From an actual copy of the Declaration of Independence to a brooch that once may have belonged to Russian royalty, these items might make you think twice about driving past a yard sale again. In this article, which was adapted from The List Show on YouTube, we explore 20 pretty amazing yard sale finds.
1. A Photo of Billy the Kid
A potentially valuable photo of Billy the Kid was once bought at a flea market for $10. In 2011, Frank Abrams of North Carolina picked up the picture, which featured five men in wild west gear, because he thought it looked interesting and odd. He hung it up in the spare bedroom he rented out on Airbnb. Later, while watching a documentary about the outlaw Billy the Kid, Abrams decided to take a second look at the men in his photograph. He identified one of them as a known associate, and later adversary, of Billy the Kid—and believed that another man in the photo was the Kid himself. While not everyone agrees that the photo is of the Kid, other pictures of the outlaw have been valued at millions of dollars. So Abrams decided to move his photo from the spare bedroom into a safety deposit box.
2. Unpublished Photos of Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield
In 1980, Anton Fury of New Jersey bought an envelope of photo negatives for $2 at a garage sale. When he took a closer look, he realized he’d bought around 30 unpublished photos of Marilyn Monroe as well as 70 of actress Jayne Mansfield. Not much has been heard about the photos since, so it’s unclear if Fury cashed in on his find.
3. Photographs Supposedly by Ansel Adams
Rick Norsigian bought a couple boxes of glass negatives at a garage sale in Fresno, California, for $45. He stashed them under his pool table for a couple of years. When he finally pulled them out, he noticed a similarity between the snaps of Yosemite and San Francisco, California, and Ansel Adams’s photographs. Norsigian gathered a team of experts, who declared the negatives to be the work of the famous photographer and worth $200 million. One expert, however, later changed his mind and said the photos were actually taken by lesser-known photographer named Earl Brooks.
The debate over who took the photos rages on, but at least one thing has been settled legally: Norsigian was allowed to sell the prints, but he had to give them a disclaimer, and was not allowed to use the Adams name.
4. A Supposedly Original Andy Warhol Sketch
A man once claimed he bought an original Andy Warhol sketch at a garage sale in Las Vegas for $5. The piece depicted singer Rudy Vallee and it was thought that Warhol drew it when he was about 10 years old. The Royal West of England Academy in Bristol put it on display in 2012.
A Warhol piece like that would be worth millions—but art experts and Warhol’s family aren’t convinced that it’s authentic. Warhol’s brother noted, “It had no characteristics of his drawing style whatsoever and the signature was vastly unlike his real signature.”
5. A Velvet Underground Demo
Andy Warhol managed The Velvet Underground in 1966 when they recorded a demo to send to labels. In the early 2000s, record collector Warren Hill came across one such demo at a Manhattan street sale and bought it for $0.75 cents. The record contains six tracks that eventually appeared on the album "The Velvet Underground and Nico," while three went unreleased. Hill sold the demo for about $25,000.
6. A Custom Bike Built for Tour de France winner Floyd Landis
In 2008, a custom bicycle built for Tour de France winner Floyd Landis—who was stripped of his title in 2007—was carried off a truck by wind. The bike was worth about $8000, unbeknownst to the person who found, then sold, it at his garage sale. They thought it looked like a bike with flat tires and broken pedals (which were actually just clip-in pedals). So Greg Estes was able to buy it for $5. He later discovered its worth and once even jokingly attempted to sell it for $6000 at his own yard sale. But the owners actually wanted the bike back, so he probably didn’t get that much cash for it.
7. A table built by furniture maker John Seymour and Son
At some point in the 1960s, Claire Wiegand-Beckmann saw a moldy table at a garage sale that she thought would be perfect for her new house. The asking price was $30, but she only had $25 on her, and she got the table. Thirty years later she brought it on Antiques Roadshow, where it was identified as being one of six made by Boston furniture maker John Seymour and Son, whose pieces you can also see at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. It would sell at auction for $541,500.
8. A Painting Called “Preparation to Escape to Egypt”
In 2007, a student bought a pullout couch for $215 at a flea market in Berlin. Inside it, there was an Italian painting from the early 17th century, titled “Preparation to Escape to Egypt.” The artist couldn’t be determined, but that didn’t matter: The painting was auctioned off for $27,630.
9. A Painting by Francois Quesnel
Similarly, a professor bought a 16th-century oil painting at a garage sale in Indiana in the late 1980s. It caught his eye because the subject looked like a character in a show he liked, which was the British sitcom Are You Being Served? He kept it in storage until 2011 when an appraiser estimated that it might be worth up to $6000. The appraiser believed it could be the work of Francois Quesnel, who worked for the de Medici family and has a portrait hanging in the Louvre.
10. A Portrait by Anthony Van Dyck
A Catholic priest once purchased a gold frame at an antique shop for £400 (about $498). But it was the portrait inside the frame that ended up being the true find. It was by Anthony Van Dyck, a famous 17th century painter who worked under King Charles I. According to experts, this particular painting was likely a sketch leading up to him creating his more famous work The Magistrates of Brussels, which was sadly destroyed by the French at the end of the 17th century.
11. The Art Boards For the First Avengers Comic Book
A family in Texas once unknowingly bought art boards for the first Avengers comic book because their 12-year-old daughter spotted them as something she’d like to color. They were worth about $48,000, but they had been reported missing, so the family returned them.
12. A Piece of Pottery From the Northern Song Dynasty
In 2013, a bowl bought at a garage sale for $3 that had been sitting in a New York living room sold for $2.2 million at an auction. It turned out the family had bought an 11th century piece of pottery from the Northern Song Dynasty and plopped it on their mantle for a few years.
13. An Authentic Bronze Egyptian Cat Statue
A bronze Egyptian cat from around 700 to 500 BCE was picked up at a house clearance and eventually sold for £52,000 (about $64,676) in 2015. The owners of the bronze cat were on the cusp throwing the object away, but thankfully did not. Then an expert from the British Museum verified it as authentic.
14. A Brooch That May Have Belonged to Russian Royalty
In 2011, Thea Jourdan wrote an article about her yard sale find. She spent about £20 (about $25) on a brooch at an antique shop. Her daughter often wore it while playing dress up. But when Jourdan had her engagement ring looked at by a jeweler for insurance purposes, the jeweler noticed the brooch. It had potentially belonged to Russian royalty in the 19th century, and it sold for £32,450 ($40,360).
15. Vince Lombardi’s Sweater
Vince Lombardi is arguably football royalty: He won two Super Bowls coaching the Green Bay Packers. And while watching a documentary about Lombardi in 2014, Sean McEvoy of Tennessee noticed a sweater that looked familiar. He had bought Lombardi’s sweater at Goodwill for $0.58 earlier in the year. It ended up selling for $43,020.
16. An Augusta National Green Jacket
Another rare item of clothing in the world of sports is the Augusta National green jacket, which is given to the winner of the Masters Tournament in golf. Members of the Augusta National club get jackets too, but only the Masters Champion can wear their jacket outside the club, but only for one year. Then, in 1994, a golf fan found one at a thrift shop in Toronto that the club did verify was real. In 2017, it sold at an auction for about $139,000. No word on whether the buyer is allowed to wear it, though.
17. A Watch From the James Bond Film Thunderball
In 2013, a watch from the James Bond movie Thunderball sold for £103,875 (about $129,197). It had been purchased for £25 (about $31) at a car boot sale, which is basically a British flea market involving car trunks. It was a one-of-a-kind piece, created for the film.
18. A 1991 Nintendo Campus Challenge Cartridge
In 2006, Rob Walters went to a garage sale and bought a 1991 Nintendo Campus Challenge cartridge. This was a cartridge specifically created for Nintendo competitions, and it contained three games: Super Mario Bros. 3, PinBot, and Dr. Mario. It should have been destroyed in 1991 but for some reason, it wasn’t. Walters eventually sold it for $14,000.
19. The Declaration of Independence
In 1989, a man bought a torn painting of a countryside for its frame at a flea market in Pennsylvania for $4. He discarded the picture and found a folded up Declaration of Independence—which was one of an estimated 200 original copies from 1776. Of those originals, only 26 remain. In 1991, the man sold his historic find for $2.42 million.
20. Another Copy of the Declaration of Independence
In 2007, a copy of the Declaration from the 1820s sold for almost half a million dollars after a man bought it at a Tennessee thrift shop for about $2.50. He’d happened upon one of the 200 copies commissioned by John Quincy Adams.