Diamonds in the rough – Valuable things people throw away
Have you ever tossed something in the rubbish by mistake? Or lost something really valuable? Everyone has at one time or another, but most us have probably never trashed anything worth thousands or even millions. Here are just a few of the priceless pieces that have ended up in the landfill.
Virtually a millionaire: Millions of Pounds of bitcoins in the bin
Back in 2009, James Howell bought 7,500 bitcoins, the virtual currency used for many online transactions. Since they weren’t a priority at the time, he didn’t pay that much attention. Howells later did some cleaning and tossed out a few seemingly obsolete items, including an old hard drive. Not too long after that, he was browsing the web as we all do and noticed that Bitcoins had considerably gained in value. And he had 7,500 of them, right? But the bubble burst when Howells realized that the bitcoins, now worth a cool $7.5 million, were on the hard drive he’d trashed. It’s hard to imagine how he must have felt, but at least Howells tracked down the discarded digital loot. Unfortunately, the hard drive is now buried deep within a huge landfill in Newport, South Wales, and the chances of recovering the virtual gold are virtually nil.
Gold in a skip: The man who lost a fortune
We’ve all heard of prenuptial agreements and the sky-high cost of celebrity divorces, but Earl Ray Jones decided to do things a little differently. When he and his better half decided to call it quits, Jones didn’t really want to give his soon to be ex-wife half of everything he had. Instead, he converted $500,000 of the couple’s life savings into gold bars. Why, you may ask? Well, to make sure his former spouse didn’t find the glittering stash, Jones hid it in a dumpster behind a Colorado motel, or at least that’s what he claimed. The only trouble is, he later couldn’t find it. No one saw him make his dirty deposit and no garbage workers have suddenly quit their jobs and moved to idyllic islands in the Caribbean. The hotel’s garbage is apparently sent to a local landfill that accommodates 30,000 tons of trash per month. If Jones’ gold is in the landfill, it could certainly be defined as buried treasure.
Platinum Piracy: Sunken treasure that actually exists
Speaking of precious metals, platinum’s pretty valuable, isn’t it? Well, it wasn’t always that way. The Spanish conquistadores got their first glimpse of platinum in South America in the sixteenth century. The precious metals of the New World were one of the greatest benefits of the Spanish conquest, but platinum was also a bonanza for counterfeiters when it came to creating fake gold coins that were very difficult to distinguish for the real thing. Eventually, financial forgery became such a problem that the Spanish came up with the ultimate solution. They collected all the platinum they could and dumped it all in the sea. Later, platinum itself became a precious metal, but it was too late for the vast wealth that was sent to the bottom of the sea. How’s that for a sunken treasure story?
No thanks, I don’t need a first edition: A not so magical Harry Potter story
And speaking of stories, there aren’t many more familiar rags to riches to success stories than J K Rowling and her amazing success with the Harry Potter series. However, one early reviewer of her first book decided to travel in the other direction, opting to go from riches to rags, although to be fair he wasn’t really aware of exactly what he had. Still, he must have been kicking himself for quite a while in the months that followed. Nigel Reynolds was the first person to interview Rowling about her first book and received a first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone from the extremely grateful up-and-coming author. It would have made sense just to hang on to the book and see if it sold any copies. However, Reynolds promptly dropped the book in his garbage bin as soon as he got back to the office, convinced the book had no potential. First editions of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone are now worth around $50,000.
The art of making money: The masterpiece that almost got trashed
Many of us have dreamed about finding something valuable on the street, but it actually happened to Elizabeth Gibson. In Manhattan, she stumbled on a painting that was just sitting there, waiting to be picked up by the Big Apple’s finest garbage collectors. Gibson liked the colours in the painting but had no clue as to where the canvas might have originated. She gave the orphaned artwork a good home and conducted research over the next few years to find out more about it. The mysterious masterpiece later turned out to be very distinctive indeed. What Gibson had found and researched was in fact Tres Personajes, painted by the Mexican artist Rufino Tamayo. At auction, the painting sold for $1 million.
Saving someone’s bacon: The garbage of the famous
On the subject of art, and more specifically, artists, this picture might look like a garbage dump but this is the working studio of renowned artist Francis Bacon. Back in the late 1970s, Mac Robertson was an electrician working at the artist’s studio. He noticed Bacon disposing of items such as diaries, letters, and photographs. Robertson asked Bacon if he could keep this stuff instead of it ending up in some landfill and it turned out to be a very wise investment indeed. Almost 30 years after those seemingly worthless throwaway things were rescued from the trash, Robertson sold them for around $1.5 million.
The road to ruin: Priceless cars sold for scrap
Is it possible to throw away a car, especially a one that’s worth a fortune? Well, some people have achieved this dubious honour. The Cash for Clunkers program in the United States was implemented to get older, fuel guzzling, cars off the road, stop greenhouse gases accumulating, and of course save the Earth. A noble cause, but some valuable vehicles became unwilling victims in the process. Someone in their wisdom traded in an Aston Martin B7 Volante, one of only 7,00 built and valued at a mere $100,000. Another motoring genius cashed in a Bentley Continental R, (above), one of only 1, 290 ever built and worth more than $300,000.
Operational failure – Losing a kidney literally
It’s common knowledge that transplants save lives. Of course, that’s if the vital donated organ actually makes it to the operating room, as opposed to, oh, I don’t know, getting dropped in the garbage. Yes, that’s what actually happened to one family.
When Paul Fudacz Jr’s sister was in danger, he offered to donate one of his kidneys for a transplant. Although he was the best match for his sister, someone at the hospital inadvertently threw the kidney away. Fortunately, another donor was found in time, but this might be the most valuable item that was ever thrown away.
Financial independence – The historical document that almost bit the dust
When a Pennsylvania man bought a painting for $4 at a local flea market, he didn’t expect it to be worth a fortune. The man liked the frame and wanted to restore it, but when this wasn’t possible he prepared to throw the frame away. When he removed the painting from the frame, he found a folded up piece of paper. Not that unusual perhaps, except that the paper was one of 24 known copies of the U.S. Declaration of Independence. These were sent out as bulletins to spread the good news around the newly independent colonies. The rare historic document sold at auction for $2.42 million, not a bad profit at all.
Lucky lottery litter – Finding that elusive diamond in the rough
And finally, although some people have unintentionally thrown away fortunes, others make a habit of looking for diamonds in the rough. Edward St. John was a regular visitor to a convenience store inn Massachusetts, where he would go through the dumpsters looking for lottery tickets. Pretty pointless, you’d think, since who would thrown away a winning ticket? However, in 2005 St. John found a $1 million ticket in the garbage. The man who bought the scratch-off ticket sued St. John when the story hit the news, but St. John only had to give up $140,000 of his winnings. I guess it pays to troll the trash, at least sometimes.