People randomly come across valuable items all the time at garage sales or in relatives' attics – popular shows like American Pickers and Antiques Roadshow are built around this exciting prospect. Sometimes, though, a significant item can go unnoticed, and you can suddenly find out that the thing you've been using to fix that wobble in your kitchen table for the past decade is a lost piece or artwork or history that’s hundreds, maybe thousands of years old.
But what’s actually more impressive? An artifact existing for a thousand years in some stuffy museum or one that makes it through a couple years of not falling off your mantle or getting chewed by your dog? Maybe we should all be grateful not just that there are forgotten pieces of priceless art out there that survive the test of time, but that there are antiquities that somehow manage to survive the rigors of everyday home use.
Read on to go on a global tour of the most shocking and valuable pieces of art to have been found in the most unexpected, unassuming places.
The 2,700 Year Old Egyptian Statue Being Used As A Bike Rack
No one would find it shocking to stumble across an ancient piece of history in a museum. (Unless you’ve made a series of terrible decisions and are literally stumbling over an ancient piece of history, that is.) You might be surprised, however, to discover – as happened in the case of a museum in Southampton, England – that you're leaning your bikes against a valuable piece of history.
An old statue sat in the cellar of the God’s House Tower museum for almost a century, used by the museum’s staff as a makeshift bike rack. It had been there so long that no one really knew where it had even come from or what it was. When two Egyptologists paid a visit to the museum they noticed the figure behind a row of bicycles and decided to have it checked out. What they found was that the staff’s “bike rack” was a 2,700 year old carving of the Egyptian king Taharqa. The statue has since been moved, hopefully to a museum where people take the bus.
The 18th-Century Scottish Bust Found Propping Open A Shed Door
In 1998, Scottish Highlands Councilor Maxine Smith was looking for an old provost's robes on an estate when she was directed towards an old shed. She discovered the shed door propped open by a nice looking bust. Smith immediately noticed that it was an oddly expensive-looking thing to be holding open a shed door, and she reported to other members of the Scottish Highlands Council “that there's a bunch of stuff that looks like it's worth a lot of money” in the shed, worried about someone stealing it.
Smith turned out to be right. They soon found that the bust was Highland laird and MP Sir John Gordon, carved in 1728 by a French sculptor named Edme Bouchardon. Initially, it was said to be worth about £200,000, but it's more accurately valued at £1.4 million. It's also on display at the Louvre, a far cry from its humble origins.
The 1,000-Year-Old Bowl Bought For $3.00
Browsing a garage sale in 2007, one New York family came across a nice looking ceramic bowl that they bought for $3. They took the bowl home and displayed it on their mantle, where it sat for several years until someone noticed that it looked rather old and decided to have it appraised. The family was probably pretty excited to find that this was no ordinary $3 bowl. It was from the Northern Song Dynasty in China and 1,000 years old, one of only two now known to exist in the world.
If you are wondering whether or not history like that has a price, it does. The bowl was auctioned in 2013 at Sotheby’s in New York, and purchased for $2.2 million by Giuseppe Eskenazi, an Oriental Art dealer in London.
The Long-Lost Painting Used As A Prop in Stuart Little
Gergely Barki was watching Stuart Little with his daughter in 2009 when he noticed a familiar looking painting in the background of the set. Though being a researcher at Hungary’s national gallery in Budapest did give Barki an advantage over the average parent, it's reasonable to wonder whether he had to question if he actually saw what he thought he saw, or if Stuart Little had finally driven him insane.
The painting was Sleeping Lady with Black Vase by Róbert Berény, a Hungarian artist, and it had been missing since the 1920s. It resurfaced when a set designer for Stuart Little found it for “next to nothing” at an antiques shop in Pasadena, California. Barki was able to finally get a hold of the set designer, who had been hanging the painting on her own wall before eventually selling it to a private collector. The painting has since been returned to Hungary for auction.