A centuries-old mystery may be solved soon, thanks to some old-time pirate booty recently unearthed by an amateur historian. Jim Bailey found the coins using a metal detector in Middletown, Rhode island.
For 400 years, historians have pondered the escape route of pirate Captain Henry Every after his capture of the Ganj-i-Sawai, a ship belonging to an Indian emperor carrying gold and silver from Mecca. The discovery of these coins hints that Every made a pitstop in America. Although Bailey originally believed the loot to be of Spanish or colonial Massachusetts origin, research revealed it was from 17th century Yemen.
Not every treasure hunter has to leave home to excavate history. Some of the most significant (and valuable) discoveries have been made accidentally in people's own backyards, basements and attics. Here are some of the most amazing riches people have unearthed on their very own property.
Rare art in a dilapidated house
Tamara Noskov's husband, Andrey, flips houses like this one in Detroit. Doing such a job, one would expect to find water damage, some termites, perhaps an old rusty can.
What the Noskovs didn't expect to find: Hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of rare art.
Works from a world-renowned artist
For unknown reasons, the house contained two dozen original works signed by Inuit artists from the hamlet of Kinngait (formerly Cape Dorset) located in Nunavut, Canada.
These included paintings from Kenojuak Ashevak, whose artwork has sold for more than $200,000 at auctions. The work shown is "Raven's Voyage" by Ashevak.
Restoration and sale
Some came in worse condition than others. Noskov is working with a local friend and art gallery owner to restore the prints and sell them to enthusiasts around the world.
This piece is called "Summer Journey" and was made by Pitseolak Ashoona.
The Saddle Ridge Hoard
Walking the dog can be the best part of the day, even if it's just in your own backyard. It's a great way to get some fresh air and, if you're extremely lucky, $10 million worth of vintage American gold coins.
That was the good fortune of an unnamed couple from Sierra Nevada, California, in 2013.
Largest collection of gold coins discovered
The collection, with a face value of more than $25,000 in $20, $10 and $5 coins struck between 1847 and 1894, is, to date, the most valuable gold coin discovery recovered in the United States.
The couple found the coins in eight rusty cans after investigating one that was sticking out of the ground near a tree. No one has been able to pinpoint who buried the treasure.
Sold through Amazon
The couple contacted Kagin's, Inc., a numismatic firm, to identify and sell the coins. Kagin's set up a deal to sell about 90% of the coins through Amazon.
The couple held onto the rest as keepsakes. They said they would use their new fortune to pay off bills and donate to local charities.
Fermenting for a hundred years
When a contractor calls you saying they found something in the middle of a job, it's usually bad news.
That was not the case for Mary Shanesy of Minneapolis (pictured). In an attempt to add central air to her home, her contractor caught a whiff of something else.
Bought legally, hidden from the new law
Hidden inside a wall was a stash of liquor and wine that was almost 100 years old by the time the contractors found it in 2010. Some bottles held a liquor-tax label from a couple of years before Prohibition started, as seen here.
It's unclear who stashed the spirits, but Shanesy hopes the owner just skipped town.
Shanesy shipped most of the bottles to the Hennepin History Museum in Minneapolis.
A hidden Norman Rockwell
In 2006, Dave Trachte discovered a famous Norman Rockwell painting behind a false wall in his late father's home in Sandgate, Vermont.
The only problem? The supposed original version of "Breaking Home Ties" was already hanging in the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.
Deception and divorce
As the story goes, Dave's father, cartoonist Don Trachte, bought the original painting for $900 in 1960. His sons theorize that Don made a copy, which eventually made its way to the Norman Rockwell Museum. The reason? To hide the original from his wife following a messy divorce. Don then loaned out the copy to the museum, stashing the original for himself.
In this photo, Don Trachte's sons, Dave and Don Jr., take apart the false wall to show where they discovered the painting.
Original sold at auction
At the time, the artwork broke a record for Rockwell paintings sold at auction, fetching a price tag of $15.4 million. ("Homecoming Marine" held the previous record for a Rockwell when it sold for $9.2 million.)
This record was again broken by "Saying Grace," which sold for $46 million at auction in 2013.
Wait, it's worth how much?
Michael Rorrer didn't realize what he had when he found a box containing his deceased great-uncle Billy Wright's comic book collection in his Martinsville, Virginia, basement in early 2012. It was only when a coworker asked Rorrer if it contained Action Comics No. 1 (the first appearance of Superman) that he considered its value.
Sure enough, the collection did contain that comic, as well as an abundance of other famous issues produced in the early 1940s.
A knack for collecting the most expensive issues
The collection contained 345 comic books, including Detective Comics No. 27 (the first appearance of Batman) and Batman No. 1.
Those two issues sold at auction for $523,000 and $275,000 respectively. In total, the collection fetched $3.5 million at auction.
A long-lost work of art found
People are known to bury a bit of cash in mattresses from time to time, but what about an Italian Renaissance masterpiece? For one lost Caravaggio painting, that's just what happened.
An unnamed family found this "Judith and Holofernes" canvas under an old mattress in the attic of a house in Toulouse, France. The family theorized that one of their ancestors who served in Napoleon's army may have brought it back to France centuries ago.
Too good to be true?
After two years of research and debate over the work's authenticity, Eric Turquin, a leading expert on paintings from old masters, declared it genuine.
An anonymous person bought the painting, valued at $170 million, privately before it could reach auction.
In 2011 in Berwick, Pennsylvania, an anonymous buyer paid around $30,000 for something you may not know is valuable — vintage movie posters. These particular posters were stuck together with wallpaper glue, possibly to be used as cheap insulation.
They were consigned by the buyer to Heritage Auctions, where they were steamed and gently pulled apart. The investment paid off, as there were several rare and coveted prints, including this "Dracula" poster that sold for $143,400, and a "Cimarron" poster that sold for $101,575.
In all, 33 posters, dubbed the "Berwick Discovery," fetched more than $500,000 at auction.
Local theater owner leaves valuables behind
A similar story began in 2007, when Blaire Pitre of Alberta, Canada, discovered movie posters stashed under floorboards and inside walls.
The house had at one time been owned by a local movie theater proprietor, who presumably used his old inventory as insulation.
The posters dated back to the 1920s and 1930s and included movies that starred the likes of Buster Keaton, Ronald Colman and Greta Garbo. In all, more than 350 posters and title cards were found. They sold at auction in 2010 for nearly $35,000.
One of the rarest of the collection was a poster for "The 13th Chair" from 1929.
Remodeling a building you just purchased can be a daunting task. You never know what the old owners or tenants left behind. Sometimes, very rarely, they leave behind priceless art.
Such was the case for architects Todd Ernst and Frank Servidio, who, in 2001, discovered this Keith Haring mural in a Tribeca loft they were remodeling. The famous artist lived in the building while attending New York's School of Visual Arts in 1979.
The mural is shown here as it looked when the loft went up for sale.
Keith Haring's distinct style
Keith Haring was a pop artist whose squiggly graffiti was a New York City standby. (He's seen here painting a mural on the Berlin Wall.) Haring died of AIDS-related complications in 1990.
Haring's paintings now fetch anywhere from $100,000 to millions of dollars at auction. The loft that contained his student mural was listed at $7.9 million.
The Hackney hoard
In 2007, Terance Castle set out to build a new pond for his property in the Hackney borough of London.
When landscapers began to dig, they came across something you wouldn't expect in English soil — more than a million dollars worth of American gold.
Hidden from Nazis
Terance alerted the Portable Antiquities Scheme (responsible for cataloging found treasure in England and Wales) and the British Museum. Turns out, the coins had belonged to the Sulzbachers, a German Jewish family that had settled there and buried the gold during World War II in fear that Nazi soldiers would ransack local banks.
Although five family members knew of the location, all five perished during the war.
Sold at auction
However, a member of the extended Sulzbacher family did step forward to claim the hoard of 80 $20 American double eagles. They sold at auction for more than $154,000. Some of the profit went to the discoverers of the hoard, and to a local historian who connected the discovery to the Sulzbacher family.
The first Van Gogh in 85 years
From 1928 to 2013, no paintings from Vincent Van Gogh were discovered — or so most people thought.
An unnamed Norwegian man owned a painting that looked an awful lot like a work from the Dutch post-Impressionist master, but he'd given up on it in the 1990s, when experts at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam had told him it was a fake. Turns out, that was wrong.
Unveiling the discovery
The painting is known as "Sunset at Mountmajor" and was painted on July 4, 1888, according to a letter from Van Gogh to his brother.
In this photo from September 9, 2013, Van Gogh Museum director Alex Ruger and researcher Louis van Tilbourgh unveil the newly authenticated Van Gogh painting.
A $40 million "failure"
Van Gogh himself considered "Sunset" a failure, according to his letters, but the museum, which gets more than a million visitors annually, reveled in the experience of unveiling the painting to the world. The painting is valued at approximately $40 million.
Backyard burial ground
When heavy rains hit your home, you might be happy for the garden, or you might worry about flooding, but you certainly wouldn't anticipate discovering a 2,000-year-old ancient burial ground.
Nine ancient graves
This was the case for Abdelkarim al-Kafarna in Beit Hanoun on the Gaza Strip. Al-Kafarna said parts of the ancient tombs emerged after a 2018 rainstorm. Archaeologists dug up the rest, finding nine graves. Al-Kafarna is seen here, inside the burial place that was revealed in his backyard.
Buried with treasure
The graves contained clay pots that could possibly date back to the Roman Empire.
In this photo, al-Kafarna displays pottery that historians believe is about 2,000 years old. Until the exact age is determined, it's unknown how much the contents of the grave are worth.
This old thing?
In 2009, the Carr family made an amazing discovery while sorting through the estate of a deceased relative, Dr. Harold Carr, in Newcastle, England.
They found an extremely rare vintage automobile worth millions of dollars, just sitting there, collecting dust.
Only 17 ever existed
Dr. Harold Carr, who died in 2007, had been stowing multiple vehicles in his garage, including an Aston Martin and a Jaguar. But the prized possession was a 1937 Bugatti Type 57S Atalante, of which only 17 were ever made.
In this photo, group head of the motoring department for Bonhams, James Knight, "frames" the rare Bugatti.
Preparing for auction
The Bugatti, which reportedly had not been operated since 1960, was even more prized; it previously belonged to former member of parliament and British race car driver Francis Curzon, the fifth Earl Howe, and had just 26,000 miles on it.
It sold for $4.4 million at an auction in Paris.
A discovery leads to more questions
While working in their cellar in 2019, the owners of a house in Keszthely, Hungary stumbled onto a priceless mystery. Buried in the ground were five glass bottles containing nearly 3,000 coins dating from antiquity to the 20th century.
Historians immediately started a search for the owners, and for clues on how this hoard came together.
Hidden in the Jewish ghetto
Because the house dated back to Hungary's wartime Jewish ghettos, Balint Havasi, director of Keszthely's Balatoni Museum, suspects the owner of the coins was transported to a concentration camp, where they were murdered during the Holocaust. The unnamed people who discovered the trove hope to return it to a rightful owner, but as of 2021, no significant progress had been made.
In this photo, Hungarian archaeologist Ferenc Redo examines coins from the mysterious collection.
A collector lost to history
Historians are amazed by the diversity of the collection, which includes coins from many places and eras, including the Roman Empire (shown), pre-revolutionary France, Tsarist Russia, India and more.
If no owner is found, the coins will go to the state. Because of the variety of coins, the exact worth of the collection is unknown.
Karma for lending a helping hand
Yard work can be rewarding in its own right. When you live where Vikings used to do business, it could literally be worth a fortune.
This is what brothers Arvid and Edvin Sandborg (pictured) of the Swedish island of Gotland discovered firsthand, when they dug up Viking treasure while helping their neighbor in 2006.
Gotland is the largest island in the Baltic Sea and was a common center of trade for Vikings during their heyday (roughly 800 to 1150 A.D.). After discovering hundreds of coins, the brothers went to a local museum, which in turn, hired archaeologists to dig in the area.
The result? More than 1,000 silver coins as well as silver bracelets that weighed up to 7 pounds. The brothers received a finder's fee for their trouble. The exact value of the haul was not revealed.
Five hundred years of appreciation
When police investigate a residence, they may expect to uncover illegal guns or drugs. They probably aren't expecting to find a 500-year-old painting tied to Leonardo da Vinci.
This was the case when Italian police in Naples, working a larger operation in January 2021, stumbled upon a copy of da Vinci's "Salvator Mundi," most likely done by one of his students.
Mystery solved before the case even opened
The strangest part of this story? The chapel where the copy was previously housed, the Basilica of San Domenico Maggiore in Naples, never realized the painting was missing. The wing where it was kept was closed to the public during the coronavirus pandemic.
Police promptly arrested the owner of the apartment for receiving stolen goods after dismissing a feeble claim that he had purchased the painting at a market.
This picture shows the original "Salvator Mundi" by Leonardo da Vinci that was copied for practice by Leonardo's students.
Help me lift this?
An unnamed man in Normandy, France, inherited a little something extra from his deceased relatives when he discovered a treasure trove of gold in his new home in 2016.
The homeowner found the gold only after hiring an auctioneer to evaluate some furniture. It started with a tin box attached to the underside of a piece of furniture he was moving, but the discoveries did not stop there.
Gold hidden everywhere
The auctioneer said the gold was hidden everywhere. The man collected a total of 5,000 gold pieces around the estate. Certificates showed the man's relatives purchased the gold legally in the 1950s and 1960s.
Straight to auction
The homeowner, who has chosen to keep his identity anonymous, quickly sold the stash of more than 200 pounds of gold for upwards of $3.7 million.
Mounds of Sutton Hoo
As chronicled in the film "The Dig," Edith Pretty was the wealthy owner of an estate at Sutton Hoo in England. She grew fixated on the mysterious mounds on her land. She hired self-taught archaeologist Basil Brown in 1938, and together the two of them made one of Britain's most famous discoveries.
Pictured is the Tranmer House in Suffolk, England where Edith Pretty lived.
Brown ended up unearthing what experts have called the most impressive ancient grave to be discovered in Europe. Not just a simple burial, it was a heavily decorated longship filled with treasure. The burial riches included silver and gold, Anglo-Saxon helmets, a lyre, medieval gold belt buckles, Byzantium silverware and much, much more.
This picture shows a display of some of the treasures found buried at Sutton Hoo.
Historians believe the ship was buried in the seventh century, and that the grave belongs to a king, possibly Raedwald, ruler of what is now East Anglia.
Pretty donated all the contents of the dig to Britain. Since the artifacts have never been put up for auction, their exact value is unknown. Their approximate value combined is anywhere from tens to hundreds of millions of dollars.
In this photo, a visitor to the British Museum views the now-iconic helmet with a face shield uncovered at Sutton Hoo.
But wait… there's more
That's not where the discoveries relating to Sutton Hoo end. In 2014, a key connection to the Anglo-Saxons who built the Sutton Hoo burial site was found in the village of Rendlesham, Suffolk.
Something must be buried here...
In 2009, Sir Michael Bunbury (pictured), who owns farmland near Rendlesham, was growing increasingly fearful of nighthawks — that is, illegal treasure hunters who would raid his land with metal detectors.
The Suffolk County Council spent five years surveying the land — and they found the very treasure that nighthawks were looking for. The researchers discovered an Anglo-Saxon royal settlement believed to have been built by the very same people who buried the ship at Sutton Hoo.
Mystery of the settlement solved
Among the discoveries were these artifacts, including Saxon pennies and weights, gold jewelry and metal crafted using ancient techniques. Most of the treasures were moved to the National Trust's Sutton Hoo visitor center.
The find is possibly the most significant and valuable Anglo-Saxon discovery since Sutton Hoo, although the exact value of all artifacts discovered on the site is unknown.