Uncovering Hidden Treasure

Who doesn’t love a good hidden treasure story? The newspapers are filled with stories of ordinary people who uncover extraordinary treasures in the most unusual places. Whether found in a hidden secret compartment or buried in the ground, these stories might leave you wondering if there is a hidden treasure in your house! Here are a few fun treasure stories we’ve uncovered.

In 1924, the owner of a house built in 1860 made plans to demolish it. The house was originally owned by a bank president. During the demolition, workers found a concealed compartment containing $100,000 in gold coins. That is equivalent to $1.5 million today!   

In 1928, George Maher invented a metal detector. While scanning the ground on a farm near Natchez, Mississippi, he discovered a cache of coins buried two feet deep. The money was buried shortly before the fall of Vicksburg during the Civil War. Maher’s find validated his invention and allowed him to deposit more than $1,000 in the bank.

In 1986, two workmen found a hidden room on the third floor of a 140-year old Italianate home overlooking Cayuga Lake in New York. The door to the room didn’t have a handle and was disguised by wood paneling matching the room. A desk and shelves further guarded the doorway. Once inside the secret room, the men discovered three steamer trunks filled with 19th-century toys, historical items, and at least $10,000 in coins.

In 1935, after the death of an Oklahoma pioneer, his four daughters inherited his valuable estate. An attorney representing the daughters visited a farm owned by the pioneer to take an inventory. An aged caretaker told the attorney that additional valuables were hidden in an old office building in Wheeling, West Virginia. The treasure, he said, dated back to the Kings of France. Traveling to West Virginia, the attorney discovered a partition and false fireplace inside the office building. He removed them and found a dim passageway to an attic where he discovered three brass chests filled with a fortune in gold and silver. The treasure once belonged to Louis S. Delaplaine, the U.S. consul in British Guiana. Delaplaine kept a luxurious apartment in the West Virginia office building. The discovery added to the valuable estate inherited by the four daughters who were related to Delaplaine by marriage. They also received an island in Lake Huron gifted to Delaplaine by Queen Victoria.

Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln daguerreotype

Not all treasure is money. In 1929, a man was examining the contents of an old wooden chest found in the attic of a home in Westport, Connecticut, when he came upon a rare daguerreotype. Further examination revealed the image was that of Abraham Lincoln and his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln.

Another historical treasure was discovered in 1998 by C.P. Weaver. She had papers and documents passed down through her family stored in her attic. After seeing the movie Glory about a troop of Black Civil War soldiers, it stirred something in Weaver’s memory. She went to the attic and retrieved the stash of papers and discovered the fragile diary of Union Col. Nathan W. Daniels, commander of the Second Louisiana Native Guards, one of the first Black regiments organized in the Civil War. The diary was eventually published and provided priceless historical understanding.

In 1998, a Florida couple bought a painting at the thrift store for $1.99. The painting turned out to be an original by Auguste Rodin, sculptor of the masterpiece, The Thinker. Their $2 investment was valued at $14,000 and earned them an invitation to appear on an episode of the Oprah Winfrey Show about uncovered hidden treasures.

Have you ever discovered a hidden treasure? Tell us about it in the comments below, and search Newspapers.com for many more treasure stories.

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57 thoughts on “Uncovering Hidden Treasure

  1. One remnant from my grandfather’s estate that generated little interest was a pair of beat up binoculars. I took possession of them intent on learning as much as I could about them. The name on them is Lemaire, a French company well known for it manufacture of binoculars and opera glasses. Since these binoculars were standard military issue, my guess is that these were issued to my GF when he entered the army in Italy shortly before WWI. I do know from family conversations that he served for a time in Ethiopia and Eritrea. Its nice to know I have a tangible piece of history I can hold in my hands.

  2. While cleaning out my GM’s attic my aunt found the Civil War diary of an ancestor along with a picture of him AND the bullet that struck the diary at Shiloh. It makes a nice package of history for our family.

    1. Please consider transcribing the diary and sharing it with a university or other organization that studies the Civil War. First-person writings like this are invaluable to researchers who are studying what our ancestors thought and did.

      1. I’ve inherited boxes of letters from my maternal grandparents to my mother, born 1900, that date to the 1920’s. Any suggestions as to what to do with them?

    2. Yes! Transcribe the diary! Then publish it! My great-grandfather’s brother fought and died in the Civil War. He kept a diary which has been published. Check out “Rufus Ricksecker” online. There is so much to learn from the soldiers. You have found a real treasure.

      1. My great grandfather’s original letters from 1850 until his death during the Civil War are in the State of Georgia Archives. We have copies.

    3. That’s awesome. I’d recommend scanning the pages, and sharing those images with relatives so it doesn’t get lost permanently.
      And for precious old family photos, one thing I recommend to everyone is to get a free account at FamilySearch, upload the photo as a “memory”, and attach it to the person in Family Tree. That way, anyone who is related to that person will eventually stumble across the picture and it will be preserved for future generations.

      1. Randy, has a great recommendation here. I would point out that this same feature is available in ancestry.com and I used it a lot for all pictures of interest.

  3. In 1998 I bought an old house (1896). Exploring the attic for a leak, I came across ladies high top button up shoes, probably about size 4, bamboo fishing poles and newspapers from 1917 thru 1919. No money tho.

  4. We bought an 1890 Victorian house and did quite a bit of work to bring it back to its glory days. Every once in awhile we’d find something — an old bottle in a wall, a ladies gold watch in the garden. A fun thing happened when we were about to build a brick walkway. One day I had two chores in mind — measuring out the bricks I had and planting a plant. First, I laid out the bricks and found I was 6 bricks short. No problem, I’d buy some. Then I went to the garden and dug the plant hole. My shovel struck what I thought was a rock. But I discovered a long buried cache of 6 bricks. Not one more or less! I always said my found treasures were gifts from the house.

    1. What are the odds? I personally think the house and/or former residents were approving of your project.

      1. I got that feeling too. The bricks were about 3 feet from the outdoor side of the living room chimney, but the exceptional part was that they were EXACTLY where I dug the hole for the plant. I lived there 8 years, planting many plants, but never found another brick.
        We also found a child’s button shoe and little toys under the house and when a heating flue was installed in the ceiling, in the area below the attic floor, there was a broken glass picture. I assume some child broke it and hid the evidence!

  5. A friend was given a box of antique photo negatives from the owner of a “junk store” as he called it. The owner said he was going to toss them in the garbage unless Jim took them. The negatives were from the early 1900s to around 1950 and showed Native Americans living in the western US. Jim knew I sold items online and offered me half of the proceeds to sell them for him. I sold a few each week and we made $24,000.

  6. My father bought an old craftsman house in So. Pasadena, CA. in 1965. He bought the house from the nephew of the man who had been a jeweler. The nephew said the he had searched the house and furniture for safes and had found some items. He said there were 6 safes in two bookcases but there was a safe in the stairway that he couldn’t find. My dad rented out the house for years until a bank offered to buy it. The night before demolition my dad went and broke out the knee wall under the stairs and found 3 sets of silverware. Each of us kids got a set!

  7. The best treasure that I have found was a signed first edition of the second printing of Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass” in my grandfather’s attic. He said that I could have it and after his death I had it appraised at $3,000. Later, I learned that my mother sold the contents of the attic for $600 to a junk dealer. Fortunately, I beat the junk dealer to this treasure.

  8. My grandfather had built his house in the 1950’s. He built it from concrete during the construction of the nearby interstate. When a batch wasn’t up to snuff, the workmen he befriended would bring the batch and pour it into the laid out forms. At two feet thick, the walls were wonderful insulation against the desert heat and cold.

    When grandpa passed away we were cleaning out his house, when, in the basement, we found a secret compartment behind some wooden shelves. Inside the compartment were five pound coffee cans filled with silver coins. Also, we found mason jars filled with silver coins buried in cement blocks in the fields. He had told me as a child about burying the coins in case the “Ruskies” invaded America.

    All said and done, we filled the trunk of our car with the many cans and jars. The poor car sagged beneath the weight, but we made it to a coin shop where we cashed in over $18,000 in silver. Thanks Grandpa.

    BTW, if you find any 5-gallon cans of gasoline buried in the desert between California and Arizona, they’re over 50 years old. Think of Grandpa if you do. 😉

  9. I was a mailman in Worth Illinois in 1986,!during a collection run I came across an unmarked Manila envelope inside a collection box. The envelope had dirt and partially open. Sine it wasn’t marked I looked inside and observed items caked in my b and debris. I secured the envelope and took it to a supervisor. My supervisor discovered the items inside the envelope were jewelry and coins. Diamond bracelets and gold kourgans coins. Further investigation by the postal inspectors revealed items were taken in a burglary at a nearby jewelry store.

  10. I can’t say I’ve left treasure or booty, but when building a ground floor (in US, read ‘first floor’) extension to our 2 storey house, I also created a secret room above it. This room is accessed from a bedroom via a concealed door. We call it “Narnia”, after the C S Lewis book, and after a dear friend, Peter B. Peter had a similar room, used as a hobbies room, and also accessed from a bedroom via a disguised door, behind a full length mirror. He called his room Narnia, and I asked him if I could also use the name, to which he readily agreed. In this room, I pursue my hobbies of electronics and puzzle making. Selected visitors, when let into the secret, are amazed!
    Chris, In England.

    1. Funny. We had a crawlspace accessed by a short little door in the back of our bedroom closet when I was growing up, and we called that “Narnia”, too. We recently cleaned it out when my parents moved. It was full of 33 buckets of wheat that my parents had kept in case of an emergency. Disgustingly, rats chewed their way into several of these, so the “treasure” we discovered was quite unpleasant. 🙂

  11. In the 1990s I was hunting for daguerreotypes in an antique mall in Snohomish, Washington. I came across a rare scene of a teacher holding up a book and some of his young students holding small chalkboards. The teacher also held up two fingers with the back of his hand towards the camera, like a backwards peace sign. We never did figure out what that meant, but we named the image “The Answer is Two”.
    I paid $300 for it and it was appraised by a dauerreotype expert for $30,000. It was included in a temporary Smithsonian exhibit on early photography.

      1. We kept it. My ex-husband collected daguerreotypes for many years. The last thing I heard, the entire collection has been in safe deposit boxes since he died.

  12. Almost everything we do today is in digital format. I quit writing a journal, but not type it and keep files on my computer. One wonders how digital records, photos, and other online treasurers will be preserved and eventually found. At the very least, we need to leave our passwords with our wills for our loved ones.

    1. There is a wonderful reference for those considering how to make their own passing easy on their loved ones, it’s called “When I go You Should Know” published by the Funeral Consumer’s Alliance. Passwords and accounts are so important for your loved ones! Speaking from experience. For me, the main thing is what to do with all the family memorabilia that I was left from my wife’s family. She was the end of the line…

  13. We recently went through all my parents’ vast collection of stuff in order to move them from Oregon to Utah. Fortunately, my parents were still around to identify the history of items like my grandfather’s gold railroad watch; a confederate officer’s sword from the civil war; and an Eli Terry clock with wooden gears from the 1820s. He also told us to look inside the piano where he had a rifle stashed.
    My favorite treasures have been the old photos. In addition to boxes of old family photos, I discovered bundles of black & white negatives in a filing cabinet in the garage, and have scanned those. The envelopes had names of some people, and I was able to take old wedding photos of people from the 1950s and track down them or their children and share the photos with them. That took some investigative work, but it has been rewarding to reunite families with photos that my dad took so long ago.
    As I mentioned in a comment above, I think FamilySearch is the one place you can archive old family photos and expect them to be around forever. Accounts are free, so you don’t have to worry about your photos being deleted when you die, and FamilySearch is a nonprofit, owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, so it won’t ever go out of business. When you upload a photo, tag the faces, and attach them into the big shared Family Tree, then relatives who are interested in those people will naturally discover those photos when visiting that person in the tree. I encourage everyone to scan, upload, tag and attach each of the good old family photos you have that you want preserved and shared. Then others can discover “treasures” that you have “buried” there! 😀

  14. I am a collector of art done by Tex Moore. I have “found” a number of them.
    1. Found in an junk shop in Portland an early oil painting by Tex. for less then $20. After cleaning and framing the value is more than $2,000.
    2. The wife of Tex Moore sealed his bedroom after he died. Some 40 years later, they found under his death bed over 30 unframed canvass. They are not being cleaned and framed one by one.

  15. While visiting grandma in the late 1980s, I saw a few large photo negatives in a waste basket. I asked and she replied she’d been cleaning a closet. Had she looked at them before tossing them? Nope. They turned out to be 1920s shots of her and friends horsing around at the beach in old-style bathing suits along with a nice shot of my grandparents together sitting on a stump with romantic expressions, circa 1934. I printed them for family gifts and surprised everyone.

    1. Oh, and I just realized…today, Nov 15, is BOTH my grandma’s and grandpa’s birthdays. They didn’t know their proper b-days until the Social Security Admin was created and they were required to get SSNs, so they looked up hospital records and found that they were both wrong and both born on Nov 15.

  16. When my stepmother passed and her full children went through her things and kept what thdy wanted . Not much she was an art teacher loved to paint flowers and people and i have every room in my house something she crafted or painted and I love them all . I even have some pictures of people in our small town that she painted but they for whatever reason didn’t come to pick them up. I did try to post ads yo see if I could find them. No luck but there’s one in particular of a young African American girl that she framed in my favorite colors and its mine now fits perfect in my room. She also was a bank administrator so she kept alot of nice clothing and jewelry mostly costume but beautiful pieces nobody wanted it but me . I wear some pieces and have made a Christmas tree on velvet with the odds and end pieces as ornaments and my dad framed it for me. I have many pieces of beautiful stone jewelry im thinking she bought in orient she lived to visit there. Im not sure who to contact to look at it for me

  17. When cleaning out my mother’s house we got to a shopping bag filled with hangers. I knew she hid things in various places, so I looked to the bottom and there was our great uncle’s Colt from the Civil War period. We had known about it, but thought it had disappeared – as things do. One of my brothers was helping clean, and when I carried it into the kitchen he excitedly began shouting, “the Colt, the Colt.” He has it now.

  18. In a 45 year old raised ranch home there are no hiding places, especially for a 54 inch square dining room table that belonged to my great grandfather, Charles Edwin Meader, a veteran of the Civil War. It is hidden in plain site in my dining room, with me sitting at it right now in his chair. There are 12 chairs total, only 4 in the dining room now, and 8 leaves in a rack in the garage. The chair across from me is a couple of inches taller than the rest as my great grandmother was very short lady. Sadly he died by his own hand in 1887, financial problems, depression, and probably what we call PTSD today. So the amazing part of this story is how this table did not get lost but stayed in our family for 133 years, 2 months, and 7 days from his death to today. It’s journey began in Decorah, Iowa and ended up in my home in Vermont. Its early years are largely conjecture but, as I did sit at as a 10 year old, I know the rest of the story.

  19. Following the death of my wife’s grandmother several years ago we were tasked with selling her home and contents. Among the possessions we retained was a pen and ink drawing that had hung in the dining room for as long as my wife could recall. It was dated 1918 and signed by the artist. I was curious if it had any value and started seeking information about the artist. I was initially unable to find anything, but later in an Ancestry.com search I stumbled upon several postings which included a photo of the artist and a link to his 1910 US Census listing. To my surprise near the bottom of that same census page was a listing of my wife’s great grandmother’s family. They lived just a few houses from the artist and that was, undoubtedly, how the drawing made it to grandmother’s possession. Later, in further searches, I found the artist’s son, contacted him and, eventually, was able to mail the drawing to him. He was pleased to have one of his father’s early works and, in turn, sent a few of his father’s later-in-life prints to me as thanks.

  20. My sister & I collect old cookbooks and as a result I have all of my grandmothers cookbooks and recipes from my dads mom, passed from her mother and grandmother…My sister has my mothers side of the families recipes…While looking at some online recipe cookbook sites and ebay my sister stumbled across an old Amish cookbook from the 1940’s 3 of them which she purchased, when they were delivered they were my grandmothers cookbooks that had somehow been separated from the family.

  21. My father built our family home after he got out of the war, then spent 6 years in professional baseball until a knee injury ended his career. As he built our home, he hid little treasures in the bricks and behind the walls and told me of the items he had put in, which included a bunch of 1943 lead pennies. When I was a small child, he had made some renovations to the front of the home and exposed the little holes in the top of the brick facade. We put some rare coins that he had collected in the little holes of the brick, then he added the wooden shelf, hiding the treasures inside. I wanted to keep the coins and was upset that he had “wasted them” by putting them in the brick. He said it was worth it because someday, when we are all gone some child like me might find them 50-100 years later. How fun would that be for that kid, he asked me. Both of my parents are gone now and there is a new family living in the home my father built. I drive by periodically to see if they ever do anything to that front wall.

  22. I am in the process of publishing my family history, a large part of it is a cache of letters my Great Great Grandfather Andrew sent to my Great Grandfather Andrew . The letters date from 1845 too 1855 and were sent from Gallowgate Road in Glasgow, Scotland to Upper Canada. I’m not sure who else would be interested in them. Any suggestions?

    1. I would scan those letters and put them on Ancestry. If you don’t have a tree, share them with someone who does. These will be priceless to many descendants.

      1. Jenny Thanks for the suggestion. Do you think Ancestry would take more than 60 pages of them?

  23. My husband tells a story from his childhood in Kansas City, MO :He and his friends often played in and around an old abandoned house in the neighborhood. One day, they decided to use a hammer to demolish an interior wall. He found a can of gold coins. He took them home to his father who attempted to find out about the original owners of the house but to no avail. My husband’s father used the coins one or a few at a time when his meager income did not stretch ,mostly to care for my husband’s ailing grandfather who lived with them during his final years.

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