In the past few years, scientists, amateurs and lucky relatives have discovered dozens of notable treasure hoards, precious caches of valuables concealed anywhere from the time of the Roman Empire to present day. These hoards have been found everywhere from homes in suburban neighborhoods to British fields, Indian temples and Crusades battle sites. With one notable exception, the 10 hoards on this list were discovered within the past few years (shipwreck treasures aren’t included, as technically, those were accidents and not intentional hoards).
10. Hackney Hoard
After fleeing Nazi Germany in 1938, Jewish banker Martin Sulzbacher stashed a hoard of 162 valuable American gold coins with his brother, Fritz, who was living in the London borough of Hackney at the time. Sadly, Fritz and other family members perished when their home sustained a direct hit from a German bomb during The Blitz. The coins, however, survived and were discovered in two batches. Around 82 were unearthed in 1952. Then, in 2007, homeowners digging a garden pond found the remaining 80 coins. Those coins fetched more than $154,000 at auction in winter 2011. Sulzbacher’s heirs shared the proceeds and opted to use the money to reward both the local historian who made this reunion possible, as well as the individuals who discovered the coins. The whereabouts of the first set of coins remains unknown.
9. Ohio Baseball Card Hoard
Karl Kissner, 51, never knew his grandfather, who passed away in the 1940s, so he had no idea what to expect when he cleaned out the attic at the family’s longtime Ohio home in 2012. What he found sent ripples through the sports memorabilia world — the late Carl Hench had stashed some 700 rare, mint-condition baseball cards, featuring greats like Ty Cobb and Cy Young. In all, the entire collection is valued at around $3 million, according to experts at Professional Sports Authenticator. The highest grade the company had ever rated a Cobb card in what’s known as the E98 Series is a “7” on a scale of 1-10. According to this memorabilia rating agency, there are16 Cobb cards alone rated as “9” in Kissner’s collection, with a Honus Wagner card rated a perfect “10.” As the president of the company puts it: “Every future find will ultimately be compared to this.” Kissner believes his grandfather, a former meat market owner, used the cards as promotional items. “It’s like finding the Mona Lisa in the attic,” says Kissner, who will share the proceeds of sales with 19 cousins stipulated in a family will.
8. Chinese Counterfeit Wine Hoard
If the 10,000 bottles of wine labeled as “Chateau Lafite Rothschild” found in late 2012 in a vacant villa just south of Shanghai are authentic, this hoard could be worth $16 million. But police firmly believe the 10,000 bottles are fakes, produced to swindle China’s unsuspecting nouveau riche, as the estate’s wines have become increasingly popular in the country. These wines produced in the Bordeaux region of France since the 19th century are highly valued; the most expensive bottle of wine ever sold at auction, a 1787 Chateau Lafite Rothschild reportedly owned by President Thomas Jefferson, went for $156,000 in 1985. Even those bottles not owned by great American leaders command a big price tag, with some going for thousands of dollars.
7. Israeli Apollonia National Park Hoard
It’s estimated that the 108 coins found in a pot (yes, as in a leprechaun tale) at an Israeli national park could command $3,000 to $5,000 each, but the historical value of this find is priceless. No treasure of this size or scope has ever been found in the country. The gold dinars and quarter dinars unearthed by a joint team of university archaeologists and government parks authorities in 2012 are uniquely detailed, bearing the names and legends of local sultans, including dates and the location where the coins were produced. It’s believed that a Christian order that had holed up in a castle in Apollonia buried the loot prior to a raid by encroaching Muslim forces. Muslims destroyed the castle and those who buried the treasure never returned.
6. Canadian Stolen Rarities Hoard
The sheer amount of one-of-a-kind rare collectibles Canadian authorities found in John Mark Tillman’s Nova Scotia home was criminal — really, really criminal. When police pulled Tillman over during a traffic stop in 2012, they noted something unusual in his vehicle: a letter written in the mid-1700s by British military leader Gen. James Wolfe, who played a key role in Canadian history. Following their instincts, they conducted a search of Tillman’s home and discovered a hoard of more than 1,300 stolen rare items. Among the most valuable item: a rare edition of Charles Darwin’s epic On the Origin of Species. Authorities believe Tillman stole these items from museums and academic institutions, and estimate the value of the combined goods at more than $1 million; the aforementioned Wolfe letter alone is valued at $18,000.
5. Penny-Pinching Recluse Leaves $7 Million Gold Hoard
We’ve all heard stories of the frugal old man who wears shabby clothes and drives an outdated car; after his death, his relatives and neighbors learn he was a multimillionaire. Walter Samaszko Jr. is an extreme example of that scenario. After the 69-year-old’s body was discovered in his Carson City, Nevada, home more than one month following his heart attack-related death in 2012, cleanup crews stumbled upon an astonishing find in the modest, ranch-style abode: ammunition boxes and bags stuffed with thousands of Austrian, Mexican and U.S. gold coins, some dating to the 19th century. The county clerk called to remove the treasure had to use a wheelbarrow. Though the coins have no collector value, their weight contributes to an estimated value of nearly $7.5 million. That means a remaining Samaszko heir, a substitute teacher residing in California, instantly became mega-rich.
4. Grouville Hoard
Some 2,000 years ago, Celtic tribes fleeing Roman invaders would hide out in the Channel Islands, located off the southern coast of Great Britain. No wonder this archipelago is a frequent source of treasures, buried by these besieged tribesmen and later unearthed by metal detector enthusiasts. But even by Channel Island standards, the Grouville Hoard is exceptional. In the early 1980s, acting on a rumor that a farmer had once found silver coins on his land, two metal detector fans began a search for treasure. They spent the next 30 years searching off and on until finally, in 2012, their persistence paid off when they discovered an estimated 70,000 Iron Age and Roman silver and gold coins on the eastern edge of the island of Jersey. To put this find in perspective, the most comparable hoard ever unearthed was found on the island in 1935, and boasted a relatively paltry 11,000 coins. Experts believe each coin could be valued at the equivalent of around $315, with a collective value of nearly $16 million, which says nothing of the priceless historical value of this discovery.
3. Midwest Megahoard
While this staggering collection of 1.75 million rare coins — from Indian head pennies to Buffalo nickels — was discovered in 1998, the sheer volume of this find has yet to be equaled in the U.S. The coins, which were found in a home somewhere in the Midwestern U.S., were stored in 390 bags tucked away in floorboards, behind walls, and in 55-gallon metal drums. The result of more than 25 years of collecting, the coins weighed a whopping 15,290 pounds. No wonder, then, that the floors were literally sagging in the home from the weight of the coins. Littleton Coin Co., the New Hampshire-based business that purchased the coins, noted as recently as 2011 — when nearly a quarter of a million Eisenhower dollars were found in a Montana bank’s basement — that megahoards of this nature aren’t uncommon, but the scale of the ’98 collection is as rare as the coins that make up the hoard; as a point of reference, the next closest collection of its kind, noted by Littleton, spanned 1 million 1950 nickels accrued by a Texas man during the same time period.
2. Staffordshire Hoard
Historians with the British Museum have proclaimed the Staffordshire Hoard to be the metalwork equivalent of the Irish national treasure, The Book of Kells, or the sacred Lindisfarne Gospels. Discovered by an amateur metal detector enthusiast — a favorite pastime of those in the UK, for good reason — scouring the fields near the ancient village of Hammerwich in 2009, the find consists of more than 3,500 items predating the 9th century. Almost all of the items had a military application, from bejeweled gold and silver insignia and intricate sword handles to Latin-inscribed strips featuring ferocious messages (“may Your enemies be scattered … those who hate You be driven from Your face”). Two museums secured funds equivalent to $5.22 million to purchase the hoard, and researchers are documenting the find, as well as trying to solve the mystery of the original makers. Were they Christians? Pagans? Some speculate that, as with other hoards found in the British Isles, the Staffordshire Hoard may have originally been a pre-battle offering to the Gods, and not simply treasure hidden from advancing enemies.
1. Indian Temple Hoard
By far the biggest hoard on this list, valued at around $22 billion, this treasure sounds like something from an Indiana Jones flick. The treasure, hidden away in the 16th century Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple in the southwest Indian province of Kerala, consists of gold coins, diamonds, jewels and solid-gold statues of gods and goddesses. It should be noted that temple officials did not unveil the treasure willingly; India’s Supreme Court ordered the temple to open its vaults following a claim that officials overseeing the treasure had been mismanaging it and not guarding it appropriately. After the discovery, the state sent a security force to guard the temple 24/7. Now, courts must decide whether the treasure will remain the property of the temple, or if it must be given to the state. It’s not uncommon for temples in India to boast incredible treasures within their walls, as wealthy patrons and pilgrims often donate gold and cash to operate the structures and provide services to the less fortunate.