20 Amazing Things Found at Yard Sales

George Rose/Getty Images Entertainment
George Rose/Getty Images Entertainment

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

Wikimedia//Public Domain

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 Unpublished Photos of Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield

Keystone Features/Getty Images

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 When he took a closer look, he realized he’d bought around 30 unpublished photos of Marilyn Monroe as well as 70 of actress Jayne Mansfield.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

Susan Greenwood, Liaison Agency/Getty Images

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

Photographer unknown, Published by Verve Records, at that time a subsidiary of MGM Records, Wikimedia//Public domain

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

Bryn Lennon//Getty Images Sport

In 2008, a custom bicycle built for Tour de France winner Floyd Landiswho 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

iStock.com/JannHuizenga

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”

Photo courtesy of Ketterer Kunst GmbH & Co.

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

Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

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

Anthony van Dyck, Wikimedia//CC BY-SA 3.0

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

Marvel Studios

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

Photo courtesy of Sotheby’s New York

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

Mohamed El-Shahed /AFP/Getty Images

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

Stephen Digges/Getty Images

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

U.S. Military Academy/Getty Images Sport

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

Andrew Redington/Getty Images Sport

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

Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images News

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

Jjhendricks at English Wikipedia, Wikimedia//CC BY-SA 3.0

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

Original: Second Continental Congress; reproduction: William Stone, Wikimedia//Public domain

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

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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.

Wednesday’s Best Amazon Deals Include Computer Monitors, Plant-Based Protein Powder, and Blu-ray Sets

Amazon
Amazon
As a recurring feature, our team combs the web and shares some amazing Amazon deals we’ve turned up. Here’s what caught our eye today, December 2. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers, including Amazon, and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Good luck deal hunting!

11 Absurdly Awesome Inventions

Google Patents/Erin McCarthy
Google Patents/Erin McCarthy

They say necessity is the mother of invention, but some of these are making us think twice.

1. “Animal-trap”

Don't mess with this mousetrap.Google Patents

Mousetraps can be so anticlimactic, but this one, patented in 1882, goes off with a bang. The frame is designed to hold your favorite peashooter. When a rodent steps onto the treadle, a spring yanks on the trigger and sets off the firearm. The inventor, James Williams, suggested it would make a good burglar alarm.

2. “Flatulence Deodorizer”

Confidently cut the cheese with this 2001 invention, which masks the smell of your personal potpourri. A simple charcoal pad clings to the back of your underpants, stopping the aroma before it reaches your boss’s nose. Benjamin Franklin would be proud.

3. “Apparatus for preventing collisions of railway trains”

This contraption was meant to scare cattle off of train tracks.Google Patents

It’s like a scarecrow—but for trains. Patented in 1888, J. W. James’s invention features an electric dummy riding in front of the train. The dummy is “made to throw up both hands at each revolution of the wheel and strike the gong with a hammer for the purpose of frightening cattle from the track and to announce the approach of the train,” James wrote.

4. “Fresh-air breathing device and method”

Take a deep breath.Google Patents

Smoke inhalation causes most fire-related deaths. Knowing that, William Holmes found out how to keep you conscious while you wait for rescue—as long as you can handle having toilet breath. In 1981, Holmes patented a snorkel-like device that supplies fresh air from your sewer. Just feed the tube past your throne’s water trap. Although you won’t die from a lungful of smoke, you might get woozy after huffing all that sewer gas.

5. “Wearable device for feeding and observing birds”

The ultimate accessory for bird watchers.Google Patents

As long as you’re okay with hanging a few birdfeeders from your dome, you can get a front row seat to all the action. David Leslie patented the contraption in 1999. Apparently, it’s also handy for butterfly hunting.

6. “Graffiti prevention apparatus”

Henry Hunt called graffiti “an assault on the visual pleasures of man.” So in 1997, he patented a system [PDF] that could kill the career of any wannabe Banksy. When a vandal approaches a potential canvas, a sensor embedded in the wall activates a magnetic field to repel the paint. There was one issue, though: Spray paint isn’t magnetic.

7. “Motorcycle Safety Apparel”

Dismayed by how dangerous motorcycle crashes can be, Dan Kincheloe patented an inflatable safety suit in 1987. Basically an airbag for your body, the suit has an “umbilical cord” that connects to a supply of compressed gas. When a biker flies off, a shorter pull cord snaps that rapidly inflates the suit. Pro? It could save your life. Con? You’ll look like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.

8. “Process for the utilization of ruminant animal methane emissions”

This contraption collects cow emissions.Google Patents

Forget windmills and solar panels. Harness the beautiful power of cows! Ruminant animals—which have four stomachs—account for 20 percent of the world’s methane emissions. (Most of that methane doesn’t come from their behinds, actually. They exhale and burp it out.) To harness all that lost gas, Markus Herrema patented a bovine gas collector in 2006. The gas is channeled to a chamber full of methane-loving microorganisims, which can be used later in “nutritional foodstuff or … other useful products, such as adhesive or cosmetics.”

9. “Improvement in Vehicles”

If cow power isn’t your thing, go to the dogs. In 1875, Parisian inventor Narcisse Hueet patented the “cynophere,” a dog-powered velocipede. Hueet wrote, “My invention contemplates the employment of dogs or other animals, working within a cage or cages, forming part of the wheels of the vehicle to be propelled.” 

10. “Apparatus for Facilitating the Birth of a Child by Centrifugal Force”

What can you say but "yikes"?Google Patents

If the thought of childbirth makes you dizzy, look away. This will make it worse. In 1965, George and Charlotte Blonsky patented a turntable that gives pregnant women an, um, extra push. The mother-to-be is strapped onto the turntable, which spins fast enough that G-forces help ease the baby out. A “pocket-shaped reception net” catches the newborn and triggers the machine to stop. (But in case that doesn’t work, there’s a handbrake!)

11. “Double Bicycle for looping the loop”

You can never have too much bike.Google Patents

“I heard you like bicycles, so I put a bicycle on a bicycle so you can stay upright while you go upside down.” Patented in 1905 by Kael Lange.