.

2. Gus Fring worked for the CIA.

Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) and Juan Bolsa (Javier Grajeda) in Breaking Bad
Giancarlo Esposito and Javier Grajeda in Breaking Bad.
Ursula Coyote, AMC

Who was Gus Fring before he became the ruthless leader of a meth/fried chicken empire? Well, we know he’s from Chile. We also know that any records of his time there are gone. And we know that cartel kingpin Don Eladio refused to kill him when he had the chance. Since Don Eladio has no qualms about eliminating the competition, Gus must have some form of protection. Could it be from the U.S. government? A detailed Reddit theory suggests that Gus was once a Chilean aristocrat who helped the CIA install the dictator Augusto Pinochet in power. Once Pinochet became a liability, Gus went to Mexico at the CIA’s behest to infiltrate a drug cartel. His alliance with U.S. intelligence kept him alive even as his work got more violent, and helped him bypass the normal immigration issues you'd typically encounter when you’ve murdered a bunch of people.

3. Madrigal built defective air filters that gave Walter white cancer.

Madrigal Electromotive is a corporation with varied interests. The German parent company of Los Pollos Hermanos dabbles in shipping, fast food, and industrial equipment … including air filters. According to one fan theory, Gray Matter—the company Walter White co-founded with Elliott Schwartz—purchased defective air filters from Madrigal and installed them while Walt still worked at the company. The filters ultimately caused Walt’s lung cancer, pushing him into the illegal drug trade and, eventually, business with Madrigal.

4. Color is a crucial element in the series.

Marie Schrader (Betsy Brandt) and Hank Schrader (Dean Norris)
Betsy Brandt and Dean Norris as Marie and Hank Schrader in Breaking Bad.
Ben Leuner, AMC

Color is a code on Breaking Bad. When a character chooses drab tones, they’re usually going through something, like withdrawal (Jesse) or chemo (Walt). Their wardrobe might turn darker as their stories skew darker—like when Marie ditched her trademark purple for black while she was under protective custody. Also, pink signals death, whether it’s on a teddy bear or Saul Goodman’s button down shirt.

5. Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead exist in the same universe.

Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead both aired on AMC, but according to fans, that’s not all they have in common. There’s an exhaustive body of evidence connecting the two shows—and one of the biggest links is Blue Sky. The distinctively-colored crystal meth is Walt and Jesse’s calling card on Breaking Bad, but it’s also Merle Dixon’s drug of choice on The Walking Dead. Coincidentally, his drug dealer (“a janky little white guy” who says “bitch”) sounds a lot like Jesse.

6. Walter white froze to death and hallucinated Breaking Bad's ending.

Bryan Cranston in the 'Breaking Bad' series finale
Ursula Coyote, AMC

In her review of the Breaking Bad series finale “Felina,” The New Yorker critic Emily Nussbaum suggested an alternate ending in which Walt died an episode earlier, as the police surrounded his car in New Hampshire. He could’ve frozen to death “behind the wheel of a car he couldn’t start,” she theorized, and hallucinated the dramatic final shootout in “Felina” in his dying moments. This reading has gained traction with multiple fans, including SNL alum Norm Macdonald.

7. Jesse’s superheroes are a peek into his inner psyche.

In season 2 of Breaking Bad, we discover that Jesse Pinkman is a part-time artist. He sketches his own superheroes, including Backwardo/Rewindo (who can run backwards so fast he rewinds time), Hoverman (who floats above the ground), and Kanga-Man (who has a sidekick in his “pouch”). The characters are goofy, just like Jesse, but they may also reveal what’s going on in his head. Backwardo represents Jesse’s tendency to run from conflict. Hoverman reflects his lack of direction or purpose, while Kanga-Man hints at his codependency.

8. Madrigal was founded by Nazi war criminals.

Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and Uncle Jack (Michael Bowen) in 'Breaking Bad'
Bryan Cranston and Michael Bowen in Breaking Bad.
Ursula Coyote, AMC

This might be one of the wilder Breaking Bad theories, but before you write it off, consider Werner Heisenberg: The German physicist, who helped pioneer Hitler’s nuclear weapons program, is the obvious inspiration for Walt’s meth kingpin moniker. While Heisenberg only appears in name, there are plenty of literal Nazis on the show. Look no further than Uncle Jack and the Aryan Brotherhood, who served as the Big Bad of season 5. At least one Redditor thinks all these Nazi references are hinting at something bigger, a conspiracy that goes straight to the top. The theory starts in South America, where many Nazis fled after World War II. A group of them supposedly formed a new company, Madrigal, through their existing connections back in Germany. Eventually, a young Chilean named Gus Fring worked his way into the growing business, and the rest is (fake) history.

9. Walter white survived, but paid the price.

Lots of Breaking Bad theories concern Walt’s death, or lack thereof. But if Walt actually lived through his seemingly fatal gunshot wound in “Felina,” what would the rest of his life look like? According to one Reddit theory, it wouldn’t be pretty. The infamous Heisenberg would almost certainly stand trial and go to prison. Although he tries to leave Skyler White with information to cut a deal with the cops, she could also easily go to jail—or lose custody of her children. The kids wouldn’t necessarily get that money Walt left with Elliott and Gretchen Schwartz, either, as they could take his threats to the police and surrender the cash to them. Basically it amounts to a whole lot of misery, making Walt’s death an oddly optimistic ending. (This is one theory El Camino addresses directly.)

10. Breaking Bad is a prequel to Malcolm in the Middle.

Bryan Cranston in the series premiere of 'Breaking Bad'
Bryan Cranston in the series premiere of Breaking Bad.
Doug Hyun, AMC

Alright, let’s say Walt survived the series finale and didn’t stand trial. Maybe he started over as a new man with a new family. Three boys, perhaps? This fan-favorite theory claims that Walter White assumed a new identity as Malcolm in the Middle patriarch Hal after the events of Breaking Bad, making the show a prequel to Bryan Cranston’s beloved sitcom. The Breaking Bad crew actually liked this idea so much they included an “alternate ending” on the DVD boxed set, where Hal wakes up from a bad dream where "There was a guy who never spoke! He just rang a bell the whole time! And then there was another guy who was a policeman or a DEA agent, and I think it was my brother or something. He looked like the guy from The Shield."

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