Oftentimes, flea markets create an opening to an entire world of wild and interesting finds that are guaranteed to spark your curiosity. There can be booths consisting of odd baby dolls, vintage designer shawls, watches that have long been broken, and even stacks of age-old comic books. No matter which it is, you’re bound to find something alluring to spend some money on. Those same cheap prices are what lured a Pennsylvania man to a flea market nearby. He spent just a few dollars on a small painting. However, he noticed something strange when he brought his purchase home. This detail made him wonder how the piece even ended up in a flea market in the first place.
The man – who wished to remain anonymous – went to a flea market in Adamstown, Pennsylvania without any expectations of what he would find there. Still, he never thought his shopping trip would end the way it did.
The buyer in question was known to be a flea market enthusiast. He regularly scavenged for items to increase his collection of antique stocks, bonds, and other paper items. In fact, in 1989, he found an interesting little treasure that turned his whole world upside down.
One specific painting caught The Buyer’s attention. Or rather, its wooden frame did. The Buyer pulled his wallet out and spent a mere four dollars on the old painting. He didn’t really think too much of the purchase.
The painting depicted a subdued country scene. It was all old and ripped. However, none of these details even mattered to the mysterious Buyer. Still, the only thing he was interested in was the frame. That’s the reason the painting itself was destined to end up in the trash can.
And so, when the Buyer got home, he took the painting out of its ornate frame. Only, he found a small piece of linen paper inside, measuring 15.5 by 19.75 inches. Something about the little piece of paper seemed odd to the Buyer. It was almost as if it was familiar to him.
Flea Market Items
Throughout the many years he’d been collecting items, the Buyer had found some very interesting flea market items. However, this curious find wasn’t like anything he’d ever bought. When he realized what the folded document was, he immediately locked it away to keep it safe.
The document turned out to be a copy of the Declaration of Independence. The Buyer locked up the precious document in his house until he could figure out what to do with it. Plus, he couldn’t let Nicholas Cage have the chance to steal it from him!
The Priceless Document
It took the Buyer a while to decide what to do with the priceless document. It sat in his house for months. Finally, he gave in to his friend’s urging and contacted Sotheby’s for an appraisal. How could he even be sure this was the real thing? Maybe it was a fake.
Most Prominent Broker
You might be wondering what Sotheby’s is. Well, it’s considered to be one of the world’s most prominent brokers of artwork, jewelry, real estate, and collectibles. No wonder the Buyer trusted them with the historical document. As he expected, Sotheby’s was skeptical when he contacted them.
The Declaration of Independence
At the time, the VP of books and manuscripts for Sotheby’s was Selby Kiffer. He had said, “We literally get two or three calls a week from people claiming to have a copy of the Declaration of Independence.” Was this just another fake?
It was understandable that the auctioneers were skeptical about the whole thing. Kiffer explained, “What most people run into is a reproduction of the handwritten copy with 56 signatures that was produced several months later”.
However, after several experts took a look at the yellowed piece of paper, they all agreed that it was, in fact, the real thing! While the paper and typography were both correct for the era, there was an etching on the back that proved its authenticity.
The Handwritten Seal of Approval
There was a handwritten seal of approval on the back that read, “Declaration of American Independence. July 4, 1776”. The Buyer couldn’t believe it. Why wasn’t this priceless document locked away in a museum? And, what would happen to it next?
Back in the day, when America’s independence became official, Philadelphia printer John Dunlap printed a lot of copies in order to spread the good news to people. One of those rare copies was the one pinched between that cheap painting and its frame.
It Was A Copy
Even though it was a copy, it wasn’t just any copy. David Redden, Sotheby’s Vice President, came to the conclusion that only 200 of these original copies were given to government leaders, the Army, and the 13 colonies.
The Buyer’s Copy
The copy that the Buyer had was just one of the 24 remaining at the time. Seeing as the $4 flea market painting was in bad shape, Redden was amazed that the document remained in good form. “Here was the most important single printed page in the world, in the most spectacularly beautiful condition,” he said.
Another Original Copy
Considering a different original copy was sold for $1.59 million in 1990, it was believed that this copy was valued to be worth between $800,000 to $1.2 million. Incredibly, the Buyer’s copy was auctioned off for $8.1 million.
No one is really sure how the valuable 18th-century document wound up at the Adamstown flea market, but we’re sure that the Buyer didn’t care about that! Kiffer said, “It has to be characterized as a lucky find”.
Run-In With Luck
Kiffer mentioned that this weird run-in with luck will inspire a lot of people to go to flea markets a lot more. Well, he’s not wrong. That’s something fans of Antique Roadshow have been saying to do for years now. And for good reason!
Gold-Plated Luxus II Camera
One example is this Gold-plated Luxus II camera that appeared on the show. It was once called “the rarest camera in the world.” Only four of these gold-and-snakeskin cameras were ever made. This one is the very last in existence. It sold on Antique Roadshow for $620,000!
Believe it or not, the woman who owned this vase used to allow her kids to use it as a goal post when they would play soccer. She had no idea it was worth the amount it was. It ended up selling for $820,000.
This Prussian Plate sold for a whopping $185,000. When the owner of the plate had it appraised, she was sure her books were going to be the most valuable. It was all fun and games until she discovered that the plate was once owned by the King of Prussia himself!
Diego Rivera Painting
This Diego Rivera painting sold for $800,000. The man who had the painting actually had it up on the wall behind his office door for years before he decided to get it looked at. Thank goodness she did!
Original 1950s Mobile
While this might not look like much, this original 1950s mobile is worth between $400,000-$600,000. It’s one of the very first mobiles ever made. Not to mention, it was made by the toy’s inventor himself – Alexander Calder.
An amateur art collector who really must have known what he was doing picked up a lot of jade from China for less than $20. Now, he sold the one bowl for an incredible $1.5 million! His kids and grandkids are going to be reaping the rewards of his investment.