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Junk That Turned Out To Be Worth A Fortune

Updated September 23, 2021 1.9m views22 items

In 2015, the second known photo of Billy the Kid was valued at $5 million. And one of the most interesting things about this photo isn’t the massive amount of money it will make at auction, but the amount the photo initially cost. According to the guy who bought the photo, he spent a paltry $2 on a bunch of junk and found the photo gathering dust.

When you hear a story like that you start to look around and wonder about other pieces of junk that turned out to be worth money. On this list are all kinds of wild finds, from pieces of jewelry stored in junk drawers to pieces of American history folded away inside picture frames. Put your digging gloves on and get inspired by this list of junk that turned out to be worth a fortune.

Every weekend, pickers and diggers flood flea markets, swap meets, and estate sales looking for the next big find. For every old stack of comics sold in the hot sun, there are always a few underestimated items worth a fortune - you just have to know what to look for.

Pickers with a keen eye can spend a lifetime searching for junk that’s actually worth millions, but if those pickers don’t have Lady Luck on their side, the search can be useless. If you want to get into the "turning junk into cash" game, check out this list of underestimated items worth money to get a good idea of what you should start looking for.

  • A Painting Hanging Above A Hot Plate Was Valued At Over $4 Million

    Photo: Cimabue / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    When an elderly woman living in the French town of Compiègne decided to sell her house, the family contacted an expert to assess the value of her belongings. Auctioneer Philomène Wolf had a week to determine whether anything was worth saving before most of the furnishings were taken to the dump. In an interview with The Guardian, Wolf said she noticed the most valuable item as soon as she was through the door: a rare 13th-century masterpiece hanging over the kitchen hot plate.

    “You rarely see something of such quality," she explained. "I immediately thought it was a work of Italian primitivism. But I didn’t imagine it was a Cimabue.”

    What the homeowner and her family believed was just an "old religious icon from Russia" turned out to be one of only 11 artworks painted on wood by the Florentine artist Cimabue, or Cenni di Pepo. The owner of the house where the painting was found said she'd had it so long she could not recall when or where it first entered her possession. Wolf told the woman the 20cm by 24cm painting, "Christ Mocked," could be worth from $330,000 to $440,000. Its estimated value turned out to be from $4 million to $6.6 million.

    The piece of art is believed to be part of a diptych created around 1280 that depicts the passion and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Two of these scenes are currently on display in the New York Frick Collection and London's National Gallery. As with "Christ Mocked," the scene featured in the National Gallery ("The Virgin and Child with Two Angels") was also found in a private home, where it had hung for years without anyone realizing its value.

  • A Porcelain Bowl At A Yard Sale Turned Out To Be A Rare 15th-Century Chinese Dish Worth More Than $700,000 

    An antiques buyer who purchased a blue-and-white floral porcelain bowl for $35 at a Connecticut yard sale in 2020 thought it might be something other than an ordinary household dish. After contacting Sotheby’s, the buyer learned it was a rare Chinese bowl from the 1400s made for the Yongle Emperor’s court.

    "Delicately potted in the shape of a lotus bud (lianzi) or chicken heart (jixin)," the Sotheby's listing said, the bowl, 6.25 inches in diameter, is one of only seven such bowls known to exist. "The Yongle court (1403-1424) brought a very distinctive new style to the porcelain kilns of Jingdezhen in Jiangxi, a style immediately recognizable, never surpassed, and defining the craft still in the 18th century," the listing said.

    Sotheby’s estimated the value of the bowl at $300,000 to $500,000; it was auctioned off for $580,000 (total price was $721,800 with fees) in March 2021. 

    The six other bowls in existence are mainly in museums, all outside the US; no one knows how the seventh ended up at a yard sale in Connecticut.

  • A Doorstop Turned Out To Be A Meteorite Worth $100K

    Video: YouTube

    A man in Edmore, MI, used a 22.5-pound hunk of iron as a doorstop at his farm. When he purchased the farm in 1988, the original owner told him the large specimen was a meteorite from the '30s. In 2018, the man reached out to geology professor Mona Sirbescu of Central Michigan University to examine the rock, and Sirbescu confirmed that it was in fact a meteorite.

    "The story goes that it was collected immediately after they witnessed the big boom and the actual meteorite was dug out from a crater," Sirbescu told USA Today. She also added that this legend had passed down orally without any eyewitness verification. 

    The meteorite is the sixth-largest found in Michigan. Sirbescu and the Smithsonian decided to name the specimen "Edmore."

  • A 'Good Luck Charm' Turned Out To Be A $100 Million Pearl

    On August 22, 2016, a local fisherman in Puerto Princesa City, Philippines, strolled into the local tourism office with a giant pearl he'd been keeping under his bed as a good luck charm. The man found the pearl 10 years before shocking local officials with it, off the coast of Palawan Island. His anchor got stuck on what he thought was a rock, but turned out to be a 2-foot-long pearl. 

    Previous to this discovery, the world's largest pearl was the Prince of Allah, which weighs 6.4kg (about 14 pounds) and is worth around $35 million. The good luck pearl weighs 34 kg (about 75 pounds) and may be worth around $100 million. The Prince of Allah was also found off the coast of Palawan.