Just a quick heads up before we get into this post: about halfway through, you’re going to feel a powerful urge to find a crowbar and start tearing drywall from your walls in hopes of finding some priceless treasure hidden back there. Take a deep breath and try to resist. Failing that, try not to take out any load-bearing beams. The only thing more embarrassing than trying to explain to your significant other that you tore holes in the walls of your shared home because you read an online article about “hidden treasure,” is texting them at work to say, “how busy are you, i accidentally collapsed the ceiling and am pinned to floor.”
A Virginia woman who found an unexploded WW2-era anti-tank rocket in the walls of her Newport News home this week made a lot of headlines, but the fact is, people find weird stuff inside their houses all the time. And when I say “weird stuff” I mean “stuff worth millions of dollars.” The most famous discovery in recent years was in 2013, when a Minnesota man found a copy of Action Comics #1 from 1938 in the wall of an abandoned house he’d bought for ten grand. If you’re a well-adjusted adult with a reasonably active social life, you probably don’t know that Action Comics #1 is the first appearance of Superman, and is probably the most valuable comic book on earth. (A copy sold a few years ago for $2 million.) Of course, to get his money, this lucky guy had to go through an auction house and comic book broker (yes, that’s a real job), and he only pocketed half of the eventual sale price of a hundred grand. Wouldn’t it be simpler just to find, like, some gold coins in the wall of a house?
Well, that happened too, in Poland in 1985. When workers were tearing down an old building, they found not one but two stashes of ancient gold coins. One of the stashes even had a fancy gold ring carved with intertwining dragons, and a literal jeweled crown right out of “Game of Thrones.” Researchers eventually traced the treasure back to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV in the 14th century; altogether, the find was worth about a hundred million dollars. Something similar happened in the UK; a worker renovating a house in 2005 found an old jug, which he put in his basement and promptly forgot about. Fast forward eight years, to when he decided to clean out the antique jug, probably to use as a change jar or something. Imagine his surprise when, under centuries-old layers of grime, he found a pile of ancient gold and silver coins, one of which, from 16th century Italy, turned out to be the only one of its kind in existence. The “Mason hoard,” as experts dubbed it, was worth millions. Keep in mind that in both of the previously mentioned cases, government authorities swooped in and took the treasure; if you find some gold coins or a crown when you’re opening up your kitchen, maybe just quietly sell them on Ebay or Craigslist or something.
I guess the real question is, why do people hide priceless treasure in the walls of their home? At least a Vermont man had a good reason to conceal his Norman Rockwell painting behind a false wall in his attic; he didn’t want his wife to take it in their divorce. (He secretly had a copy made, and hid the original, just in case.) But for some reason he never retrieved the real painting from its hiding place, or even told his family about it, and after his death, they stumbled on it purely by chance. The painting, “Breaking Home Ties,” sold for over $15 million in 2006. Something similar, though slightly less lucrative, happened in Manhattan, in 2008. During a renovation on a fancy Soho condo, developers found an original mural by Keith Haring behind what had been a closet. (The building used to be an exhibition space for the art school Haring attended.) While the mural is definitely worth some nice money – experts estimated $100,000 – the condo was already selling for $17 million, so yeah, just add it to the list of amenities. Infinity pool, spent plutonium kitchen counters, priceless Pop Art mural.