When Air Force veteran David appeared on the traveling TV series Antiques Roadshow brandishing his old watch, it’s highly unlikely that he realized the heirloom would be worth such a staggering sum. In fact, when he found out its true value, he appeared to drop to the ground in a dead faint. But just how much was David’s Rolex worth – and how had he been unaware of its incredible story for almost 50 years?
However, David had not enjoyed the kind of life that allowed him to indulge his love of Rolexes in the lap of luxury – far from it. He was drafted during the Vietnam War. At the time, all young men aged 18 to 25 were assigned a number for each draft lottery. And when a number was pulled, anyone with that digit or less – and who was eligible to be part of the military – was called up to serve.
When David’s number was pulled, then, he was told he’d have to join a branch of the military. Otherwise, he’d be enlisted automatically by the following January. And so the veteran consequently decided to join the U.S. Air Force, where he began serving in munitions. More specifically, he was dealing with explosive ordnance disposal.
For David, this primarily involved clearing roadways of landmines as well as cleaning up impaired munitions storage facilities. “There were multiple children and adults that were injured as a result of unexploded ordnance,” the veteran said during an episode of Antiques Roadshow in January 2020. “The hazard is still there today.”
From 1973 David spent two years stationed in Thailand. And during that stint, he flew on a number of continental airlines. It was on these flights that he first developed a fondness for Rolex. You see, he noticed that pilots would frequently wear the brand’s watches – and subsequently found himself intrigued by the timepieces.
David decided he wanted to buy a Rolex watch for himself but quickly discovered they were beyond his budget. For a while, then, he put the idea on the back burner. But eventually, he was transferred to another base, where he spent time scuba diving. And with Rolex’s reputation as a great choice for scuba divers, it’s likely no surprise that the activity brought the watch brand back to the forefront of his mind.
In the end, David managed to find a Rolex for what he considered to be a reasonable price: $345.97, with a ten percent discount. Nevertheless, it was still quite an extravagance – supposedly amounting to around a month’s military salary in the 1970s. The veteran ordered the watch through the on-base department store in November 1974, but he would have to wait for months. You see, the pricey purchase didn’t arrive until April the following year.
And the particular variant that David had settled for was a Rolex Oyster Cosmograph. Yet according to the veteran’s account, he never actually used the timepiece. No, when it arrived, he decided that it was perhaps too nice to wear whilst scuba diving. So, he simply placed it into a safety deposit box – where it remained for another three to four decades.
The watch supposedly only left its secure housing on two or three occasions during all that time, in fact. And when it did, it was only for David to admire it proudly before it was carefully placed back into storage. As a result, the timepiece was in fantastic condition – particularly given its age. What’s more, David also kept all the original documentation he’d received when buying it.
It’s therefore quite understandable that David was so interested in getting a valuation for the Rolex. And to do so, he decided to speak to the experts of Antiques Roadshow. The hit series has gained quite a reputation for accurately appraising people’s antiques, after all, and it’s been running for more than two decades in the United States.
However, while the U.S. version of the show has undoubtedly been successful, the series actually has its roots in Britain. The original Antiques Roadshow began life as a BBC documentary, you see, which followed members of an auctioneering institution from London, as they traveled around England’s West Country. The first episode was filmed on May 17, 1977, and was met with such success that the format has effectively never changed.
The U.K. version of Antiques Roadshow now spans more than 40 individual series, too. And it’s remained with the BBC for its entire history and has even spawned spin-off shows. The children’s special Antiques Roadshow: The Next Generation, for instance, was broadcast every Christmas from 1991 to 2006. Meanwhile, a short-lived offshoot dubbed 20th Century Roadshow aired briefly in 2005.
But it’s not just the original British show that’s proved popular enough for spin-offs over the years. Indeed, a half-hour American show titled Antiques Roadshow FYI aired for a short time in 2005. And the program – which offered a more in-depth look at collecting and antiques in general – also followed up on items that had previously featured in the main series.
But arguably what makes Antiques Roadshow so successful are the veritable gems that have been unearthed while the cameras were rolling. Over the decades, the franchise has featured some seriously valuable items on both sides of the Atlantic. In 2008, for instance, an original sketch of Antony Gormley’s Angel of the North sculpture – now a fixture of northern England – appeared on the U.K. show. And the appraisers estimated it to be worth around a whopping $1.29 million.
In the U.S., meanwhile, Antiques Roadshow’s appraisers valued a 1904 work by Mexican painter Diego Rivera – spouse of acclaimed artist Frida Kahlo – at between $800,000 and $1 million in 2012. And six years later, in light of auctions for Rivera’s other paintings, a second appraisal of the artwork placed the value even higher: at anywhere from $1.2 million to a dizzying $2.2 million.
That’s not all, though. In 2011 a series of centuries-old Chinese cups – which had been hand-carved using rhino horns – were priced at between $1 million and $1.5 million. And multiple paintings have been appraised at around half a million dollars each, including works by American artists Andrew Wyeth and Norman Rockwell.
However, it’s not only rare antiques that the show spotlights. The U.S. version – broadcast by PBS – is taped at numerous locations across the country, with smaller, lesser-known cities often acting as the backdrop for the beloved franchise. These places – generally disclosed ahead of time – include settlements such as Rapid City in South Dakota, Biloxi in Mississippi and Chattanooga in Tennessee.
And for one episode in January 2020, the cast and crew of Antiques Roadshow traveled to yet another little-known treasure: Bonanzaville, a museum complex located in the city of West Fargo in North Dakota. The area is comprised of 40 different historical and modern buildings. It was here that David seized on the opportunity to get his Rolex examined.
The appraisal of David’s Rolex has since been uploaded to Antiques Roadshow’s YouTube channel, where it’s racked up more than 7.5 million views. In the clip, appraiser Peter Planes quizzes David on his backstory and how he came to acquire the watch. He then asks the veteran about what’s happened to the timepiece in the years since to help him reach his verdict.
With all that information in mind, Planes subsequently draws on his knowledge of rare watches to offer an assessment. He begins by looking over all the paperwork that David diligently kept with the watch, including the brochure, receipts and even the original warranty paper. Because this latter sheet is blank – and can therefore add value to any watch – Planes estimates that it alone is worth around $2,000.
The appraiser then focuses on the watch itself, highlighting all the relevant details that will help him ascertain its price. First, he points out that the watch isn’t just a regular Rolex Cosmograph. It’s an Oyster variant, in fact, which refers to the “screw-down buttons” on the side of the watch’s body.
According to Planes, this particular Rolex was produced in two styles – both with and without screw-down buttons. It’s the latter feature that makes the watch so popular, though, because these buttons allow it to be submerged in water. And back when the timepiece was first released, this novelty was a great incentive for buyers from all over the globe.
Planes also addresses the condition of the watch, noting that it’s been very well looked after over the years. Indeed, the foil sticker on the watch’s back is still present, showing a reference number of 6263. “Had it been worn, that’s the first thing that would wear off the watch,” the appraiser explains. He then points to the date mark, which shows that the watch was produced in 1971.
Planes then explains that collectors adore this particular model – which is also known as a Daytona Rolex – thanks, in part, to Paul Newman. You see, the actor wore the watch in the 1969 movie Winning, which apparently first inspired his love of motorsports. He subsequently became a competitive race car driver, and the timepiece was an iconic part of his image.
The Washington Post reporter Travis Andrews explained the watch’s popularity in 2017. “The mechanical watch radiated coolness, much like its owner,” he wrote. “It was a constant companion to Newman’s left wrist in magazine shoots, paparazzi photos and while he was speeding around in his race cars.” Incredibly, Newman’s actual watch sold for a record $17.8 million at auction in 2017.
As the clip continues, Planes tells David that models of the watch Newman wore usually fetch around $150,000 to $200,000 at auction. And to his credit, the veteran remains surprisingly calm – despite being quoted such an enormous sum of money. But what the appraiser says next prompts an entirely different reaction from David.
Yes, Planes explains that David’s watch is even more special than the model Newman wore, because it’s an Oyster variant. “They did that for an extremely short period of time,” the appraiser says. “We refer to that as a mark two dial. And this particular model, being marked Oyster, is extremely rare. A watch like this at auction is worth about $400,000.”
At that moment, upon hearing this even larger figure, David seems to collapse to the floor in shock, waving his legs in the air for effect. Planes then rushes across the table to check that the veteran is okay, while voices off-camera can be heard laughing at his dramatic reaction.
Thankfully, David is absolutely fine. And the spritely fellow quickly hops back up again, laughing in disbelief at the news he’s just been given. But Planes then tells him, “Don’t fall. I’m not done yet.” Yes, it turns out that the appraiser chose his words carefully when he said a watch “like” David’s sells for $400,000.
That’s because, largely thanks to the condition David’s watch is in, it isn’t actually worth that eye-watering amount – far from it. “It’s a new old stock watch, [with] no wear on it, the original foil sticker on the back of it, and… we have this complete documentation,” Planes says. “[It’s] maybe one of the very few in the whole world that was still never worn.” So, with all of this information in mind, the appraiser then reveals that David’s watch would likely fetch an eye-watering $500,000 to $700,000 at auction.
This time, David manages to stay on his feet. It’s clear, though, that he’s totally blown away by the figure Planes has just uttered. He shakes his head in continued disbelief and makes a remark that has to be bleeped out by the show’s producers, too. Nevertheless, Planes responds that he’s very serious about his appraisal.
“It’s an absolutely fabulous find,” Planes confirms. “It’s one of the rarest Paul Newman models, and in this condition, I don’t think there’s a better one in the world. I can’t thank you enough for bringing me one of the greatest watches to ever be seen on Antiques Roadshow – and thank you very much for your service.”
The appraiser then warns David that he can’t wear his magnificent antique. For if he does, the value will drop to around $400,000. However, it’s not known what the veteran’s plans are for his staggeringly valuable collectible. “He’s saved it all these years,” Planes told The Washington Post in January 2020. “He may be saving it more.”
According to Planes, David’s reaction stands out as particularly memorable. That’s perhaps not too surprising, though, given that his Rolex is the most valuable ever to appear on the show. But it’s not the most valuable watch ever featured. No, that honor apparently belongs to another timepiece, which is now said to be worth $2 million to $3 million.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, people across the world have loved David’s incredible story. The Antiques Roadshow clip has garnered millions of views and thousands of comments, too, since it was uploaded to YouTube. And much of the online reaction to the astonishing appraisal has been roundly positive. For instance, one YouTube user wrote, “Somebody’s retirement just became a lot more comfortable. Congrats to this gentleman.”
Another, meanwhile, was similarly effusive in his praise for David and the show. “The man spent his time in service defusing mines and unexploded ordnance,” they wrote. “I could not think of a more deserving person to have this sort of discovery. Hats off! Happy for you and everyone you have had a positive effect on.”
But not all of the online reactions have been so glowing. In fact, some users have even criticized Planes’ appraisal of the watch. “The watch has obviously been worn,” wrote one. “There are many scuffs on the band and a light scratch on the front. How is it being called never-worn, new old stock?” And it didn’t take long for other users to jump in and voice their agreement.
Another person wrote, “The sticker and clasp shows at least a year of frequent wear, so you can’t call it new old stock/no wear like this appraiser does. Those stickers don’t get like that from sitting in a lock box.” Meanwhile, another user agreed that the segment was “total amateur hour by the ‘appraiser.’”
Nevertheless, an expert named Paul Botros backed up Planes’ valuation to Forbes in February 2020. “The watch appears exceptionally well-preserved and complete, and I’m in agreement with the appraisal,” he said. “It’s a watch that Phillips would be thrilled to offer at auction.” Indeed, a similar watch apparently sold for $425,000 at auction in December 2019.
So, when worn watches can fetch north of $400,000, it’s no wonder that David reacted the way he did to Planes’ appraisal. After all, he parted with a mere $345.97 for the watch all those years ago. As investments go, then, it’s performed pretty spectacularly. And, of course, it’s become a real moment to remember for Antiques Roadshow fans.
However, you may be able to replicate David’s own impressive windfall by simply taking a look in your own attic. After all, over time, we accumulate lots of stuff – and some of it we don’t want to let go. So, we place certain objects in our attics, where they’ll likely be forgotten about. But that shouldn’t be the end of their story. You see, it turns out that some of the most common antique items are actually worth big bucks – some potentially even worth fainting over. And with that in mind, here are 40 to look for in your home.
Nowadays, you can get a smartphone that does all of the computing you need and also fits into your pocket. And that’s why you probably keep your clunker of a vintage computer in the attic. But if that device is seriously old school, it could be worth a lot of money. Indeed, appraiser Eric Silver told Popular Mechanics that a first edition Apple computer sold for a whopping $900,000 at auction.
39. Costume jewelry
You might think that only accessories crafted from valuable metals or containing genuine gemstones has any resale value. However, particular pieces of costume jewelry have raked in thousands at auction – just as much as their more precious counterparts. Top tip: look for pieces that were made by once-sought-after designers, such as Miriam Haskell or Elsa Schiaparelli.
Perhaps a sentimental parent held onto your childhood lunchbox – or even their own – and now that midday meal carrier sits in your attic. But if the container features a desirable design on its front, such as a Beatles or Jetsons motif, dust it off and sell it. You’ll be glad you did: some such collectibles have sold for upwards of $3,000, after all.
37. Cookie jars
Not just any old cookie jar will sell on today’s antique market. If you have a piece that was made in the 1940s or ‘50s, though, you could be in luck, as that’s apparently what buyers are after. More specifically, a cookie container that’s fashioned in the form of a well-known character or cartoon figure could earn you hundreds of dollars.
Did someone in your family have a famous pen pal? Well, you may want to check, because a letter from a well-known name can rake in big bucks. Otherwise, vintage postcards can attract collectors, too – especially ones that were sent prior to World War I. And as you can imagine, the better condition that the cards are in, the more money they’re likely to make.
35. Yo-yo quilt
Once upon a time – in the 1930s, to be exact – quilters began cutting out circles of fabric and hand-sewing them together. And the unique resulting coverlet earned its name from a popular toy at the time: the yo-yo. Nowadays, if you have a hand-stitched colorful one of these throws in your attic, you could earn yourself close to $300.
34. Stetson cowboy hat
Did you know that the first cowboy hat came to be in the 1860s thanks to designer John Batterson Stetson? Interestingly, his design had a dual purpose: it shaded the cowboy’s face from the sun, and when flipped over, it made the perfect vessel from which he or his horse could drink, too. So, if you have an in-the-box vintage Stetson laying around, you could be able to flog it for hundreds of dollars.
33. Christmas ornaments
Something as sentimental as a Christmas decoration could be tough to part with, but you might think twice if you have one of the hand-blown glass variety lying around. Some such vintage baubles sell for nearly $2,000 a piece, in fact. And you’re in even more luck if you happen to have a pear-shaped Kugel ornament. That’s because some of these go for as much as $18,000 each.
32. Polaroid camera
Log onto Instagram, and you’ll see countless photos that have been filtered to achieve the perfect vintage look. Perhaps that trend explains why more and more people now want to buy Polaroid cameras, since they produce physical pics with the same cool effect. And so, you could sell the one that’s been sitting in your attic for upwards of $500, depending on the model and its accessories, of course.
31. Arcade games
Back in the day, you may have been lucky enough to have your own Pac-Man or Pong arcade game. And if so, the collectible could be worth a lot of money now. Whether it works or not is no issue, either; collectors love these old-school entertainment devices. That said, though, functioning games will bring in a lot more than a broken one. A working Pong, for instance, can bag you nearly $2,000.
It can be tough to tell if that dusty old painting in your attic has a high market value. So, experts suggest bringing your art to an appraiser to see if you could resell it for big bucks. After all, your hand-me-downs could have come from a family member’s friend or neighbor who just so happened to make it big later on. And consequently, your piece could be a huge moneymaker today.
29. Vintage ads
Today’s decorators love to pepper their homes with vintage ads, especially ones from companies that still exist today, such as Coca-Cola. So, rifle through your attic to see if you’ve happened to hold onto such artsy accessories. And as an added incentive, keep in mind that old Coke-inspired merch has made up to $15,000.
It’s not uncommon for families to hand valuable silverware down through the generations, especially when it’s made of the real deal. As such, you could be sitting on a gold – er, silver – mine if you have a vintage set, particularly one from a well-known brand, such as Tiffany or Gorham. In fact, think $1,000 or more for your collection.
27. First-edition books
Perhaps you inherited a family member’s old book, or you bought an aged copy at a thrift store. Either way, it’s possible that you have an extremely valuable first-edition book amid your collection. The first print of a popular title or older literature from the ‘30s, ‘40s or ‘50s can bring in $15,000 or more if you’re lucky.
26. Vinyl records
Nowadays, vintage vinyl can be worth a pretty sum, especially it’s the first pressing of a popular title. Of course, though, every record collection is different in terms of size and quality – both of the music and of the objects themselves. But sites like Reverb LP can help you gauge the market value of your tracks.
25. Record players
Since vinyl records are making a comeback, thanks to music aficionados both young and old, so are record players. And vintage equipment has a particular draw for some customers. In fact, in March 2019 eBay appraiser Jim Griffith told Country Living that even relatively less-desired models, such as the RCA Vitor Slide-O-Matic, can bring in $130.
24. Air Jordans
In the world of collectible footwear, some Air Jordans could be considered antiques. Reyne Hirsch, who’s an appraiser on PBS’ Antiques Roadshow, told Reader’s Digest, “Early Air Jordan sneakers can sell for hundreds if not thousands of dollars depending on which model and condition.”
You may have noticed that modern brands including Smeg have started selling vintage-inspired toasters in a full rainbow of pastel colors. But if you have a real old-school appliance in a similarly saccharine shade, it could be just as quick to sell as today’s version – and for a great price, too.
22. Cereal boxes
If there’s an old box of cereal in your attic, you probably don’t want to eat it. But what you can do is sell the well-preserved packet. That’s right: it turns out that there’s a whole audience of collectors ready to buy vintage cereal containers, especially those of iconic or now-defunct brands. So get searching!
21. Lamp bases
If you’re looking to sell your old lamp, you don’t even need to have the entire thing: antique bases from the right brands can rake in big money. So, go through your attic-based inventory and see if you have any pieces from brands such as Tiffany’s, Handel or Fulper. Incredibly, some such antiques have sold for as much as $25,000.
20. Baseball cards
Whether it was you or your parent who stockpiled baseball cards back in the day, you might be very happy that you’ve held onto them. Decks from the decades prior to 1950 can bring in some serious cash – depending on the demand for the players that they feature, of course. Collectors also seek cigarette cards from the turn of the 20th century, too, so see what you have stored away.
19. Deeds, yearbooks and signed documents
Who would’ve thought that a box full of extraneous documents and ledgers could be a gold mine? Well, for starters, one of your parents or grandparents could have had a famous classmate. And if so, their signature in a yearbook could go for big bucks. The same goes for old land deeds, too, so pore over such files to see if your home or property once had a well-known owner.
18. VHS Tapes
VHS tapes ruled the at-home movie market from the late 1970s until the turn of the 21st century, when DVDs swiftly took over. Some movies never got the DVD treatment, though, which makes their tapes highly coveted. The same goes for VHS versions of banned or otherwise controversial films, too. In fact, if you have one in your attic, it could make you up to $50,000.
Well-preserved musical instruments are, in general, a big moneymaker when re-sold – whether they’re antique or not. So, sift through your attic to see if you have anything you can flog. Guitars, especially, are worth looking out for. A barely used one from 60 or 70 years ago can be super valuable to a collector or music aficionado.
16. Belt buckles
Apparently, remnants of the old West bring in big money from collectors. So, analyze any cowboy-inspired gear that your family has accumulated over the years. You may just have a belt buckle made of sterling silver hidden away somewhere, in which case you have a moneymaker. Even newer ones can earn $500 at auction.
Vintage magazines don’t have to be from centuries ago to be attractive to collectors. Everything But The House co-founder Jacquie Denny told Reader’s Digest, “The value of items in this category is related to rarity, condition and the number of issues.” You’re especially in luck if you have a publication that depicts a historic event on its cover. For instance, a 1969 issue of Time magazine about Woodstock went for $113 on Denny’s website.
14. Pedal cars
Step aside, Fisher-Price cars; your predecessor carries some serious weight at an antiques auction. When it comes to pedal cars, collectors look for older models as well as those that remain in good condition. For example, a Lincoln car from 1930 is valued at around $1,000.
When it comes to making money on pens, we’re not talking about the miscellaneous Biros that you keep in the kitchen drawer. A vintage fountain pen or a writing implement with a notable history – say, a politician once used it to sign something important – will do well when placed for sale or auction. Otherwise, you can add it to the junk collection.
There are plenty of newly made tees around that are meant to look vintage, but that’s not where the money’s at. Real retro pieces featuring advertisements, old-school concerts, beloved brands or eye-catching art, on the other hand, will inspire vintage shoppers to spend big. In fact, single tees have sold for upwards of $300. A garment with musical artist Prince on the front, for example, went for $380 on Poshmark, according to Reader’s Digest.
11. Halloween costumes
Believe it or not, vintage costume-and-mask sets can make you money, although they likely won’t bring in as much money as some of the other items on this list. If they feature a character from a famous movie, though – think: Star Wars – you could be in luck. Plus, your old-school Halloween decorations might interest a buyer, too, so long as you’re willing to part with something so nostalgic.
Tap, tap, tap. We all love the sound that a vintage typewriter makes. But you might also love the sound of the gavel dropping when you bring yours to auction. Insider tip: collectors are willing to spend big on more colorful pieces, since black typewriters are so easy to find. Plus, the fewer scratches or dents on the device, the better your sale price will be, too.
9. Depression glass
During the Great Depression, food manufacturers would slip pieces of glassware into their boxes as an incentive for customers to buy their products. And as such, families across the U.S. and Canada filled their cabinets with these colorful items that are now known as Depression glass. Price-wise, your hand-me-downs should sell for between $30 to $75 per piece. That’s not bad if you have more than one kicking around!
8. Piggy banks
Do you think you could fill your vintage piggy bank with $2,500? That’s how much the one that’s sitting in your attic could be worth. Of course, it depends on a few things: generally, old piggy banks with mechanical features tend to rake in higher amounts of cash. In fact, there’s an entire organization – called the Mechanical Bank Collectors of America – that has sought to purchase such wares since the late 1950s.
7. Luggage sets
There’s something so romantic about an old piece of luggage, even if you’d rather wheel around a rolling bag than carry an old-school suitcase with you. And that’s why collectors seek such vintage luggage sets, especially ones with fun finishes that remain in great condition. A single piece of luggage probably won’t bring in much cash, though.
6. Perfume bottles
Perfume is one category of antiques where brand doesn’t matter too much. Apparently, you see, collectors care more about the bottle itself, especially the glassmaker and the type of glass they used. In fact, there’s such a large market for these dainty containers that you could sell yours at an auction exclusively for perfume bottles.
Barbies have long been a favorite plaything for little ones, but collectors care most about the doll who started it all: the first-edition Barbie. If you have one in your attic, you could be in for a huge payday, especially if she’s still in her original box with all of her accessories. Indeed, some such toys have gone for $10,000.
4. Auto parts
When it comes to vintage cars, antique collectors aren’t looking for the entire thing. Instead, you might entice them to buy the little parts, such as old-school hubcaps or hood ornaments, that you’ve somehow managed to save over the years. If you do happen to have bigger pieces like headlamps lying around, you could sell those, too. Interestingly, industrial design enthusiasts often repurpose them into home decor.
Paintings tend to get all of the attention, but prints can also do well at antiques auctions. And so, if you have some old-looking prints in your attic, check to see if they have a penciled-on signature from the artist. That means that you probably have a limited-edition numbered print, which will be worth more than the average.
Whether they’re in the attic, garage, basement or shed, it’s worth digging up your vintage tools to see if they’re worth big bucks. Items such as saws or hand drills, however simple or beat-up they look, can actually be extremely valuable to collectors. How does $3,000 for that rusty tool sound?
Remarkably, that ancient box of firecrackers you have in the attic could be worth something at auction. It turns out there’s a whole network of collectors who look for these sparklers, specifically the ones that are still in their original packaging. The colorful logos and designs are what they want they want to collect, if you have them.