There are two ways to turn your junk into cash. The surefire option is to use an established, reputable junk collector, a professional who will give you a fair estimate, show up on time and quickly and efficiently remove your clutter.
The other way is to take a long, thorough look at your trash before you throw it out. It’s amazing how many people have treasure troves sitting in their would-be junk, then find out later that the person who bought it for a song actually stumbled into a windfall.
Getting rich quick by buying someone else’s discarded valuables at a pawn shop or a garage sale may sound like the stuff of legend, but it does occasionally happen. And when it does, the stories can be beyond entertaining.
We’ll start our tour of some big scores in New Mexico, where a man paid $2 for an old mirror at a garage sale a few years back. When the TV show “Antique Roadshow” came rolling into town, though, they recognized it as a genuine Tiffany mirror that dated back to around 1905, which was when Tiffany first opened its doors.
The mirror was appraised at $35K, and similar pieces have sold for $25K. Quite a rate of return for a quick trip to a garage sale and a few bucks out of pocket.
Similarly, a man who purchased a painting in a Philadelphia yard sale back in 2006 was stunned to learn that it was an original work by 19th century artist John Kenseth that was worth $100K. Not only that, but some of Kenseth’s later works had sold for over $300K. The final sale price was never disclosed, but it’s safe to assume it represented a a very tidy return on a minimal investment of time and money.
Paperwork sometimes turns up as part of this kind of narrative as well. A Nashville music equipment technician decided it would be nice to have a copy of the Declaration of Independence, which he bought for less than $5 at a pawn shop.
Then he decided to see if it was authenticated, and it turned out to be an original copy dating back to 1820 that was commissioned by none other than John Quincy Adams. He later auctioned it off for $477K, which he used to fund a nice addition to his house.
Another staple at garage sales is decrepit, crappy looking card tables, and most times they deserve to be unceremoniously kicked to the curb. But there are exceptions to the rule, and one occurred about 40 years ago when a New Jersey woman bought a crescent-shaped table because it was a nice fit for an odd space in her home.
Then in 1997 she had it authenticated, and it turned out to be a rare piece that dated back to 1794 that was made by John Seymour, a famous Boston furniture maker. The initial appraisal was for $250K, but she held out for a few years and ended up $1 million when it was finally auctioned off.
Not surprisingly, the near misses are just as colorful. One painting put out in a yard sale turned out to be a genuine find – an undiscovered work by avant garde artist Jackson Pollock.
The painting was bought for five bucks by a 70-year old truck driver, who had it authenticated by an art expert. Nonetheless, the painting’s authenticity and subsequent value remained in question, even though the truck driver claimed to have a $9 million offer from an undisclosed Middle Eastern art patron. Despite the size of the alleged offer, though, the painting remained unsold.
The fiasco inspired a documentary called “Who the #$&% is Jackson Pollock,” which did earn an impressive fifteen minutes of fame and then some for the truck driver.
So what’s the moral of the story? Always check through your detritus carefully carefully before you call that reputable junk dealer, and get an appraisal on anything that might have some value. The money you save by doing this may actually be yours, and it could save you the agita that comes with finding out that your funky junk really did turn out to be someone else’s treasure.
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