One man's junk is another man's treasure, the saying goes. But for some frugal shoppers who found valuable things found in thrift stores, the proverb rings truer than for most. Unbelievable thrift store treasures include famous historical documents, one-of-a-kind works of art, and valuable historical artifacts.
Some of the most unbelievable thrift store finds were found by people who could just tell that what they were looking for was special, while other buyers were stunned to discover the stories behind the items they picked up on a whim. A savvy thrift store shopper with great taste splurged on a $50 Goodwill painting because he could tell it was worth more, while one lucky art buyer actually bought an "ugly" painting as a joke gift for a friend, only to discover it was an original Jackson Pollock.
From rare historical photos to 2,500-year-old artifacts, here are the stories that will send you to the flea market this weekend.
Jackson Pollack toiled in obscurity for years until he found fame as an artist and is now considered one of the most important painters of the past 100 years. His art has been valued as high as $140 million but one of his paintings ended up in a thrift store. That's where Teri Horton found what she called an ugly painting and paid $5 for it as a gag to cheer up a friend of hers. But buying the painting was just the beginning of Horton's journey.
After she showed it to her friend, Horton didn't have anywhere to put the painting and tried to sell it in a yard sale. A local art professor saw the work and told her she might have a priceless Jackson Pollack painting. Horton spent many years trying to convince the art world, who dismissed her in part because she has an eighth grade education and drove a big rig before retiring, but eventually forensic evidence proved that the piece was authentic. The art world is still dismissing Horton's find, but she isn't giving up and believes the work is worth as much as $50 million.
The Declaration of Independence is one of the most important historical documents ever produced. Though anyone can see a picture of it or read its text at the click of a mouse, finding a copy of the actual document is more of a challenge.
Despite that, Michael Sparks found a copy of the document in a thrift store in Nashville and bought it for $2.48. The copy he found was actually created in 1823 at the order of then-Secretary of State John Quincy Adams. Sparks later sold the document for $477,650.
The name Billy the Kid conjures images of quiet dusty streets in the Wild West being shaken to life by the outlaw and his band charging through to rob a bank. Despite being immortalized in books and films about his life, however, photographs of him are rare - in fact, there are only two known to exist.
The second was discovered in a thrift store by Randy Guijarro, who paid $2.00 for it. The photo he found sold for $5 million after it was authenticated by forensics experts. It shows Billy the Kid, his gang, the Regulators, and their wives and girlfriends, playing croquet after a wedding.
Perhaps it says something about modern art that so much of it seems to end up in thrift stores, but that's a discussion for the art critics. Andy Fields sure is glad that a sketch by artist Andy Warhol ended up in a thrift shop and was even happier to find out that it was extremely valuable. Warhol was one of the most well-known artists of the 20th century, and the sketch that Fields found shows the seeds of what would become his famous style. The piece was made when the artist was only 10 or 11 years old, and was made in pencil and graphite.
Fields put the piece on eBay, hoping to get more than $2 million for it.