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What Was the Luckiest Flea Market Find?

The luckiest flea market find was a rare 18th-century Chinese bowl, purchased for $3 and later auctioned for over $2 million. Imagine the thrill of discovering such a treasure amidst the trinkets and tapestries! Have you ever stumbled upon an unexpected gem? Share your story and see what other astonishing finds have been uncovered.
Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman

Everyone who goes to a flea market hopes to find a bargain. Sometimes you can snag a great deal on an antique, a piece of art, or an item of clothing you never knew you wanted. But it's not often that you find something that makes you a millionaire.

One such remarkable incident occurred in 1989, when a Philadelphia man purchased a framed painting for just $4 at an Adamstown, Pennsylvania, flea market. The painting's country scene wasn't particularly notable, and the buyer mostly liked it for the frame.

In 1989, a man bought a $4 painting at a PA flea market – it had an original copy of the Declaration of Independence inside.
In 1989, a man bought a $4 painting at a PA flea market – it had an original copy of the Declaration of Independence inside.

But neither the painting nor the frame could compare to the document found hidden inside. After taking his purchase home, the buyer (who chose to remain anonymous) noticed a tear in the canvas. When he investigated, the frame fell apart, revealing a truly remarkable discovery. The broadside was one of around 200 copies of John Dunlap's first printing of the Declaration of Independence, printed on the evening of July 4, 1776. There are only two dozen surviving copies of the Dunlap broadside.

The greatest flea market find:

  • Estimated to bring in $800,000 to $1.2 million, when the document was auctioned by Sotheby's in June 1991, it fetched $2.42 million – a record for an item of printed Americana at the time.

  • The copy was again auctioned by Sotheby's in 2000, eventually selling for $8.14 million. The buyer was TV producer Norman Lear, who launched a cross-country tour known as the "Declaration of Independence Road Trip" to show it to the American people and inspire more involvement in voting and other aspects of civic life.

  • In a similar series of events, a man named Michael Sparks purchased a rolled-up document from a Nashville thrift shop in 2006. That document turned out to be an authentic official Declaration of Independence copy commissioned by John Quincy Adams in 1820. It was sold at auction a year later for $477,650.

Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman is a teacher and blogger who frequently writes for WiseGEEK about topics related to personal finance, parenting, health, nutrition, and education. Learn more...
Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman is a teacher and blogger who frequently writes for WiseGEEK about topics related to personal finance, parenting, health, nutrition, and education. Learn more...

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    • In 1989, a man bought a $4 painting at a PA flea market – it had an original copy of the Declaration of Independence inside.
      In 1989, a man bought a $4 painting at a PA flea market – it had an original copy of the Declaration of Independence inside.