Treasure hunting is the kind of fantastical undertaking that draws people to it in the same way that poker draws players to the table: you can win big, but you also stand to lose it all. Plenty of adventurers have failed in their quests for glory, but the worst part about coming up short is that there are others out there that came upon their fortunes without even trying.
Whether discovered in search of the mundane or simply by accident, these 20 incredible finds have become the envy of treasure hunters everywhere. After reading about the unlikely places from which these individuals unearthed their fortunes, you’ll begin to wonder what kind of treasures may be hiding just beneath your nose…
1. Seven Ty Cobb Baseball Cards: Finding just one of the handful of Ty Cobb baseball cards printed between 1909 and 1911 is about as likely as winning the lottery, but imagine finding seven of them? This family discovered more than a half-dozen of the million-dollar cards while cleaning their great-grandfather’s attic.
The Japan Times
2. A Modern-Day Gold Rush: For one California couple, an afternoon of gardening turned into a gold rush when they came upon a container filled with gold coins and sold them for $10 million.
Los Angeles Times
3. Norman Rockwell’s Breaking Home Ties: It’s no secret that divorce makes people do some crazy things, and that includes hiding your valuables from your ex-spouse. Cartoonist Don Trachte, Jr., who, amidst a messy divorce, concealed a famous Rockwell painting behind a false wall only to have it discovered by his sons and sold at auction for $15.4 million.
4. The Treasure of Panagyurishte: The Deikov brothers are responsible for this incredible find, as while they were mining the clay pits of Panagyurishte, Bulgaria, they unearthed several items that appeared to be made of gold. Well, they were, and 13,000 lbs of 3rd-century gold treasures were later excavated from the pit.
Bulgaria Travel News
5. Superman #1: As of today, only 50 known copies of Superman’s first comic book appearance still exist, and one of them was found in the wall of a Minnesota home. Though the homeowner accidentally ripped the back cover while he was removing it, the comic still sold at auction for $175k.
6. The Terracotta Army: In 1927, a group of Chinese farmers digging a well discovered something strange in the dirt: a stone head. After unearthing the life-size statue it was attached to, the farmers realized that they had stumbled upon the tomb of Emperor Qin Shi Huang and his terracotta army.
7. The Declaration of Independence: While browsing through a thrift shop, a Nashville resident paid $2.48 for a convincing replica of the Declaration of Independence. As it turns out, that “replica” was actually one of the 200 original copies of the Declaration, and it later sold at auction for $477,650.
8. The Ringlemere Cup: While metal detecting on Ringlemere Farm just outside of Sandwich, a British man named Cliff Bradshaw unearthed a dented gold cup that was later recognized as a Bronze Age artifact. The cup was sold for $500k, and its discovery led to a number of additional finds in the area.
Jennifer Wexler / Twitter
9. The Lascaux Cave: When an 18-year-old stumbled upon an unusual cave system in southwestern France he knew he had found something special. Well, that “something special” was actually 600 cave paintings dated around 17,000 years old.
10. Marie Antoinette’s Jewels: The French queen may have lost her head in 1793, but it looks like she had the foresight to place her jewelry around someone else’s neck. More specifically, Marie Antoinette sent her most prized pieces to her nephew, whose descendants recently uncovered the jewels and put them up for auction.
11. The Dead Sea Scrolls: In 1947, a group of shepherds was herding their flock when one of the sheep got loose and ran into a nearby cave. When the herders cornered him, the startled sheep accidentally kicked over an ancient clay pot, which amazingly contained undiscovered pieces of the Hebrew Bible.
The Denver Post
12. Magnolias on Gold Velvet Cloth: The works of American painter Martin Johnson Heade are known to turn up in the most peculiar of places, and Magnolias on Gold is no exception. The painting was actually being used as wall-hole cover before it was authenticated and sold for $1.25 million in 1999.
Fine Art America
13. The Middleham Jewel: A lucky treasure hunter discovered this famous pendant in 1985 while metal detecting near Middleham Castle, the northern home of Richard III. The jewel was sold to the Yorkshire Museum for $4 million.
Joshua F. Kreiger
14. An Ancient Coin Hoard: After losing his hammer in a field, a British farmer asked a neighbor if he could borrow his metal detector to look for it. He never found the hammer, but he instead came away with over 14,000 ancient Roman coins, which were purchased by the British Museum for $2.7 million.
15. The Venus de Milo: Farming is a rewarding profession in and of itself, but coming across a priceless Greek artifact while doing so is never a bad thing. Well, that’s exactly what happened for a farmer named Yorgos Kentrotas, who while scavenging for stone accidentally unearthed this armless beauty.
T a r a k / Flickr
16. An Original Jackson Pollock: One man’s trash was another woman’s treasure when San Bernardino, California, resident Teri Horton paid $5 for an interesting-looking painting from her local thrift store. Seeing that she didn’t have enough room for the painting at home Horton then tried to sell it… only to learn that it was actually a priceless work of art.
17. Depression-Era Money: During a home renovation, a woman named Amanda Reece discovered two metal boxes hidden in one of her walls. Inside were stacks of rare bills from the 1930s, which were later valued at $180,000.
18. The Lyceum: Known as Plato’s first Western-style university, the Lyceum was thought to be lost to history before a construction project unintentionally unearthed the once-great temple in 1997. Unbelievably, the Lyceum was actually buried beneath an unpaved parking lot!
19. The Rosetta Stone: Most ancient relics are pretty well-kept, but the Rosetta Stone was actually hidden within the walls of a stone fort. It wasn’t until a crew of French soldiers began expanding the structure that the lost piece of history was uncovered.
20. The Derinkuyu Underground City: Everyone’s heard stories of houses with hidden rooms, but what about entire underground cities? While renovating his home, a Turkish man accidentally discovered a passageway to a massive, 18-story tunnel system capable of holding up to 20,000 people!