10 Valuable Items People Have Found by Accident
It's always nice stumbling across a stray five-dollar bill or a coupon for a free drink at your favourite coffee shop. These people really lucked out, though!
The find: A rare video game still in its original packaging.
Where it was found: In a box in an attic.
On Mother’s Day in 2019, Scott Amos of Reno, Nevada, was visiting his childhood home in Humboldt County, California, to finally get his stuff out of his mom’s attic. While he was going through the boxes, he came across a JCPenney shopping bag. Inside it was a Nintendo video game called Kid Icarus that Amos didn’t even remember owning. Judging by the December 1988 receipt, it was most likely a Christmas present that never got wrapped. Nor had it been opened, which makes this lucky find a huge deal. According to gaming expert Valarie McLeckie, Kid Icarus is a highly sought-after cult classic, and there are fewer than 10 known unopened copies in existence: “To find a sealed copy ‘in the wild,’ so to speak, not to mention one in such a nice condition, is both an unusual and rather historic occurrence.” Amos put the video game—which originally cost $38.45—up for auction, and sold it for $9,000. He used the windfall to take his family to Disney World.
Lucky was with him
The find: A 1.35-pound gold nugget.
Where it was found: On a walk.
In 2019, a man (who wished to remain anonymous) took his dog, Lucky, for a walk somewhere (he wouldn’t say exactly where) outside the city of Bendigo, about two hours north of Melbourne, Australia. Joining him were his two daughters, and it’s a good thing they did. “I actually walked right past it,” he later told the Bendigo Advertiser, “but my daughter pretty much kicked it as she was walking. She then goes, ‘Dad, is this gold?’” He replied, “I think it might be.” Unable to find a jeweler, they brought the fist-sized chunk to a grocery store deli to weigh it, and it topped 20 ounces. Experts have since confirmed the nugget’s authenticity. “We’ve come on some tough times,” the dad said, “so it couldn’t be better timing.” He said the family discussed keeping their lucky find, but they ultimately decided to sell it. Estimated value: $24,000.
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All’s whale that ends whale
The find: A 14-pound chunk of ambergris (aka whale vomit).
Where it was found: On a beach.
Jumrus Thiachot was down on his luck. The 55-year-old Thai fisherman was only making about 400 baht ($13) a day, and had very little money to his name. Then, one day in early 2019, Jumrus was walking on the beach and found a yellow lump of…something in the sand. He thought the waxy substance might be ambergris. Made in the belly of a sperm whale, only a tiny amount of it is needed to make a fragrance last longer. That makes this “floating gold” highly desirable in the perfume industry. But because ambergris is so rare, Jumrus wasn’t getting his hopes up. He took a few slivers of it to be tested, but the tests were inconclusive. Unsure of what to do next, Jumrus stored the lump in his shed and got back to his life. Nearly a year passed. Jumrus “needed to know the truth,” so he contacted the provincial governor, who brought an expert to the fisherman’s house. Result: the substance was determined to be at least 80 per cent ambergris, with an estimated value of $320,000. “Now that I know it is real whale vomit, I will sell it,” he said.
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On the money
The find: A horde of historic gold coins.
Where it was found: In a field in Northern Ireland.
Paul Raynard is a lighting engineer from West Yorkshire, England. In his spare time, he’s a “detectorist”—someone who hunts for treasure with a metal detector. But it wasn’t treasures he was hunting for in November 2019. Raynard was vacationing in Ballycastle, Northern Ireland, when his friend, Michael Gwynne, asked for help finding a lost wedding ring in a field. After an hour and a half of searching with Raynard’s high-end metal detector, all they found were a horseshoe and a fivepence coin. Still no ring. Then Raynard’s detector started beeping, and he started digging. About a foot below the soil, he pulled the first coin out, then another, and then another. “There’s millions!” he shouted to Gwynne. All told, they pulled 84 gold coins out of the ground. Some of them dated back to the 1500s, including a rare King Henry VIII coin worth over $6,000. They brought their unburied treasure to Ulster Museum in Belfast, where it was estimated to be worth £100,000 ($125,000). Experts have called it the biggest horde of gold coins ever found in Ireland. “It’s something I have dreamed of finding since I was a kid,” said Raynard (who never did find the wedding ring).
The find: Solid gold chalice.
Where it was found: The ocean floor in Key West, Florida.
Michael DeMar, a 20-year-old scuba diver was brand new to treasure hunting when he went diving with a metal detector in the ocean 30 miles west of Key West, Florida, in 2008. He was searching the sandy ocean floor in 18 feet of water when his metal detector started beeping. In previous dives, this always meant he’d found some metallic trash, such as a beer can, and that’s what he expected to find this time as well. And after sifting through about three feet of sand he found a beverage container, all right, but not a beer can: it was a solid gold chalice, engraved with lions, castles, a family crest, and other decorations. The chalice is believed to be from the Santa Margarita, which sank in a storm off of the Florida Keys in 1622. Millions of dollars of treasure have been salvaged from the wreck since it was discovered in 1980, but the chalice is the most valuable item to be recovered in decades. Centuries of storm activity had moved it and other debris a considerable distance from the site of the shipwreck, which is why it remained undiscovered until DeMar came swimming by. In 2015, the chalice sold at auction for $413,000. Because DeMar was employed by a salvage company when he made his discovery, it’s not clear how much of the money, if any, went to him.
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Hand of gold
The find: A hand-shaped 60-pound gold nugget.
Where it was found: Kingower State Forest in southeastern Australia.
Kevin Hillier, an Australian man who was living in a bus in a campground with his wife and four children in 1980 was on a vagabond bus trip around Australia. It started out as a fun travel adventure, but their situation turned desperate when Kevin injured his back and was unable to work. As he recovered from his injury, his doctor told him to take up metal detecting, saying that the exercise would strengthen his back. Hillier was doing just that in the Kingower State Forest in southeastern Australia in September 1980 when his metal detector started chirping. He dug about a foot down into the soil and uncovered the tip of a gold nugget. “I thought, ‘Hey, it looks like a 50-ouncer,’ but it just kept getting bigger,” he told Australia’s Weekly Times in 2010. After more than two hours of digging, he finally uncovered the entire thing: It was a hand-shaped nugget weighing almost 60 pounds. Forty years later, the “Hand of Faith” nugget remains the largest gold nugget ever found by a metal detector, and the largest nugget that remains intact today.
The Hilliers sold the Hand of Faith to the Golden Nugget Casino in Las Vegas for $1 million. They used the money to buy a house in Perth, a new car, a trip to Holland, and other goodies. They also staked a gold mining claim in the area where they found their nugget, then cleared the site with a bulldozer. So did they get rich twice? Nope: “We found a few 20-gram (0.7-ounce) nuggets,” Hillier says, “but otherwise, not a thing.”
Digging for gold, silver, and jewels
The find: 3,500 gold, silver, and jeweled items.
Where it was found: A field in England.
In July 2009, Terry Herbert, 54, a British man living near the village of Hammerwich, Staffordshire, England was unemployed. So he had plenty of time to pursue his hobby of metal detecting, using a secondhand detector he bought at a “car boot sale” for about $2.50. He asked a farmer he knew, Fred Johnson, if he could search Johnson’s freshly plowed field for treasure. Johnson reluctantly agreed, on condition that Herbert look for a wrench that Johnson believed he’d lost somewhere in the field.
Herbert never did find Johnson’s wrench, but after walking about 80 yards into the field, he got a signal and started digging. He had to dig about 12 feet down before he found the first object: a gold pin. He kept at it, and after five days of digging he found 244 gold objects, most of them military related. He and Johnson reported the find to the government, which obtained Johnson’s permission to excavate the area further. By the time the excavation was complete, more than 3,500 gold, silver, and jeweled items dating back to the sixth and seventh centuries had been recovered from the field. To date, the “Staffordshire Hoard” remains the single largest collection of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver objects ever discovered.
The find was appraised by the British government to be worth £3.285 million, or about $4.4 million. British law gives museums the right to acquire found treasure, but only if they pay the finders a cash reward equal to the appraised value of the treasure. When two museums pooled their resources to buy the Staffordshire Hoard, Herbert and Johnson each walked away with more than $2 million in cash. The treasure made them rich…but ruined their friendship. “I think Fred wanted all of the money and is now resentful he has had to share it. I’m not sure there is any way we can patch things up,” Herbert told the Sunday Mercury newspaper in 2011. “Sometimes I wish we’d never found that hoard.”
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Pounds of coins
The find: 68,000 fused-together gold and silver coins.
Where it was found: A British island.
If Terry Herbert thought he had problems with Fred Johnson, they were nothing compared to the trouble that Reg Mead and Richard Miles, two treasure hunters who began searching for coins on the British island of Jersey in the 1980s, had with their farmer (unnamed in news reports), who only let them search his field one day each year, right after he’d harvested his crops. But Mead and Miles were persistent: They had heard stories of ancient coins being discovered on the land, and they suspected there were more to be found. They returned one day each year for more than 30 years, never finding much of anything until 2012. That year they dug up one coin, and then another, and then another. Digging deeper, they found a mass of fused-together coins six feet long, eight inches thick, and weighing about 1,500 pounds. The coins are Celtic in origin and are believed to have been buried around 50 BC, probably to protect them from invading Romans. (It worked!) The “Grouville Hoard,” as it’s become known, is the largest treasure hoard ever found on Jersey, and six times larger than the next largest Celtic cache found anywhere on earth. It took preservationists nearly three years to separate the more than 68,000 fused-together gold and silver coins. Estimated value: about $13 million—though it’s not clear how much Mead, Miles, and the landowner got, or how they split the money.
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The find: Medieval ring.
Where it was found: Field in Scotland.
Gordon Graham, 41, of Edinburgh, Scotland, who went hunting for treasure on the Isle of Man in 2018 was working his way through a field in the north of the island when the detector sounded. He started digging and soon found a gold-gilded silver ring engraved with geometric shapes. He wasn’t sure how old it was, so he took some pictures and posted them online to see if anyone could tell him about the ring. “An expert identified it as a medieval iconographic ring,” he told the BBC. “That was a game changer, and I informed the landowner and the Manx museum straightaway.”
The ring has been dated to the 1400s and declared a treasure, which means that Graham will split a reward with the landowner for finding it. But Graham says it isn’t the money that interests him: “I don’t do it to find gold or get rich. I do it to find something I can show to the Manx people and have in the museum. It’s a fantastic thing to find.”
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Thrown away too soon
The find: The Churchill collection.
Where it was found: At a garbage dump.
“I’ve worked [at a garbage dump] for 15 years,” David Rose told the Telegraph, “and I get to pull out whatever I like, mostly antiques.” Rose said he has three sheds full of rescued treasures, but nothing like the Churchill collection that he brought to London for an episode of BBC’s Antiques Roadshow.
Some background: After Queen Elizabeth II, the most famous Brit of the 20th century is probably Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who helped lead the Allies to victory in World War II. So if you owned a top hat that belonged to Churchill, as well as a box of his cigars and some personal letters, you might want to hold onto them. But for some reason—which remains a mystery—someone who actually did own these items threw them away in early 2019.
The appraisers were able to authenticate the collection thanks to the 200 letters that were stored with the top hat and cigars. The letters weren’t written by Churchill himself, but by his personal cook. According to Rose, “She used to write to her son every day about the daily goings of Winston Churchill, what he was getting up to, how he was feeling and just interesting stuff about him.” The collection has an estimated value of £10,000 ($13,000), but its worth goes beyond money; the content of the letters will provide historians with previously unknown aspects of Churchill’s life. (If you’re wondering at exactly which dump the items were found, don’t ask Rose. He said he’s keeping that detail to himself.)
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