For many, summer doesn’t just mean a sunny holiday – it also means more time to spend at flea markets! Here are 8 sensational flea market finds to inspire you in your own hunt for discarded treasures.
1. Sitting Buddha
In March 2019, Sotheby's arranged their Important Chinese Art auction in New York. One of the sale’s top lots consisted of a seated Buddha figure. It had been bought at a garage shop about 20 years earlier for around $100 or £80. After the figure's then owner brought the statue to the TV programme Antiques Roadshow, she got quite the shock – the statue was made of gilt bronze and dated to early-15th-century China.
The antique programme’s expert valued the Buddha at between $100,000 to $125,000 (£80,000-100,000), but it came to generate a significantly higher end price than that. After seven minutes of intensive bidding, the incumbent Buddha went down for no less than $2.1 million, or £1.68 mil.
2. The scrap dealer's golden egg
Between 1885 and 1917, the jeweller Peter Carl Fabergé made richly ornate Easter eggs on behalf of the Russian tsar. The expensive tradition lasted for three decades and 57 different eggs were produced. After the Russian Revolution, the jewel eggs spread – Empress Maria Fjodorovna had one, while others were stolen or forgotten. During the 1930s, when Stalin was in great need of money, several eggs were sold for a fraction of their actual value.
Until 2014, eight of the 57 eggs were still missing, until an incomparable discovery was made. In 2014, an American scrap dealer visited a flea market in the Midwestern United States and laid his hands on a richly decorated golden egg. The scrap dealer still paid a fair sum for the egg: about £6,900, which was only based on the materials from which it was manufactured.
After careful research, it turned out that the dealer’s finding was the third egg that Fabergé made for the Russian ruling family and was likely created in 1886 or 1887. The egg thus proved to be one of the world's eight missing Fabergé eggs. The increase in the value of the flea discovery is estimated at around 2500% and the new price tag landed in around the throws of £17.5 million.
3. Sofa bed with a golden edge
We are among the many who lose keys, jewellery or other small items among the cushions or squabs of the sofa, but this is a bit more unusual than that: in 2007 a student in Berlin bought a sofa bed for affordable $215 (£170) at a flea market. When she finally came home with her new furniture she found an oil painting tucked away in the furniture’s drawer function. The work's name was Preparation to Escape to Egypt and had been painted by a 17th-century artist in Venice. The work was sold for resounding $27,600, that is, about £22,000 at an auction house in Hamburg.
4. The Tenner
In June 2017, ‘the Tenner’ was auctioned at the Sotheby's ‘Fine Jewels’ sale in London, a white gold ring set with a 26-carat diamond. The final price landed at nearly £679,000, a relatively common price-tag for a diamond of that size from the 19th century. What made the ring special however, was the fact that it had been bought in the 1980s by an unsuspecting woman at a flea market, where the ring was in a bowl along with other jewellery. During the next 30 years, she used the ring (which she thought was a cheap imitation of an older variant) everyday, when she worked, cleaned and carried out chores. The price she paid for the ring? About £10.
5. Thousand-year-old Chinese bowl
In the summer of 2007, an American family bought a porcelain bowl for $3 (£2.40) at a flea market. Over the next few years, the white-glazed bowl was safely stored in the family's mantelpiece. But soon curiosity took over and the family decided to consult an expert on the background of the dish and its value.
It turned out that the dish was a thousand-year-old Chinese antique that could be dated to the Chinese Song Dynasty and had been produced in the 12th century. On 19 March 2013, the dish was auctioned at Sotheby's New York with an estimated price of $200,000 to $300,000 (£160,000 to £240,000). After intensive bidding between four aspirants, the dish was purchased by art collector Giuseppe Eskenazi – for £1.76 million.
6. The US Declaration of Independence
In 1989, a man in Pennsylvania, USA, decided to purchase a painting he found at a local flea market. He wasn’t particularly fond of the painting itself, but planned to put something else in the ornate frame. When he came home and unmounted the painting, he discovered a carefully weighted paper behind the frame, and not just any paper – but a copy of the US Declaration of Independence of 1776.
The man's copy is one of the 25 well-known copies made from the year in which the Declaration of Independence was signed. Since the new-found specimen was in excellent condition, it reached a high price and was sold in 1991 – for $2.4 million (£1.92 mil).
Sotheby's, the auction house that sold the document was, like the document's previous owner, more than satisfied, as the document became the then most expensive US document ever sold at auction. At the turn of the millennium however, it was resold and multiplied its value as the hammer fell at $8.1 million (£6.47 mil).
7. Candlesticks from Svenskt Tenn
In Sweden a man found a couple of quite beautiful candlesticks, specifically in Hälsingland. He immediately saw that the designer was Anna Petrus for Svenskt Tenn. The pair were bought for not quite £1,000 by the man, and when they were later auctioned, they were bought for just over SEK50,000 (£42,000) by the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm and are now included in their collection.
8. A golden dish
On 14 June 2019, a beautiful dish made of gilt copper from the end of the 17th century was sold at Uppsala Auktionskammare. The dish was originally bought many years ago from a flea market for SEK20 (£1.68), but now it sold for SEK16,000 (£1,343).