You never know what’s going to happen when you’re browsing a flea market, rummaging through your attic or basement, walking through an old barn, or even peering through a boarded up projection booth. Here are eight of the most surprising historical objects people have ever found by accident.
1. Frankenstein poster from 1931
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Steve Wilkin was looking through an onboard projection booth in the Long Island theater where he worked as a teenager in the early 1970s when he discovered a six-foot-tall poster for the 1931 film. Frankenstein.
The film, based on Mary Shelley’s 1818 book of the same name, shot Boris Karloff to stardom, spawned several sequels and helped launch the Universal Classic Monsters film series.
In 2015, the poster sold for $358,500 through Heritage Auctions, an auction house in Dallas, Texas.
2. Original copy of the Declaration of Independence
In 1989, a man got more than he bargained for at a flea market in Adamstown, Pennsylvania when he bought a framed painting for $4. He found a folded document behind the painting, which experts later identified as a rare first impression of the Declaration of Independence. The document is one of about 200 copies that printer John Dunlap made after the declaration was ratified on July 4, 1776. The ink was still wet on this copy when it was printed, an auction expert said. The New York Timesas evidenced by the first line of the text of the Declaration appearing at the bottom of the page.
In 2000, television producer Norman Lear bought the unearthed copy at the flea market for a record $8.14 million through Sotheby’s, a global auction house.
3. Bronze Age Sword
While fishing in the River Arney in Northern Ireland in 1965, Ambrose Owens discovered an unusual object. He left it in an old barn on his family farm in County Fermanagh, where it sat for more than 50 years until his brother Maurice passed it on to archaeological experts. Maurice was shocked to learn that the object was a Bronze Age sword dating back around 2,600 years.
In 2016, BBC News reported that Enniskillen Castle Museums in County Fermanagh planned to take over maintenance of the sword.
4. Wallace Hartley’s violin from Titanic
In 2006, a man in England found an old violin in his attic that turned out to be that of the Titanic bandleader Wallace Hartley played as the ship sank in 1912. Shortly after the disaster, salvage workers found the violin in its case strapped to Hartley’s body at the wreck site. (Like many of the people who died that night, he was wearing a life jacket that kept his corpse floating in the water.)
Recovery agents sent his body and his violin to his fiancée, Maria Robinson, in England. After his death, it passed through several other hands before ending up with the mother of the man who found the violin in her attic.
In 2013, the violin sold for around $1.7 million through Henry Aldridge & Son Ltd, an auction house in Devizes, England, a record for a Titanic artifact. It has since been displayed at Titanic Museum Attractions in Branson, Missouri and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.
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READ MORE: The true stories that inspired ‘Titanic’ movie characters
5. Fabergé’s Lost Imperial Egg
In 2004, a scrap metal dealer found a gold egg encrusted with gemstones at a flea market in the American Midwest. He bought the egg, which opened on a clock, for $13,302, hoping to melt it down and resell it for more. After research, he began to suspect that it was one of the lost eggs made by the house of Fabergé for the Russian royal family – objects revered as pinnacles of design and craftsmanship and valued at tens of millions of dollars. Experts have confirmed that his find at the flea market was indeed the third Imperial Fabergé egg that Russian Tsar Alexander III gave his wife, Maria Fyodorovna, for Easter in 1887.
In 2014, the egg was sold privately through a London auctioneer for an undisclosed sum.
READ MORE: The mysterious fate of the Romanov family’s treasured Easter egg collection
6. Rare 1961 Ferrari
The 60 classic cars, most of which were originally one-of-a-kind, luxurious, handcrafted beauties, had languished in the elements for decades. Some had been overtaken by vines and weeds, and most were turning into rustbucks. Discovered on a farm in western France, they originally belonged to French entrepreneur and car enthusiast Roger Baillon, who began collecting them in the 1950s and whose open-air car museum project was foiled in the 1970s by its failing finances. When Baillon’s grandchildren inherited the farm, they discovered the decaying treasure.
Among the cars in better condition was a rare 1961 Ferrari 250 GT SWB California Spyder, one of the few examples of this model made by the famous sports car manufacturer. It had belonged to French actor Alain Delon, reinforcing its provenance.
In 2015, the car sold for $18.5 million through Artcurial, an auction house in Paris.
7. Over 700 vintage baseball cards
While cleaning out his aunt’s attic in Defiance, Ohio, Karl Kissner was surprised to discover more than 700 baseball cards dating to around 1910. The nearly immaculate cards, part of an extremely rare series that had originally been distributed with candy, featured Hall of Celebrities like Cy Young, Honus Wagner and Connie Mack.
In 2012, Kissner’s family sold a first batch of 37 cards for $566,132 through Heritage Auctions.
8. Early Superman and Batman comics, plus 343 more
Michael Rorrer was cleaning out his great-aunt’s house in Virginia when he discovered 345 comic books stacked in the basement closet. He later learned that his great-uncle had compiled the collection, which included the first appearances of Superman and Batman, as well as the first issue of the Batman series.
In 2012, many of these comics sold for $3.5 million through Heritage Auctions. The best seller was a 1939 copy of Detective Comic No. 27, the first comic in which Batman appeared, which cost around $523,000. A 1938 issue of #1 Action Comic, the first comic in which Superman appeared, sold for around $299,000; and a 1940 issue of Batman #1 sold for around $275,000.