Man Buys $4 Painting At A Flea Market Before Uncovering A Life-Changing Item Beneath The Frame

Flea markets open a portal (and your wallet) to a world of wild, miscellaneous finds that are guaranteed to spark your curiosity. With booths consisting of weird baby dolls, vintage designer shawls, broken watches, and stacks of age-old comic books, you're bound to find something alluring to spend your money on.
Those cheap prices lured one Pennsylvania man to a nearby flea market, where he spent a measly few dollars on a small painting. Once he brought his purchase home, however, he noticed one small detail that made him wonder how the art piece even ended up in a flea market in the first place.
When the man — who wished to remain anonymous — perused the chaotic aisles of an Adamstown, Pennsylvania, flea market, he had no wild expectations of what he would find. Even still, he never supposed his shopping trip would end up as it did.
The Buyer was known to be a flea market buff of sorts, routinely scavenging for items to boost his collection of antique stocks, bonds, and various paper items. In 1989, he found a peculiar little treasure that nearly rocked his world.
San Antonio Express-News
A particular painting entranced The Buyer, or at least its wooden frame did. Pulling out his wallet, the financial analyst spent a skimpy four bucks on the old artwork, thinking little of the purchase.
The painting, which depicted a subdued country scene, was old and ripped. None of those details mattered to the mysterious Buyer, however, as he was simply interested in its frame. That's why the painting itself was destined for the trash can.
Christina's World
So, when the Buyer returned home, he removed the painting from its handsome frame only to find a small piece of linen paper measuring 15.5 by 19.75 inches. Something about this odd, little piece of paper looked familiar to him...
Now, The Buyer had found various interesting flea market items throughout his many years of collecting, but this curious find was unlike anything he'd ever purchased. Because when he realized what the folded document was, he immediately locked it away for safe keeping.
The document was a copy of the Declaration of Independence, which dated back to 1776! Before Nicholas Cage had the chance to nab the national treasure, the Buyer locked it up in his house until he could figure out what to do with it.
National Treasure
It took him awhile to decide, because the priceless document sat in the Buyer's house for months, until he finally gave in to his friend's urging that he contact Sotheby's for an appraisal.
Financial Times
Sotheby's is considered one of the world's most prominent brokers of artwork, jewelry, real estate, and collectibles; so it's no wonder he trusted them with the antique historical document. But Sotheby's was skeptical.
At the time, Selby Kiffer, the VP of books and manuscripts for Sotheby's, stated, "We literally get two or three calls a week from people claiming to have a copy of the Declaration of Independence." This time, it wasn't a flimflam or prank call.
National Treasure
The Manhattan auctioneers' skepticism was understandable in view of what Kiffer has seen. "What most people run into is a reproduction of the handwritten copy with 56 signatures that was produced several months later," Kiffer explained.
But after several experts took a gander at the yellowed piece, they all agreed it was the real thing. While the paper and the typography were both reminiscent of the era, an etching on its backing is what really sealed the deal.
The handwritten seal of approval on the back that read "Declaration of American Independence. July 4, 1776," really finalized its authenticity. The Buyer could hardly believe it: why wasn't this locked away in a museum?
National Treasure
Back in the day, once the milestone that was independence became official, Philadelphia printer John Dunlap printed copies to spread the good news to the people. One of those very copies was shockingly pinched between that cheap painting and its frame.
Connecticut Public Radio
While it was a copy, it wasn't just a copy. The Sotheby's Vice President, David Redden, surmised that just 200 of these original copies were dispersed to government leaders, the Army, and the 13 colonies.
The Buyer's copy was one of just 24 that remained at the time. Considering the $4 flea market painting was in rough condition, Redden was amazed at the document's pristine form. “Here was the most important single printed page in the world, in the most spectacularly beautiful condition,” he said.
Considering another original copy sold for $1.59 million in January of 1990, it was believed that this priceless copy was valued at between $800,000 to $1.2 million. Unbelievably, the Buyer's copy auctioned for $8.1 million.
No one is quite sure how the valuable 18th-century document ended up at the Adamstown flea market, but we're sure the Buyer didn't care about how! "It has to be characterized as a lucky find," said Kiffer.
Selby Kiffer mentioned that this bizarre, moreover lucrative, run-in with luck will inspire lots of people to check out flea market booths, and he's not wrong. That's something fans of Antique Roadshow have been saying for years — and with good reason!

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