THE OFFICE – It’s not here, nor there, either. My long-lost Magna Carta has to be here somewhere. Maybe this drawer, no. This one? Odd, the bottom left drawer of my desk is stuck. I’ll just tug. Tug-tug. It won’t move. Why am I bothering you with this? Because I might make you money, big money. Let me refresh your memory, and this time take notes. Michael Sparks was a music equipment technician in Nashville, Tenn. In 2007, Sparks bought a yellowed, shellacked, rolled-up document in a thrift store for $2.48. It turned out to be a rare 1823 copy of the Declaration of Independence, which Sparks later sold at auction for $477,650. In 1989, Donald Scheer of Atlanta bought a painting at a Philadelphia flea market because he liked the frame. When taking it apart, out fell an original copy (about 500 were printed) of the Declaration of Independence. Scheer sold it for $2.42 million, but he got taken. In 2000, that same piece of paper was sold for $8.14 million.
People are always discovering items which were unrecognized or were hidden. Some discoveries we can’t call long lost because no one knew they were there in the first place. Folks make a hobby, or profession, out of checking flea markets, auction houses and their grandmother’s attic for possible treasures. Goodwill even keeps tabs of such finds. Sean and Rikki McEvoy of Knoxville, Tenn., bought a sweater for 58 cents at a Goodwill store in June 2014 in Asheville, North Carolina. It had “West Point” on the front and the word “Lombardi” written in black ink on a cotton swatch sewn inside. It turned out to be owned and worn by Vince Lombardi when he coached there from 1949 to 1953. The jersey was sold in an auction in New York City for $43,020. An Englishman roaming the British version of a flea market paid the equivalent of $38 in U.S. currency to purchase a Breitling wrist watch worn by James Bond in the movie “Thunderball.” At a Christie’s auction in 2013, the watch sold for $160,175. As an interesting side note, and possibly the reason for the high selling price, the watch was the first one modified by the famous Q Branch to include a Geiger counter to help Bond detect nuclear radiation.
Here’s one of the biggest finds of all. A scrap metal dealer paid $14,000 for a Faberge Egg at a flea market. He knew it was gold, and he was going to melt it down for scrap. Turns out the find was estimated at a value of over $30 million at an auction. According to Faberge, of the 50 Fabergé Imperial Eggs known to have existed, only 43 are currently accounted for. The finder was never identified, and it could be just an urban legend, like Texas Democrats.
There may be undiscovered treasurers closer to home. Let me remind you of my story. This is a white plate with lots of blue designs – drums, flags, in the center are two mid-19th century artillerymen — given to me by my mother. Later a friend showed me an auction house catalogue with an article reading: “Texas Campaigne China” A dish just like mine, pictured in the catalogue, was stored in a glass-faced box in a vault in New York City. The going price: $12,000! Why so much? The price and value of Texanna is skyrocketing. British rock star Phil Collins will pay any price for any item even remotely connected to the Alamo. His own collection has been sent to the state and will be housed in a new facility on the Alamo grounds.
Texas is loaded with old stuff that’s better than can be found on PBS-TV’s “Antiques Roadshow.” I have a cannonball from the San Jacinto battleground that was dug up miles away and years later. It’s a long story. You may be familiar with the de la Pena diary. It was allegedly written by Lt. José Enrique de la Peña, an officer in Santa Anna’s army when it invaded Texas in 1836. The diary was supposedly discovered by an art dealer, Jesus Sanchez Garza, in a Mexico City market in 1955. Garza paid a few pesos. It was auctioned in 1998 for $387,500 and now resides at UT-Austin. But you don’t have to be a Crockett scientist to see a lot of old stuff ain’t really old. For example, the de la Pena diary itself is suspect.
The Alamo flag – the defenders’ only banner — wasn’t found until 1934 in a drawer in Chapultepec Palace. One of Santa Anna’s artificial legs was discovered on display in the office of the Illinois adjutant general. The Twin Sisters, the two cannon the Texas Army had at San Jacinto, have been missing for 154 years. In 2007, Gov. Rick Perry proudly announced that Texas was paying $550,000 for a letter penned by Crockett from East Texas on Jan. 9, 1836, to his son and daughter back in Tennessee. Experts questioned the letter’s authenticity, and the deal was quietly cancelled. And don’t buy any Republic of Texas stamps. Texas never issued stamps.
I am still trying to pry open this drawer. It is part of my huge oaken roll-top desk used by my father, a pediatrician. As a tad I would go to his office and sit at this desk, filling out prescriptions on a pad. Wonder if Dad ever got raided by the DEA? He gave me this desk when I was about 12 or so, and I’ve had it ever since. Ah, the drawer is opening. Bottles of pills? Old prescription pads? Gold bars which I should really tell my siblings about? No, finders’ keepers. Tom Brady’s jersey? Gad, only old scripts for books and movies that I never got around to finishing. Well, it could have been a Fabergé Imperial Egg. The yolk’s on me, but to paraphrase Capitol One, what’s in your attic?
Ashby is hunting at firstname.lastname@example.org