Antiques Roadshow items that made the owners crazy rich

Antiques Roadshow debuted on the BBC in 1977 as a documentary series about an auction house before turning to the more familiar format (in which appraisers travel around looking at antiques brought in by locals) in 1979. It's run ever since and, as of this writing, is currently in its 40th season. The U.S. version of the show debuted on PBS in 1997 and hasn't looked back, currently in its 21st season.

If you've seen the show, you know that it's primarily sad old people bringing dusty junk from their attic hoping to make a million dollars. Usually they get told to take their dusty junk back home and be glad they got to be on television, even if it was just PBS. Sometimes, however, these sad old people have dusty junk that is actually worth a million dollars. Or, you know, a million pounds if it's the U.K. version.

What follows is a list of some of the most highly appraised items in the history of the show, from both the U.S. and the U.K. In some cases, the owners liquidated the items and made themselves cash rich, while others held onto the items to shrewdly let them appreciate in value or to (yawn) bask in their sentimental value. These are definitely enough to make you go dig through your own attic, but you should at least sit down long enough to read to the end of the article.

£300,000 painting

2016 saw probably the highest valuation of a bro-to-bro gift in Antiques Roadshow history. It helps that one of the bros was Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, considered one of the most significant painters of the Victorian era. The other bro was Leopold Löwenstam, a notable etcher of the period. And it helped that the gift itself was a portrait of the second bro by the first bro on the occasion of the second bro's wedding to the first bro's nanny. The portrait has remained in Löwenstam's family ever since, until his great-great grandson brought the painting onto the U.K. Roadshow for valuation.

By combination of the fact that Alma-Tadema is super hot right now — he holds the record for most valuable painting from the Victorian era with a giant piece that sold for $36 million in 2010 — and the fact that it's rare to see a painting of an engraver at work, let alone one as notable as Löwenstam, Roadshow painting expert Rupert Maas said the portrait was one of the "best pictures we have ever seen on the Roadshow in its entire history," valuing the painting between $300,000 and $450,000.

You might think that selling such a significant family heirloom after so many generations would be a shame. Good news: Löwenstam's heir has decided to keep the portrait of his ancestor and loan it to museums, where it hangs next to a portrait of Alma-Tadema. Bros forever. Bros for life. Bros for afterlife.

£600,000 urn

On a 1991 episode of the U.K. Roadshow, a man brought in a flower pot that had been in his family for years, primarily used by the children of the family as a goalpost in their soccer games. Once on the show, expert Eric Knowles revealed that the flower pot was not actually a flower pot, but was instead a jardiniere, which a quick Google search reveals a French word that means "flower pot." Furthermore, the urn was an 1874 piece done in the "Japonisme" style, which a quick Google search reveals is a French word for white Europeans biting the style of then-new Japanese art imports. This 19th-century weeaboo pot was valued at £10,000, which one hopefully final quick Google search reveals is about $13,000.

Despite the urn (not literally the one pictured above) being appraised at a value 100 times as great as the £100 the man's father bought it for in 1946, the main decided to hold on to it for another 23 years, which turned out to be a super smart move. In the time since the episode aired, the ceramic monument to cultural appropriation had appreciated in value a considerable amount, and in 2014, the man sold his former makeshift soccer goal for a staggering £668,000 (£560,000 after commission, according to the BBC), which one actually final quick Google search reveals is $880,000 and $738,000 respectively, neither anything to sneeze at.

$1 million jade collection

All right, here we go, time for some jokes about an 18th-century jade collection. Yep, let's dig into the fertile joke soil that is antique jade. Well, according to the Washington Post, this collection was bought by the owner's father in the 1930s on Beijing's Jade Street, which seems like a good place to buy jade, similar to how Americans buy their most valuable groceries on Grocery Street. Okay, all right. One-third of the way there. Just power through. Jade jokes.

This collection included four pieces from the 18th-century reign of Qianlong, including a bowl with a dragon on it that once got stolen and then sold and then held hostage for $5,000, which is probably the wildest thing you'll read about a bowl today, except for that fan theory about how Chip from Beauty and the Beast was born.

At any rate, it turned out that paying that five grand was worth it, because Asian art expert James Callahan appraised the collection at the shockingly specific range of $710,000 to $1,070,000 at auction, which at the time of the episode in 2009 was the record-high appraisal for the show. And that was only a very small part of the whole jade collection accumulated over the years. You could say, then, that the owners of this collection had it made in the jade. (Nailed it.)

In conclusion, 18th-century China was a land of contrasts.

$1 million lost painting

Many people keep artwork on their walls behind their doors; it's a pretty normal thing. It might be a Reservoir Dogs poster if you're a single man, or a framed picture that says "Life is just a chair of bowlies" if you are a grandma. If you're in college, there's a 100 percent chance that there's currently a poster print of Gustav Klimt's The Kiss behind your door at the very second you read this. If you didn't hang one there, maybe peek behind the door and check. They come installed standard in every dorm room.

What most people don't hang behind their doors are million-dollar lost paintings by the great Latin-American artists of the 20th century. But this guy in Corpus Christi in 2012 is not most people. His great-grandparents bought a painting in Mexico in 1930 and subsequently hung it in their house behind a door. What they didn't know was that this was actually an early painting by a teenaged Diego Rivera from 1904, who would go on to be one of the most prominent painters in Mexican history, famous both for his murals and also for being married to Frida Kahlo, who we can all agree is actually more famous than he is.

Anyhoo, this painting is called "El Albañil" ("The Bricklayer") and was missing since, oh, about 1930. Art appraiser Colleene Fesko valued the now-found painting at $800,000 to $1 million, or the equivalent value of one million Klimt posters.

$1 million baseball cards

Every dad of a certain age has the same story: "Oh, I used to have the biggest baseball card collection. You wouldn't believe it. I even had Orville Q. Baseballman's rookie card from nineteen-ought-five. I kept them all tucked away in a Piggly Wiggly sack. Then your dumb old grandma threw them away because she caught me chewing tobacco behind the A&P. They would have been worth one million dollars today if I still had them."

Two things are true about this: if every dad with this story hadn't had his Piggly Wiggly sack full of baseball cards thrown away by his anti-chaw mother, no baseball cards would be worth anything because they wouldn't be rare. There would be as many sets as there are lying dads with boring stories. Second, one grandma did save all of her family's baseball cards and now she's the second-richest grandma there is after Granny Clampett. (Note: do not actually check these numbers on Forbes.)

Anyway, this woman brought a set of 1871-72 Boston Red Stockings baseball cards onto the show in 2014. They had been given to her great-great-grandmother as a gift from the team for giving the team a place to stay in 1871. Roadshow sports memorabilia expert Leila Dunbar appraised the card archive at $1 million, meaning that unless your dad had a set of cards from 1871 together with a handwritten letter from members of the team, he's even more full of crap than you have always known.

£1 million angel that's not even antique

One of the great things about Antiques Roadshow is that it can help viewers, especially younger viewers, come to appreciate the past through its works of art as well as its ephemera, not only by showing their potential monetary value, but also by placing them in a historical and cultural context that shows how old things are treasures that we should hold onto, and not trash to be discarded.

And then, every so often, a thing that's barely 15 years old comes along and eats history's lunch. Such was the case in 2008, when a member of the Gateshead Council in England brought in a design model for Antony Gormley's famous Angel of the North statue on an episode of the U.K. Roadshow.

The actual Angel of the North statue debuted in 1998 and stands 66 feet tall with a 177-foot wingspan, reminding visitors to Gateshead in Northern England of both the area's coal-mining past and data-mining future. The model brought on the show was only 6 feet tall and 17 feet across, used to help sell local politicians on the idea that they should fund a giant statue that looks like an Oscar statuette flashing Tyne and Wear county. As the statue has become an iconic presence in England's northern landscape, this practice model was easily appraised at £1 million ($1.3 million) — a record for the show at the time, previously held by some apparently pretty nice silverware — despite not even being an antique.

£1 million+ cup

The record for U.K. appraisals held by the Angel of the North mock-up was broken in 2016 by a cup that was valued at over £1 million, in the neighborhood of $1.4 million, squeaking past the (relatively) tiny angel by a mere hundred thousand dollars. Wow, a cup worth over a million dollars. Whose cup could it possibly have been? Was it the Emperor Hadrian's wine cup, lost during construction of his famed wall? Was it a backup Holy Grail? Did Russell Brand lick it or something? The imagination reels at what could make a cup in England so valuable.

Wait, sorry. What? Oh. It's a sports thing? Boo.

Apparently it was the FA Cup, which it turns out is some kind of soccer trophy. This particular cup was the one handed out to the champion of an English men's football tournament from 1911 until 1992, when it was replaced by a new trophy that looked just like it. It was the third such cup, made after the first one was stolen from a shoe shop (what?) in 1895 and the second one was handed off as a retirement gift when the Football Association realized they didn't hold the copyright on its design (again, what? Get it together, soccer). Presumably the third one was retired in 1991 when they found this picture of the 1970 champions taking a bath with it. Maybe it was these boys' bath juices that really made this cup so valuable.

£1 million+ Faberge flower

Perhaps needless to say, military artifacts and memorabilia are a very popular category of antique on both the U.S. and U.K. versions of Antiques Roadshow. America and Great Britain both take pride in their military histories and both still take sweet, sunny-spot, Sunday afternoon naps dreaming of their imperialist pasts. So it's totally natural that collectors would dish out huge wads of cash for soldiers' jackets and helmets and guns and swords and other guns and, like, bleached bones of communists or whatever.

As a result, it should come as no surprise that the highest ticket item in the history of the U.K. show — ringing in at £1 million, or just over $1.3 million — is a military item, a handheld semi-automatic Greek fire-blasting cannon owned by Ares, the god of war himself. No, wait. Sorry. It's actually a flower made of jewelry, given to an army regiment in the early 1900s by Georgina, Countess of Dudley.

The piece is in the shape of a pear blossom in a vase, crafted by the legendary jeweler Peter Carl Faberge, who, like Denny's, is most famous for his eggs. Faberge also created a number of botanical studies, of which only about 80 survive, including this piece, which was awarded to the Queen's Own Worcestershire Hussars, whose symbol was a pear blossom sprig worn in their hats on their way to South Africa. Did Faberge ever make guns? If not, guns may not ever beat flowers, at least on Antiques Roadshow.

$1.5 million rhino horn cups

Let's be super clear about one thing just right up top: absolutely do not under any circumstances buy anything made from rhino horns ever for any reason. Rhinos are hella endangered, and the chief reason is people hunting them for their horns. Rhino horns: not even once.

That said, this guy in Tulsa definitely made a million and a half dollars on some rhino horn cups back in 2011. He started collecting things made from rhinoceros horn back in the '70s, when it was still socially acceptable to do things like step on bald eagle eggs and put cigarettes out on babies, so maybe depleting the population of Earth's most majestic pointy wrinkle boys wasn't seen as such a big deal. Over the years, he continued picking up similar pieces until he had a full set, spending a total of about $5,000 for the five pieces. It turns out they were all ceremonial libation cups made in 17th- and 18th-century China, according to Lark E. Mason, the show's Asian art expert. Mason then went on to shock the cups' owner by valuing the set at between $1 million and $1.5 million, the highest valuation on any item in the show's history at the time. PBS later gave an update in an article outlining the ethics of items derived from endangered animals that the owner had successfully sold two of his five cups at auction for over $300,000 in 2015.

$1.5 million pocket watch

It turns out that in the days before you could just look at your pocket supercomputer or yell "ALEXA WHAT TIME IS IT" at your dedicated House Robot, watches were a pretty common thing for people to have, and not just as sponsors for their podcast. They were kind of like Fitbits except without the part that tells you how many steps you took or how fast your heart is beating. It, well, it was actually just the "what time is it" part, mostly.

The Swiss were and are particularly good at making watches, and the Swiss company Patek Philippe is apparently super renowned for it, according to Paul Hartquist, the guy on Antiques Roadshow whose job is to be good at watches. In 2004, when a man came on the show with a Patek Philippe watch handed down to him from his great-grandfather that had cool features like a calendar that accounted for leap years and a moon-phase indicator, Hartquist basically lost his mind, but in the way you'd expect a person to lose his mind on PBS: very calmly intoning that it was the finest watch he had ever seen. He subsequently valued the watch at $250,000. But it turns out he wasn't accounting for the fact that this watch was a custom job, and in 2016, the watch brought $1.5 million at auction, a full six times the valuation amount. Hartquist is either bad at watches or bad at auction predictions.