Man Buys ‘Timepiece’ At Flea Market, Learns It’s Far More Valuable Than He Thought

Flea markets are always full of bizarre goodies: clown paintings, moth-eaten sweaters, and vintage spoons lost from their cutlery sets. Though sentimental attachments are high, few items for sale are really worth more than a few bucks.

So when an unsuspecting scrap metal entrepreneur came across a golden bauble at a flea market in the Midwest, he was stunned. He could surely re-sell the piece for a few thousand dollars. When he went to flip the gold, however, he realized how little he understood about his purchase.

When a man, who now wishes to remain anonymous, discovered a tiny golden egg at a Midwestern flea market, he got goosebumps at the mere sight of it. Believing it was made of real gold, he purchased it for $13,302.

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Was it impulsive? Perhaps. Something about the metal piece just stuck out to the wannabe tycoon. But after trying to sell the trinket to scrap metal dealers, his enthusiasm turned to panic. He may have overestimated the egg’s value.

Crow Metals

Feeling like he ate nearly 14 grand, the man went to the one place that could maybe tell him more about the flea market find: the internet. He was desperate to find any information indicating the tchotchke was worth anything.

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Rushing to Google, he typed “egg” plus the name engraved on the clock, “Vacheron Constantin,” into the search bar. The search took him to a 2011 article by Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper.

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According to the article, there was a “frantic search” for the golden relic, which turned out to be the Third Imperial Easter Egg, made by the renowned House of Fabergé for the Russian royal family. You can imagine the entrepreneur’s feelings of shock and joy.

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Soon, he started imagining the new price tag. Now $13,302 sounded like a steal! Practically jumping for joy, the man contacted Fabergé expert Kieran McCarthy, then hopping on a plane to London to meet with him in person.

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He visited Kieran McCarthy’s workplace, Wartski jewelers, in the upscale English district of Mayfair. “A gentleman had walked in wearing jeans, a plaid shirt and trainers. His mouth was just dry with fear,” Kieran told CNN.

Anthony DeMarco / Forbes

“He handed me a portfolio of photographs, and there was the egg, the Holy Grail of art and antiques,” he continued. Kieran was stunned. Though he hadn’t gotten to see the Fabergé artifact during that visit, he knew it was the real deal.

The Eye of Photography

This time it was Kieran who would take a journey, trekking it to the American Midwest to see the golden beauty in person. “It’s almost an affirmation of his existence that this happened to him,” Kieran said of the finder.

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The man’s miraculous 3.2-inch find sat on an elaborate gold stand with tiny lion paw feet. It boasted three sapphires and a diamond. Upon opening the egg, a Vacheron Constantin watch hidden inside was revealed. She was a real beaut.

Wartski

When Kieran could observe and handle the egg up close, he noted that the egg finder did, in fact, overestimate the physical value of the piece, but underestimated its value as a work of art.

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“He didn’t look upon a work of art at all. He saw that it was pretty and it was nice, but he was buying on intrinsic value. He bought and sold […] This was quite a considerable outlay for him,” Kieran explained.

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“The essence of Fabergé’s work is craftsmanship. It’s the beauty of design and the conceiving of that object,” he continued. Apparently, in pre-revolutionary Russia, the tsar and tsarina had everything they wanted and more, making it difficult to impress them with anything of physical value.

Wartski

“Their daily lives were lived at such a height of luxury that you couldn’t really excite them with anything of intrinsic value. It was always about the craftsmanship. This is what that object is about, this craftsmanship and demonstration of skill,” Kieran detailed. Yes, basic diamonds and jewels were a bore.

Jonathan Irish

Kieran explained that when people imagine the iconic Fabergé eggs, they picture them larger than life, as if they were “the size of the Empire State Building, with diamonds the size of footballs.” People often forget their value in terms of art collecting.

Wartski

Fabergé’s egg creations were meant to be little celebrations of Easter, as well as love tokens. Right up until the 1916 overthrow of the tsar, the Fabergé jewelry workshop made a total of 50 eggs for the Russian Royal Family. According to Fabergé “the only prerequisite being that they contained a surprise.”

the Forbes Collection

The man’s flea market egg is thought to be Tsar Alexander III’s 1887 Easter gift to his wife, Tsarina Maria Feodorovna. Exactly 42 of the 50 have known locations, in private collections and museums, and the 43rd has finally been found.

Wartski

It’s thought that there are two more original Fabergé eggs lurking somewhere around the globe, and that the other five were likely destroyed, as there was no mentioning or evidence of them existing succeeding the revolution.

Historica Graphica Collection / Heritage Images / Getty Images

A private collector purchased the man’s discovered Third Imperial Egg, graciously allowing the public to view it at Wartski in April 2014 before it was officially in his hands for good. Estimates suggest the egg could have cost him $33 million!

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And while this anonymous scrap metal entrepreneur’s trip to some rinky-dink Midwestern flea market changed his life for the better, others wind up kicking themselves when they discover a piece that could’ve been theirs years prior earns someone else a wild fortune.

The Portland Flea + Food

Gaye Horrell was in her early 20s when she met and married Tim Holme. They were a happy couple living the American dream of the 1960s. As a newlywed, Gaye fantasized about the life she and Tim would lead together. Still, a little more cash would have certainly helped.

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Meanwhile, Gaye was eager to impress her new in-laws, Charles and Molly Holme. They were a hard-working pair who owned a farmhouse in Staffordshire. One day, they were having a sale and insisted the newlyweds come poke around. While browsing, Gaye was struck by a particular item.

Jan Tik

A painting was laying among the farm equipment and assorted heirlooms. It featured a rugged brick house with a woman in a blue dress tending to the entryway. The roof was covered with hay, and the bright blue sky above was filled with puffy clouds. Gaye knew she wanted it.

Gaye’s in-laws, however, were not impressed. Out of all their possessions, their new daughter-in-law was asking for a filthy old painting they’d received in exchange for farm supplies! There was even a hole in the canvas! They insisted Gaye take a brass hand bell instead.

The last thing Gaye-the-newlywed wanted was to cause commotion. After all, she was trying to build a new life with her husband. To bicker with his parents over such a small matter would be asinine. And yet, Gaye was lured to the enchanting painting. Once again, she asked to have it.

This time, Tim’s parents were growing frustrated. They insisted Gaye pick an item she’d get better use out of. To avoid confrontation, Gaye gave up on the painting and walked away with the brass hand bell. Her in-laws were happy. Tim was happy. But for Gaye, that decision would become forever haunting.

Thamizhpparithi Maari

Years after her marriage with Tim ended, Gaye stumbled on a familiar news report. It described a painting of an old farmhouse with a woman in a blue dress. That’s when Gaye learned the painting’s true origin.

The Sun

The painting, she found out, was called Peasant Woman in Front of a Farmhouse. After the Holme’s family sale in 1967, the painting went on a miraculous journey that will forever change the way you go thrifting.

The owner of a local auction house, oblivious to who painted the piece, purchased it for a mere 4 pounds. There, the masterpiece hung unassumingly next to knock-off contemporaries. With no buyers, the piece was auctioned off to a junk shop. It sat for there for three whole years before a customer noticed a strange detail.

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Luigi Grasso was in a store full of antiques. While browsing the art section, he came across a painting with familiar brush strokes but a landscape he just couldn’t place. Then, in the corner of the painting, he noticed a faint signature: Vincent.

Luigi, who’d just been wandering the streets of North London, found himself looking at a painting signed by Vincent Van Gogh. His heart dropped. Could this be a genuine Van Gogh? With haste, Luigi put down 45 pounds and took the painting straight home.

Eva Rinaldi

He had a hard time convincing buyers the painting was authentic. So, he turned to Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum. In Peasant Woman in Front of a Farmhouse, a key feature stood out to experts.

The Sun

Experts were able study the painting’s composition to confirm its date. It was painted in 1885, when Van Gogh was only 33 years old. Luigi rejoiced when he sold it for 100,000 pounds. But the painting’s price point was only growing.

After Luigi sold the painting in 1970, it changed owners quite a few times before landing in the lap of an American collector. In 2001, the collector purchased the painting for 1.5 million pounds, over 10 times the amount Luigi had made! The American collector kept hold of the painting until just months ago.

Mdbeckwith

As Gaye recently learned, an unknown buyer had purchased the forgotten masterpiece for a whopping 13 million pounds! This eclipsed all previous sales, but none more than Gaye’s price tag of “free.” She spoke out about the painting’s value.

Artūrs Rugājs

“Oh dear, how naive of me,” says Gaye to the The Shropshire Star about her regretful decision years ago. “Of course, in those days I couldn’t argue with [my in-laws] and ended up with a brass handbell. I learnt my lesson the hard way.” Gaye may resent her in-laws now, but there was a silver lining for her.

The National

There are many, many more original Van Gogh paintings floating out in the world. People search desperately for them like rare, golden tickets. How is this possible if Van Gogh was rumored to have only sold one painting his entire life?

Van Gogh’s family had always seen talent in the young man, so his brother, Theo, sold Vincent’s paintings on his behalf. There is no record on how many were sold, leaving endless possibilities. The experts, however, weren’t messing around.

PxHere

There are countless missing pieces of artwork to uncover, including those by Van Gogh, Picasso, Vermeer, Raphael, Caravaggio… you name it! While it’s fun to speculate, don’t count on stumbling across one for your next big-break. As Gaye can tell you, it all comes down to luck.

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When a man — who wished to remain anonymous — perused the chaotic aisles of an Adamstown, Pennsylvania, flea market, he had no wild expectations of what he would find. Even still, he never supposed his shopping trip would end up as it did.

The Buyer was known to be a flea market buff of sorts, routinely scavenging for items to boost his collection of antique stocks, bonds, and various paper items. In 1989, he found a peculiar little treasure that nearly rocked his world.

San Antonio Express-News

A particular painting entranced The Buyer, or at least its wooden frame did. Pulling out his wallet, the financial analyst spent a skimpy four bucks on the old artwork, thinking little of the purchase.

The painting, which depicted a subdued country scene, was old and ripped. None of those details mattered to the mysterious Buyer, however, as he was simply interested in its frame. That’s why the painting itself was destined for the trash can.

Christina’s World

So, when the Buyer returned home, he removed the painting from its handsome frame only to find a small piece of linen paper measuring 15.5 by 19.75 inches. Something about this odd, little piece of paper looked familiar to him…

Now, The Buyer had found various interesting flea market items throughout his many years of collecting, but this curious find was unlike anything he’d ever purchased. Because when he realized what the folded document was, he immediately locked it away for safe keeping.

The document was a copy of the Declaration of Independence, which dated back to 1776! Before Nicholas Cage had the chance to nab the national treasure, the Buyer locked it up in his house until he could figure out what to do with it.

National Treasure

It took him awhile to decide, because the priceless document sat in the Buyer’s house for months, until he finally gave in to his friend’s urging that he contact Sotheby’s for an appraisal.

Financial Times

Sotheby’s is considered one of the world’s most prominent brokers of artwork, jewelry, real estate, and collectibles; so it’s no wonder he trusted them with the antique historical document. But Sotheby’s was skeptical.

TTEC

At the time, Selby Kiffer, the VP of books and manuscripts for Sotheby’s, stated, “We literally get two or three calls a week from people claiming to have a copy of the Declaration of Independence.” This time, it wasn’t a flimflam or prank call.

National Treasure

The Manhattan auctioneers’ skepticism was understandable in view of what Kiffer has seen. “What most people run into is a reproduction of the handwritten copy with 56 signatures that was produced several months later,” Kiffer explained.

But after several experts took a gander at the yellowed piece, they all agreed it was the real thing. While the paper and the typography were both reminiscent of the era, an etching on its backing is what really sealed the deal.

The handwritten seal of approval on the back that read “Declaration of American Independence. July 4, 1776,” really finalized its authenticity. The Buyer could hardly believe it: why wasn’t this locked away in a museum?

National Treasure

Back in the day, once the milestone that was independence became official, Philadelphia printer John Dunlap printed copies to spread the good news to the people. One of those very copies was shockingly pinched between that cheap painting and its frame.

Connecticut Public Radio

While it was a copy, it wasn’t just a copy. The Sotheby’s Vice President, David Redden, surmised that just 200 of these original copies were dispersed to government leaders, the Army, and the 13 colonies.

The Buyer’s copy was one of just 24 that remained at the time. Considering the $4 flea market painting was in rough condition, Redden was amazed at the document’s pristine form. “Here was the most important single printed page in the world, in the most spectacularly beautiful condition,” he said.

Considering another original copy sold for $1.59 million in January of 1990, it was believed that this priceless copy was valued at between $800,000 to $1.2 million. Unbelievably, the Buyer’s copy auctioned for $8.1 million.

No one is quite sure how the valuable 18th-century document ended up at the Adamstown flea market, but we’re sure the Buyer didn’t care about how! “It has to be characterized as a lucky find,” said Kiffer.

Selby Kiffer mentioned that this bizarre, moreover lucrative, run-in with luck will inspire lots of people to check out flea market booths, and he’s not wrong. That’s something fans of Antique Roadshow have been saying for years — and with good reason!

For instance, this Gold-plated Luxus II camera, which appeared on the show, was once called “the rarest camera in the world.” Only four of these gold-and-snakeskin devices were ever made; this one (pictured) is the last in existence! It earned the Antiques Roadshow collector $620,000!

2. Jardiniere vase ($820,000): Believe it or not, the woman who owned this vase used to let her children use it as a goal post when they played soccer. She had no idea that it worth such an impressive sum.

3. Prussian plate ($185,000): When the owner of this plate asked to have her items appraised, she was counting on her books to be the most valuable. That was until she found out that this plate was once owned by the King of Prussia himself!

4. Diego Rivera painting ($800,000): This man had this painting—by none other than Diego Rivera himself—hanging behind his office door for years before he decided to get it appraised. Thank goodness he did!

5. Original 1950s mobile ($400,000-$600,000): This might not look like much on the surface, but it was actually one of the first mobiles ever made—and by the toy’s inventor, Alexander Calder, no less!

6. Jade bowls ($1.5 million): An amateur art collector who really knew his stuff picked up this lot of jade in China for less than $20. Now his children and grandchildren are reaping the rewards of that investment.

7. Navajo blanket ($750,000): Blankets just like this one were once made exclusively for Native American Ute chiefs. To date, this is one of the most well-preserved examples of this type of blanket. Its value will only ever go up!

8. “Ozzy the Owl” ($25,000): This vase might not look like very much, but it’s actually a rare piece from the year 1640. The previous owner used it for flowers and had no idea of its actual value. It is now safe in a museum.

9. Clyfford Still painting ($500,000): When the owner of this painting moved into a new house, a family friend gave it to her as a housewarming gift. They had no idea it was painted by one of the American greats!

10. Original Peanuts comic strips ($450,000): The late comic artist Charles Schultz famously used to give away his original comic strips once they went to press. This woman’s collection cost her just $400! Talk about a good return on investment.

11. Anthony van Dyck painting ($673,000): A local parish priest was able to snag this painting for only $500 because it was believed to be a fake. However, the joke’s on the seller—it is absolutely the real deal!

12. Edgar Allan Poe photograph ($50,000): Sometimes it turns out that good things really do come in very, very small (and very, very old) packages! The tiny photograph of the late dark and dreary poet was worth way more than anyone expected.

13. Rhino horn teacups ($1.5 million): These were purchased on a whim by a tourist in Africa in the 1970s. When he learned how much they were worth, the man had an actual asthma attack.

14. Norman Rockwell’s The Little Model ($500,000): Believe it or not, this famous painting by the legendary American artist Norman Rockwell was simply given as a gift to this lucky owner. He couldn’t believe how much it was really worth!

15. Winston Churchill’s cigar ($1,000): This cigar, which the former United Kingdom Prime Minister reportedly chomped on during his famous D-Day decision, earned its owner a pretty penny. Other cigars once owned by Churchill have been valued up to $12,000!

16. Original Honus Wagner baseball card ($780,000): This is one of the earliest baseball cards on record, and it’s even more special because so few were printed of Honus Wagner. Thankfully, this one was in mint condition.

17. Patek Philippe pocket watch ($1.5 million): It isn’t just the beauty of this watch that makes it so valuable; it’s also the fact that it was made for American entrepreneur George Thompson.

18. Joseph Kleitsch oil painting ($500,000): When this woman found a painting for sale at a thrift store, she thought it was worth the “pricey” $100 fee and bought it happily. She was even happier when she learned how much it was really worth!

19. Boston Red Sox memorabilia ($1 million): Baseball cards and paraphernalia will also catch a pretty penny, but this collection predates the collecting craze, which is part of what makes it so valuable!

20. Seymour card table ($600,000): The woman who owns this tiny table actually purchased it at a yard sale for no more than $25! Why is it worth so much? Because it was made by a very renowned designer. This woman, however, wasn’t the only one to strike it rich thrifting…

21. When students Skyer Ashworth and Talia Rappa were looking through clothes at a thrift store in Florida, they couldn’t help but notice six NASA spacesuits on the rack. They purchased the official 1980s-era suits for a mere 20 cents each, only to discover later that they were actually worth much more: $5,000 per suit!

22. Zachary Bodish was immediately drawn to this reproduction Picasso poster when he spotted it at a thrift store near Columbus, Ohio, and he purchased it for $14. Not long after, he discovered that it wasn’t a replica at all, but a linocut made by Picasso himself. He eventually sold it to a private buyer for $7,000!

23. Vinyl collector Warren Hill always kept his eyes peeled for rare records selling at New York City street sales, though he never had much luck. That is, until he stumbled upon a Velvet Underground test-pressing that was only intended to be seen by the record label and the distributor. He later sold it on eBay for a stunning $25,000!

24. Jennifer Thompson purchased the Nintendo game Stadium Events from a North Carolina thrift store for just $8. Little did she know that it was highly coveted by collectors. She couldn’t believe it when someone purchased it from her for $25,000!

25. A German student returned home with a $215 foldable couch she’d picked up at a flea market, only to have a rare painting fall from its crease. Created between 1605 and 1620 by an unknown artist, it depicted Italian master Carlo Saraceni. Despite the nameless artist, it eventually auctioned for $27,630!

26. A woman shopping at a thrift store in Somerset, England, was happy to pay $3 for this metal bowl. When she brought it to have appraised, the experts instantly knew it was a Chinese tripod censer that dated to the 18th century Qianlong period. That could certainly help explain why it eventually fetched $30,000 at auction!

27. When Zach Norris went to a Phoenix thrift store in search of a cheap golf trolley, he got much more than he bargained for. He forked over $5.99 for a neat-looking watch by Jaeger-LeCoultre. It wound up being worth a whopping $35,000!

28. A couple from Knoxville, Tennessee, Sean and Rikki McEvoy, randomly purchased a black sports sweater from a thrift store. They had no idea it had once belonged to famed football coach Vince Lombardi. They paid just 58 cents for the item, though it was worth $43,000!

29. When an Australian man purchased this pretty item for $3 from a shop in Sydney, he had no idea it was actually an incredibly rare Chinese libation cup made of rhino horn. He later earned a cool $60,000 when the cup was auctioned by Sotheby’s.

30. In 1994, an avid golfer walked into a Toronto thrift store and found an eye-catching green jacket selling for just $5. The jacket turned out to be an authentic jacket from a 1950s Augusta National! Even without the golfer’s name stitched onto it, a memorabilia company purchased it for the high price of $139,349.

31. One British man spotted this watch at a parking lot sale and paid $35 for it. He was elated when he found out that it was the exact same watch Sean Connery wore when he starred as James Bond in the 1965 film Thunderball. Even better: he sold it for a staggering $145,000!

32. When this painting was donated to the Columbia-Williamette Goodwill, the staff priced it to sell for $10. It wasn’t long before someone recognized it as a watercolor by American artist Frank Weston Benson. It later sold for an astonishing $165,002!

33. A person was shopping at a flea market in Brooklyn when they stumbled upon a $15 necklace designed by American sculptor Alexander Calder. Though Calder wasn’t known for his jewelry, they couldn’t turn down such a deal. It’s a good thing they didn’t, because it turned out to be worth $267,750!

34. London man John Richard paid only $30 for this Andy Warhol print bag—featuring the likeness of Elvis Presley—at a local thrift store. After it was appraised, he learned that only 10 were ever made by designer Philip Treacy, which explains why it is rumored to be worth a grand total of $480,000!

35. When this item was donated to a charity shop in England, staff members quickly realized it might be worth something. As it turned out, it was a bamboo pot created between 1662 and 1672 by Gu Jue, a famed Chinese artist. Even though it needed to be restored, it sold for a whopping $500,000!

36. Claire Wiegan-Beckmann purchased a card table from a garage sale for $25 in the 1960s. Years later, she decided she would have it appraised on the TV program Antiques Roadshow. That’s when she discovered it was from the 1700s and worth $541,500!

37. In the 1980s, a ring caught a shopper’s eye at a parking lot sale at a London hospital. He purchased it for $14, and after wearing it for five years, he decided to have it officially appraised. That’s when he learned it was a 26.27 carat diamond! He eventually sold it for a staggering $915,000.

38. An Indiana man paid $30 for this painting hoping to use it to cover a hole in his wall. One day, while playing a board game based on art auctions, he noticed that one of the cards featured a similar painting. That’s when he discovered it was the “Magnolias on Gold Velvet Cloth” by Martin Johnson Heade… and it was worth $1.2 million!

39. One New York family spent $3 to have this seemingly ordinary bowl displayed on their mantel. But they began to wonder of its true worth and they brought it to Sotheby’s, where they ere informed that it was an ancient Chinese ceramic—and would fetch between $200,000 and $300,000. It later sold for a cool $2.2 million.

40. In 1989, a man purchased a painting for $4 because he liked the frame. He removed the painting to put something else inside and discovered an original print of the July 4, 1776 Declaration of Independence. It was auctioned by Sotheby’s in 1991 for $2,420,000!

Sothebys / Wikimedia commons

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