We’ve all dreamed of accidentally stumbling across some hidden treasure or valuable relic that had been kept hidden for hundreds of years. Whether it’s a long-lost masterpiece by an iconic painter or perhaps even one of the few existing copies of the Declaration of Independence, the idea that we could sell them for a huge profit is just spine-tingling.
However, it’s not always as simple as uncovering something valuable and getting a sh*t load of cash in return. Sometimes, you have to work your ass off to prove that whatever you have found is the real deal, and it may not always work out the way you had hoped.
When 37-year-old Max Brown discovered something he knew would be worth big bucks, he was forced to go on a pretty hellish journey to get the information he needed to sell it for as much as possible.
It all started in Incline Village, California when Brown began digging through a dumpster. It was for a community service project, but he certainly didn’t expect to find anything too noteworthy.
What initially caught Brown’s eye was a collection of cassettes from the 1980s. A self-proclaimed collector, he decided to pull them out and have a closer look. Moments later, he noticed a large pile of very worn-looking books buried beneath the cassettes.
Unfortunately, a sudden snowstorm then broke out – a snowstorm that would certainly damage the books beyond repair if he left them there. Brown could only salvage 15 books from the dumpster and quickly left, narrowly avoiding the worst of the snow.
It wasn’t until about half a year later that began to wonder what were the books actually were. So he took one of them out, opened up the cover and saw “from the library of Thomas Jefferson” inscribed on the inside of the cover.
After reading these simple yet historically significant words, Brown essentially became a detective and started to search for answers – a mission that took up a whole three years of his life.
He also found some vintage family photos inside the books with Jefferson’s signature, so he believed they were the real deal.
He decided there was nothing else for it – he had to reach out to an appraisal expert and see if they could confirm that the books were owned by a president from hundreds of years ago.
Some weeks after, the appraiser got back in touch with Brown. Unfortunately, the news wasn’t great – he learned from the appraiser that the signature in the book did not match Jefferson’s and the books were, therefore, a bunch of fakes.
Although he was disappointed, Brown accepted the outcome the expert had reached and moved on with his life.
That is until, some months later when Brown was watching an episode of Pawn Stars. On the show, a book could be seen with a cover that appeared to match two of the texts he had found.
What’s more, it was referred to as a legitimate relic of Jefferson’s. With this new knowledge, Brown felt motivated once more and resumed his investigation.
After a few Google searches and inquiries at the Library of Congress, Brown discovered some records which indicated that Jefferson had bought copies of two of the books found in the dumpster. The purchase was made in 1818 – after the American Founding Father rebound them with a new cover.
So what exactly were these books anyway? Well, considering they were owned by President Jefferson of all people, you better believe they were the height of culture and sophistication.
Indeed, they were the second and third volumes of Pierre Charron’s De la Sagess – a 17th-century meditation on morality and wisdom.
Brown decided to share this new information with Endrina Tay, an employee at Jefferson’s presidential library. However, this time, he refrained from explaining where exactly it was that he found the books, believing they wouldn’t be taken seriously as authentic relics.
In fact, he outright lied to her, claiming he’d inherited the books from his family, and it wasn’t long before Tay confirmed that two of the books had indeed belonged to Jefferson.
Although this fact should have pleased him, the truth is, he had auctioned off those particular volumes some months earlier, before he didn’t realize how much they were worth.
Unlike Brown, some people seem to have all the luck. This kid won the lottery on his 18th birthday:
“Eight-thousand dollars seemed like a lot at the time, but it’s nowhere near the value of American history,” Brown said.
He really needed the money at the time he sold them, but he was, nevertheless, bitter about the fact that he could have gotten more for them.
He later found out the other books he’d recovered from the dumpster were not as valuable as the ones he had sold. A rare 19th-century bible Brown had found is now on display in a museum. The rest were sent to descendants of the collection’s original owners.
So, much to Brown’s dismay, the rare finds didn’t make him the filthy rich and privileged human being we all aspire to be.