There is a certain fascination among people surrounding rags-to-riches stories. There are stories of people working really hard to attain success and fame. On the other hand, there are a few people who just have a lot of luck. They don’t even realize that their “rags” could actually end up making them millions!
From a fisherman who kept a $100-million pearl under his bed for 10 years to the guy who didn’t realize that the dirty blanket from his grandmother is worth millions, we bring you 10 stories in which people did not realize the worth of their discoveries.
1. A fisherman in the Philippines discovered a pearl weighing 34 kg with an estimated value of $100 million. Not knowing it’s worth, he kept the pearl under his bed for 10 years as a good luck charm.
The fisherman had no idea that his discovery was worth millions. Motoring from Puerto Princesa on Palawan Island, the fisherman was on one of his daily trips to the sea when he was caught in a storm. The anchor of his boat got stuck on a giant clam. When he swam to free the anchor, he was surprised to find a large pearl inside the clam. The pearl is 30 cm wide (1ft), 67 cm long (2.2ft), and weighs 34 kg (75lb).
He brought the pearl home and kept it under his bed like a good luck charm for 10 years, since 2006. Then, when he planned to move to a new place, he brought the pearl for safe-keeping to his aunt in 2016. At the time his aunt, Aileen Cynthia Maggay-Amurao, worked as a tourism officer. She convinced him to let her put the pearl on display and certify its authenticity.
The pearl is estimated to be worth more than $100 million once certified. Also, if it gets certified, it would surpass the current record holder for the largest pearl, the Pearl of Lao Tzu. Valued at $93 million, it was also recovered from the waters of the Palawan Island and weighs 6.4kg. (1, 2)
2. A man became a millionaire after he accidentally purchased an original copy of the Declaration of Independence at a flea market. The copy was hidden behind the canvas of a painting for which he paid $4.
In 1989, a Philadelphia man purchased a painting at a flea market for $4. He bought it not for the painting but because he liked the frame. So, once he reached home, he took apart the frame and was bewildered to discover another document hidden behind the painting. It was an original, one of the first printings of the Declaration of Independence. The man then threw away the painting that was within the frame as he disliked it. He also threw away the frame because it appeared crooked. Thankfully, he kept the copy of the Declaration of Independence out of curiosity.
After two years, the owner showed it to a friend who urged him to look into it further. He then called Sotheby. Being hidden behind the painting in the frame, the document was in very good condition. Selby Kiffer, an Americana printing specialist at Sotheby’s, says, “The discovery of any first-printing copy of the Declaration, even a fragmentary one or a poor copy, would be exciting. But on this one, the condition is beyond reproach.”
3. An art collector bought a photo from a junk lot of the legendary outlaw Billy the Kid for just $2. Later, the photo turned out to be worth $5 million.
Randy Guijarro purchased a tintype photo of a group paying croquet in 2010. He paid $2 for it along with two other photographs. Little did he know that it was the only second photograph of the infamous Wild West outlaw, Billy the Kid, and his gang, the Regulators.
It was a battle for Guijarro to prove the authenticity of his photo. A photo of Billy is like a Holy Grail for America. So, the concerned authorities were skeptic about the authenticity of Guijarro’s photo. When Jeff Aiello, a producer from National Geographic, heard about Guijarro’s plight, he contacted him and offered him help in return for a self-funded documentary that would depict Guijarro’s journey to verify his valuable find.
Guijarro set out to look for the building in the picture. Their first breakthrough came when Aiello’s wife discovered a diary that belonged to a woman who was in the picture. Her name was Sally Chisum. They found that the photo was taken at a wedding between gang member Charlie Bowdre and his bride Manuella. Next, facial recognition was carried out to make their point stronger.
The final breakthrough came when they were able to find the exact spot where the photo was taken. The building in the photo was still standing with another structure built around it. This acted as a final confirmation that it was indeed Billy in the photo.
Once the authenticity was confirmed, National Geographic expressed their interests in the documentary and it was aired in 2015 by the name “Billy the Kid: New Evidence” and narrated by Kevin Costner.
4. While playing the auction-based art game, Masterpiece, a man saw a painting in the game that looked similar to one he had at home. He later discovered that particular painting which he was using to cover a hole in his wall for years was actually worth $1.25 million.
Masterpiece is a board game where players bid on actual paintings from around the world. Players bid against each other, negotiate amongst themselves, create a portfolio of their paintings, and then finally win the game. A 30-year-old man was playing this game in January 1999, when he realized that one of the paintings in the game bore a strong resemblance to a painting he had at home. Apparently, he was using the painting to cover a hole in his wall.
When he realized that the painting was called ”Magnolias on Gold Velvet Cloth” and was painted in the 19th-century by Martin Johnson Heade, he immediately contacted Kennedy Galleries in Manhattan. The gallery was able to authenticate the painting.
The owner of the painting, who wished to remain anonymous, later disclosed that he had bought the painting along with some furniture many years ago for next to nothing. He never realized the value of the painting and just kept it as he liked it. The Museum of Fine Arts in Houston bought it from him for a staggering $1.25 million. (1, 2)
5. A man bought five paintings for a mere $5 at a garage sale. One of them had a hidden sketch that turned out to be the sketch by the famous Andy Warhol. His signature was etched at the back, and it was valued at $2 million.
While garage sales are mostly about old furniture, old clothes, and old gadgets, sometimes people really hit the jackpot. Andy Fields, a businessman from Tiverton, England, paid $5 at a Las Vegas garage sale to acquire five paintings in 2010. When Fields went to reframe one of the paintings, he found a sketch hidden behind it. The sketch belonged to 1930s singer Rudy Vallee famous for songs like “Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries” and “Lover Come Back To Me.” But the interesting part was that this sketch was made by the famous, visual-movement activist, Andy Warhol. His signature was found on the back.
Apparently, the sketches belonged to the aunt of the man who organized the garage sale. The aunt used to watch over Warhol as a child. Maybe that’s how she came into possession of his sketch. Warhol must have done the painting when he was just nine or ten. This particular sketch holds significance as Warhol was known to have started doing pop art at the age of 23, but not prior to that.