What would you do if you came across a rare set of baseball cards? Or better yet, an ancient treasure? It's a question you've probably asked yourself many times, but for a lucky few, their discoveries have netted them huge windfalls! From sunken ships to ancient coins and dazzling jewelry, these finds hold an extraordinary cultural value that extends far beyond their monetary worth, and there's a whole lot more out there just waiting to be found.
Often, the items were the result of the owners having died without ever passing on their belongings to family members. In some cases, they may have even been hidden to ensure they didn't get stolen. Whatever the exact reason, we take a look at some incredible finds that, by pure chance, made the people who discovered them incredibly wealthy. So warm up the metal detector and let's go on a treasure hunt!
1. Ringlemere Gold Cup
It was just an ordinary day for retired electrician Cliff Bradshaw. Like many people his age, Bradshaw had taken up metal detecting, but unlike most treasure seekers, Bradshaw made a life-changing discovery: the Ringlemere Gold Cup. The cup was found in the English county of Kent, with the Bronze Age vessel one of seven “unstable handled cups” found in Europe, cups which date back to between 1700 and 1500 BC.
Having been damaged from a plow before it was unearthed, the British Museum still made Bradshaw a very wealthy man when they purchased it for a whopping $520,000.
2. Ty Cobb Baseball Cards
You don't always need to find something ancient to get filthy rich! In a story of Hollywood proportions, a family was sorting through their late great-grandfather’s home when they noticed a brown paper bag. The family emptied the contents and found 8 Ty Cobb baseball cards- considered by many the rarest baseball cards you can own.
Dating back to 1901, the cards were first included in packs of cigarettes, but these ones are so rare only 15 are believed to exist.
3. The Hand of Faith
The Hand of Faith, owing to its hand-like structure, is a largely unblemished gold nugget and the second biggest of its kind. However, it is the largest to be discovered by a metal detector. Weighing a whopping 60 pounds, the alluring item was claimed by Kevin Hillier in the remote town of Kingower, Australia in 1980.
Making Hillier an overnight millionaire, the Hand of Faith is now displayed in the hotel lobby of the Golden Nugget Casino in Las Vegas, making it the largest gold nugget on public display.
4. The Boot of Cortez
Back in 1989, a fledgling treasure hunter from Senora, Mexico purchased a metal detector and immediately went to to the desert to test it out. While the first few days yielded little in the way of discoveries, the man eventually sifted through a pile of rubbish he had accumulated and noticed that a gold nugget weighing 26.6 pounds was nestled at the bottom.
The gold nugget is believed to be the largest of its kind found in the Western hemisphere and has been named the “Boot of Cortez" for its distinctive foot-like shape.
5. The Cuerdale Hoard
Rather than just one person, a group of workmen made a fascinating discovery way back in 1840 in the British countryside of Cuerdale, Lancashire. The Cuerdale Hoard is believed to be the biggest collection of Viking silver discovered outside of Russia. The incredible hoard of treasures included more than 8,600 9th Century silver items, a true windfall!
The coins are believed to have been buried between 905 and 901, not long after the Vikings were forced from Dublin in 902. In the Viking Age, silver was considered the primary currency and it was often buried as a way of protecting it in times of unease.
6. Crosby Garrett Helmet
Senior people have found most discoveries listed so far, but In 2009, an unemployed graduate in his early 20s took the initiative by purchasing a metal detector. Making the most of his British countryside surroundings, Garrett, from Crosby Garrett, Cumbria, England, soon found a Roman helmet! After taking it to an expert, he was informed that it was a Roman parade helmet.
Not wasting any time, he soon placed it up for auction, and the bidding surpassed all expectations, so much so that an anonymous bidder purchased the bronze piece for $3.6m. Sadly for history lovers, the helmet is now in the hands of private ownership.
7. The Hoxne Hoard
Another Roman discovery, the Hoxne Hoard saw a plethora of late 4th-century Roman gold and silver discovered, and it is believed to be the largest find of its kind. Like many artifacts on our list, the treasure was found in Britain, this time in the English county of Suffolk. The collection included gold and silver coins, jewelry, spoons and much more.
Unsurprisingly, The British Museum in London soon swooped in and purchased the collection but required help from donors due to the collection's unprecedented value.
8. The Saddle Ridge Hoard
Now, this is a good story! When walking their dog across their property, a couple spotted an unusual looking can poking out of the ground. Amidst the stones and gravel, there was also a visible set of $20 gold coins. Returning with the correct equipment, the couple discovered eight cans brimming with 1,427 U.S. coins.
Dating back to 1847-1894, the coins had a face value of $27,980, but after taking them for further examination, they were worth a staggering $10 million.
9. 5th Magna Carter
For those unaware of British political history, the Magna Carta is a charter designed in 1215 by King John of England. Whilst the document was initially intended to bridge peace between himself and a group of rebels, the text also established one of society's most important principles, that being that all people are subject to the rule of law, even royalty.
Fast forward 800 years and an edition of the Magna Carta was found in a group of achieves kept in Maidstone, Kent. There are widely believed to be only 24 editions of the Magna Carta, though some have long been presumed missing.
10. The Merker's Mine
Nazi treasures have been the rage for years. After all, they stole and hoarded billions of valuable objects during WWII, be that paintings, artifacts, and anything else with a significant monetary value and cultural significance. However, after being on the losing side, $520 million of Nazi riches were “lost”, though they also stored a lot of their possessions in a place called Merkers Mine in Thuringia, Germany.
However, it wasn't long before the U.S. army recovered paper money, gold, and artwork that was stored in the mine, with a reported value of $520m! Unbelievably, the German government has been attempting to retrieve their lost treasures that the Americans confiscated it back in 1945. To this day, it is thought that billions worth of Nazi treasure remains hidden around Europe.
11. Venus Di Milo
Just imagine the shock a Milos island farmer experienced when he dug up some stones but then inadvertently ended up discovering one of the most famous statues in the world – the Venus de Milo,
Now housed in the famous Louvre museum in Paris, the prized sculpture's origins are thought to stem from the Classical age, and it is now considered one of the most important sculptures from ever to have derived from ancient Greece.
12. San Jose Galleon
Named after the 62-gun, three-masted Spanish ship overcome by British ships when sailing from Panama to Columbia in 1708 during the War of the Spanish Succession, all onboard lost their lives, though the ship was also carrying some serious treasure which lived on. The contents included gold, silver, and rare emeralds from the mines of Potosi, Peru.
Over 300 years later, the treasure was finally discovered off the coast of Cartagena, Colombia in 2015.
With the treasure valued at over $17b, there have been a host of legal disputes between private companies and various government over who should own the artifacts.
13. The Bejewelled Martyr Skeletons
These intricately decorated skeletons have seen the most prized jewels rest on their skeletal remains in the Rome area of Italy.
The skeletons were deemed Christian martyrs who were held in the highest regards by the Catholic Church and were thought to have performed miracles, hence the lavish, though highly macabre jewel-incrusted ornaments placed on their remains.
14. Unseen Charlie Chaplin Movie
Looking for a decoration in the style of the old-timey film tins that used to contain the big old reels of nitrate film when a movie was wrapped, Maurice park took to the internet bidding site eBay to try and find one at a low price, and he found an antique film listed for $5. He was only interested in the tin, but it was a cheap find and so forked over the $5 + shipping and waited for his package to arrive.
When he received the canister, he was a little surprised to find film inside, but he decided to see what was on it in case it was anything of interest. As it transpired, it was fascinating and extremely valuable as it was a copy of the unreleased Charlie Chaplin film Zepped that dated back to 1916. Made to assuage fears of Zeppelin attacks from Germany during WWI, it never made it to the cinema screens and so was very rare and thus highly sought after. Valued at around $160,000, the $5 investment seems like even more of a snip now.
15. The Uncle Sam Diamond
Before it became known as the Craters of Diamond State Park, a man named Wesley Oley Basham stumbled across a shining rock in the area only for him to discover he'd unintentionally kicked the largest diamond ever to be found in the United States. A worker at the Arkansas Diamond Corporation, the rough diamond as originally discovered weighed 40.23 karats (8.046 g) and it's discovery arguably rescued the Arkansas Diamond Corporation, which had a debt of over US$276,470 by that time and was going to be shut down in the winter of 1924.
The company described the diamond as being so hard that they could only be cut using powder of other Arkansas diamonds but when it was eventually cut and polished, the final result was a 12.42-carat (2.484 g) emerald-cut gem that was sold to a private collector in 1971 for $150,000.
16. The Declaration of Independence
When Nicholas Cage stole the Declaration of Independence he found a treasure map on the back....no, wait that's the plot to National Treasure but in real life, a Mr. Michael Sparks went shopping at a thrift store and picked up a cool, old looking Declaration of Independence decoration and what true, red-blooded, patriotic American wouldn't want one of these in their home? His whole shop, including some other household items, cost him $2.48.
However, the print looked so darn good, Michael decided to have it authenticated only to discover it was one of only 200 official copies of the document made just after it was signed. Naturally, like any red-blooded, patriotic American, Michael decided to cash-in on his find and made a cool $477,650 from it. Whether it was bought by Nicholas Cage or not, we cannot confirm.
17. Pretty Much Everything by Martin Johnson Heade
Martin Johnson Heade was an American painter noted for his landscapes and studies of birds but Heade was not a famous artist during his time, and for much of the first part of the 20th century was nearly forgotten. A re-awakening of interest in 19th-century American art around World War II sparked a new appreciation of his work but, by which time, much of it had slipped into obscurity or been lost track of. As such, when people rediscovered them they found out that they could make a tidy profit from them.
Heade's Magnolia Blossoms on Blue Velvet and Cherokee Roses, were purchased at an estate sale in Arizona for $60 in 1996 before being discovered as genuine pieces and being sold to a private collector via Christie's auction house later that year for $937,500 and $134,500 respectively. Likewise, TTwo Magnolias on Blue Plush was originally purchased for $29 at a rummage sale by a Wisconsin man in 1989 and was kept for 10 years before being sold at Christie's auction house in 1999 for $882,500. It is now in the collection of James W. McGlothlin of Bristol, Virginia.
Perhaps the most interesting story of a Heade piece being rediscovered though is that of Magnolias on Gold Velvet Cloth which was bought by an Indiana resident for $29 and then hung on his wall for the sole purpose of covering a hole in it. It wasn't until many years later that the owner was playing a board game called Masterpiece which is about auctioning art, he realized that his painting looked very similar to one of the paintings featured in the game. Getting it authenticated, he found that the thing covering the hoke in his wall was a genuine.
Heade and The Museum of Fine Arts in Houston purchased the work for $1,250,000 in 1999.
18. Cuerdale Hoard
As though England didn't have enough to deal with when it unearthed a Roman hoard of gold, it also has its fair share of Viking silver under its land as a group of workmen repairing the embankment of a bend of the River Ribble, in an area called Cuerdale near Preston, Lancashire, England. Discovered in 1840, it is a hoard of more than 8,600 items, including silver coins, English and Carolingian jewelry, hacksilver and ingots.
The second largest Viking hoard ever discovered, it was passed to the landowner, who passed it on to the crown at the time, where it then came to rest in the British Museum where the majority of it remains although some selected items are on display elsewhere. The workmen also got to keep a coin each, but this may come to little comfort to their families now as the hoard is presently valued at around $3.2m.
19. Staffordshire Hoard
They just can't get enough of their hoards in England, can they? This one is actually an Anglo-Saxon hoard though and was unearthed in the village of Hammerwich, near Lichfield, in Staffordshire, England by metal detector enthusiast Terry Herbert.
It consists of over 3,500 items, amounting to a total of 5.1 kg (11 lb) of gold, 1.4 kg (3 lb) of silver and some 3,500 pieces of garnet cloisonné jewelry making it the largest hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver ever found. Most of the objects appear to be military pieces and, considering the amount found, the condition and the level of craftsmanship put into them, are all extremely valuable in terms of historic discovery. The hoard was purchased jointly by the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery for £3.285 million under the Treasure Act 1996 which is approximately $4.4m
20. The First Ever Superman Comic
Buying a home is hardly ever a cheap investment, but David Gonzalez got himself a fixer-upper for just over $10,000 and set to work refurbishing and renovating the property to a suitable standard and to his own tastes. It was when completely redoing the garage that he discovered that previous occupants had stuffed the walls with old newspapers and comic books as a form of cheap insulation.
One such comic book was Action Comics issue number 1, which many comic book fans will recognize as the very first time the character of Superman was introduced to the world. Comic books at the time were not considered as the collector's pieces they are today and were often disposed of straight after reading, as such, this edition is incredibly rare and desperately clamored after by collectors. David put the comic up for auction, and it fetched a whopping $175,000 dollars, easily recouping what Mr. Gozalez had paid for the house and then some.
21. Frome Hoard
It's a hoard, so we'll give you three guesses where it was found...if you said England then congratulations, you're on the money, all £320,250 of it, which is what The Museum of Somerset in Taunton, using a grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF), paid for the hoard in 2011.
A collection of 52,503 Roman coins found in April 2010 by metal detectorist Dave Crisp near Frome in Somerset, England, it was found buried near the coast in a ceramic pot an thus is likely to have been an offering to the gods. The coins were issued during the reign of Carausius, who ruled Britain independently from 286 to 293 and was the first Roman Emperor to strike coins in Britain, and singular coins of a similar kind had been found by Dave nearby, and so he persisted until finding this collection.
22. Coca-Cola Stock Certificate
Purchasing a cool looking stock certificate from a garage sale, Tony Marohn thought that Palmer Union Oil company was now a defunct business and so he paid $5 for the item just as a curiosity. However, Marohn went on to later discover that Palmer Oil went on to become the massive soft drinks maker Coca-Cola and that his stock certificate could now be worth $130m!
Coca-Cola refuted the fact, and so Marohn took them to court for a whole year, sadly passing away before it's resolution. Although Tony died in 2010, his family kept up the legal battle and eventually won a payout of $1.8m from the beverage giant, which is only a drop in the ocean compared to what it could have been but let's not be greedy here.
23. The King's Bed
A bed thrown out of a hotel by builders in Chester England, was purchased by a passer-by for £2,200 (about $2905) as the hotel had no use for it and it was a gorgeously kept four poster bed frame, but it's ornate decoration and rather frivolous carving from the finest wood suggested it was something more than just an ordinary bed.
The new owner, Ian Coulson, now had their interest piqued and took the item to TV historian Jonathan Foyle who tested it for DNA only to find that it was the bed of King Henry VII and it could have possibly been where Henry VII's oldest son Arthur, and Henry VII himself, were conceived. It is now valued at around £20m ($26.4m).
24. A Piece of A Dynasty
Buying a relatively austere bowl for $3 from a garage sale, one New York family were none the wiser to the true value of the ceramic bowl that sat on their dining room table for six years until they discovered it may be worth a tiny bit more than what they paid for after becoming curious about its true value.
Taking it to Sotheby's, the famous auction house estimated its value at $200–300,000 but when they put it up for sale, the vogue for collecting such antiquities carried its final price to a jaw-dropping $2.2m!
25. Andy Warhol's Childhood Sketch
A British businessman bought a painting at a garage sale assuming it was done by a child and that his measly $5 would go a little way to help out the sellers. He later discovered that the picture was indeed drawn by a child but a very notable one.
A picture of the 1930s singer Rudy Vallee, it was sketched by a 10-year-old Andy Warhol whilst at home, in bed with cholera. It was valued at $2m but the businessman Andy Fields has thus far retained it.
26. Caesarea Treasure Haul
Divers exploring the Caesarea National Park in Israel never expected to come across an astonishing 1,000-year-old treasure haul. The haul first came to the attention of a diver who noticed a gold coin shining on the ocean bed.
Rather than collect the haul themselves and sell it off privately, the team contacted the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) which allowed them to recover thousands of 24-karat gold coins.
One of the divers, Ofer Raanan, described his emotions to journalists following the discovery. "It was amazing," he said. "I dive here every other weekend, and I never found anything like that ever." In total, thousands of coins, and a whole host of bronze statues and animal-shaped objects were recovered.
27. The Atocha
The story of the famed but doomed Nuestra Señora de Atocha dates back to 1622 when the Spanish vessel sank to the ocean bed following a hurricane in the Florida Keys. She was believed to have been returning to Spain with a valuable amount of treasure including gold bars.
Over 300 years later, the treasure was discovered in 1985 by treasure enthusiast Mel Fisher. The wreckage took 15 years to get to, but it was worth the wait as it was valued at over $450 million.
28. The Tomb Of Emperor Qin Shi Huang
Just imagine finishing a long day's slog at work only to discover Emperor Qin's tomb inadvertently. The discovery was made on the outskirts of the Chinese city Xi'an in 1974. While no monetary value was placed on the find, it was deemed priceless due to it being one of the “greatest archaeological discoveries in the world,” according to National Geographic.
What lay inside the Emperor’s tomb was an abundance of military might, from thousands of clay soldiers to chariots, and weapons including swords and arrow tips.
29. Vale of York Hoard
This impressive Vikings hoard was discovered in the peaceful Yorkshire town of Harrogate by a father and son. Like many weekends, they spent their bonding time searching for valuable artifacts with their metal detectors but never in their wildest dreams could they have imagined finding what they did.
The treasure haul consisted of a silver pot, which was elegantly polished with solid gold inside. The pot itself contained many diverse treasures, such as a gold arm ring, coins, silver rings brooches, and dress ornaments. After taking their finds to the appropriate committee, The independent Treasure Valuation Committee valued the hoard at £1,082,000.
30. The Lost Dutchman Gold Mine
The Lost Dutchman’s gold mine sounds like something out of a theme park, but it was actually a nickname spawned from the founder Jacob Waltz, despite him being German rather than Dutch.
This secret mine is thought to lie in the mountains of Arizona which people speculate is either guarded or cursed.
31. Treasure In A Tank
It's not every day someone buys a tank. And it's not every day someone buys a tank and finds hidden gold bars. This lucky chap was lover Nick Mead who purchased a Russian T54/69 for $40,100.
According to MSN, the precious gold bullion was hidden within the fuel tan. After taking it to experts, it was valued at a cool $2.5 million.
How cool is this? In 2017, a dusty but incredibly rare 1969 Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona was discovered in a Japanese barn. According to hacks at CNN, just “one street version of its Daytona with a full aluminum body" was made.
So how did such a prestigious Italian sports car end up in a Japanese barn? After much digging, the publication learnt that it had been shipped out in 1971 to a Japanese dealership before being bought in 1980 by a man named Makoto Takai, who also owned the barn. Despite amassing a fair amount of dust, the unrestored beauty when for $2.17 million at auction.
33. A Lost Coin From 1485
A lost coin from the rule of Richard III’s brief reign was sold for $44,000 at auction after being discovered by a female treasure hunter. The Richard III Half Angel piece discovered in Bosworth Field in England was thought to have belonged to one of the king’s soldiers fleeing combat in 1485.
As the king was only on his throne for two years coins from his rule are rare and thus fetch much higher sums at auction.
34. Thracian Beverage Set
Located near to the quiet Bulgarian town Panagyurishte lived three brothers, Pavel, Petko and Michail Deikov. It was 1949 and they were working at a tile factory when- like many fortunate discoveries- they just so happened to stumbled across a life-changing treasure which in their case was the Panagyurishte Gold Treasure.
According to Visit Bulgaria, the treasure consisted of a “Thracian beverage set made of 24-karat gold,” and was used in ceremonies and feasts in the 4th and 3rd century BC.
35. Objects From The Titanic Wreckage
Most know the story of the ill-fated Titanic ship, but there is little knowledge of the regular dives that continue off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada, where the wreckage lies. While most objects have been recovered the most valuable fetched over $1m.
These include the collection of diamond bracelets and Wallace Hartley's violin, the paid entertainer who famously played the instrument to calm passengers as the ship sunk.