A few years ago British photographer Andy Hewson bought a used copy of J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel, “The Hobbit,” at a London thrift shop. He paid about a dollar and a half for it. Turns out that the book was a rare 1937 first edition that he was able to auction off at Christie’s for over $25,000. Treasures, so it seems, can be found almost anywhere.
I’ve written about how my wife Diane, who manages a used bookstore, once found three crisp 100 dollar bills tucked away in a book. Fortunately, she knew who had donated the book and was able to return the money. Thus far, however, she hasn’t found any more cash or valuable first editions.
Sometimes people can find treasures at home right under their noses. For example, in the 1995 documentary film, “Crumb,” it was revealed that underground cartoonist R. Crumb saved all of his early illustrated journals and later sold them to buy a house in France.
Hunting for treasure is a universal human activity and goes back to ancient times, as described in myths and fables such as “Jason and the Golden Fleece,” “Hercules and the Golden Apple,” “King Solomon’s Mines,” the hidden “Treasure Trove of the Arabian Nights,” and the movie “The Goonies.” Digging for treasure was a popular early American pastime that came by way of Europe. It was further inspired by pirate legends of buried treasure and reports of gold strikes out west.
Today there are a number of professional adventurers, who still search for sunken treasure, as well as thousands of amateurs who scour American beaches with their metal detectors. Recently I watched some videos about people who throw powerful magnets attached to ropes into canals, also searching for sunken treasure.
Public interest in treasure hunting is also demonstrated by the popularity of the Oak Island story. Oak Island is a small island off Nova Scotia known for buried treasure, a curse, and its famed “money pit.” It has been billed as “The World’s Longest Running Treasure Hunt” and has spawned a successful reality television show.
Treasure hunting is even part of our unconscious minds. Diane has a recurrent dream in which we buy a house and she finds additional, interesting rooms that are full of vintage furniture and dishes, that she plans how she will use. Diane gives the dream a positive spin saying it suggests she has talents and abilities that she hasn’t yet discovered.
When Diane and I go to restaurants, where antiques are on display, it occurs to me that I saw a lot of these things around the house as a child. I wonder what happened to our old stuff and if they might be valuable today. It also seems likely that a number of treasures have slipped through my fingers over the years.
My biggest loss was probably my comic book collection. I started buying comic books as soon as I could read. I remember paying 10 cents for a comic book down at Pepper’s Confectionary and was outraged when the price increased to 12 cents. I bought the very first Iron Man and Spider-Man comic books. I kept my cherished collection in a cardboard box in my bedroom closet. I was constantly thumbing through it, re-reading my favorites.
What happened next was the stuff of nightmares, free floating anxiety and paranoia. I came home from school and found my comic book box looking different — shabbier and tattered. The comics on top were unfamiliar, wrinkled, and had torn covers. I was horrified to discover that my older brother, Norman, had taken all my comics and traded with Joey who lived down the street for his box of comics. Most of Joey’s comics were Archie’s, Casper the Friendly Ghost, and worse yet, Little Lulu’s. I was beside myself and even now I haven’t completely gotten over it. Since Diane didn’t have a brother like Norman, she can have sunny dreams.
It hasn’t helped that I recently learned that the first Iron Man comic is now worth $20,000 and the Spider-Man #1 is valued at $1.45 million. A 1962 Little Lulu comic book, by comparison, is going for about $13.50. If I ever learn that Joey is living on his own private island in the Bahamas, I will be even more upset.
I can’t blame my second treasure fiasco, however, on anyone but myself. Back in elementary school I was given a large box of classic baseball cards. I think they came from one of my mother’s relative, who was moving to Germany and getting rid of a bunch of stuff. I wasn’t a baseball fan and was more interested in the gum that came in the package than the baseball cards. Nevertheless I had hundreds of these old baseball cards in my possession. Since they didn’t mean anything to me, like an idiot, I used them for pellet gun target practice. I remember destroying a classic Stan Musial baseball card and I recently discovered that it is now worth approximately $1,620. I probably shot up several hundred thousand dollars’ worth of baseball cards. I was like a pyromaniac setting hundred dollar bills on fire.
I’ve recently read that the classic Chatty Cathy Doll from the 1960s is now worth over $750. Several years ago Diane and I made a trip to Wisconsin to help clear out her mother’s house. As we were leaving Diane rescued an old Chatty Cathy from the trash. This abandoned doll had once belonged to Diane’s younger sister.
At age 12 Diane had coveted a Chatty Cathy, the first talking doll, but her mother decided that she was too old. At Christmas the fabulous talking doll was given to Diane’s cute, curly-haired 4-year old sister, who loved it, played hard with it, and eventually forgot it. The doll languished in my mother-in-law’s house and was about to be thrown away. Diane cleaned and repaired the discarded doll. We went online and purchased reproductions of the original clothing and accessories.
Diane planned to give the restored doll back to her mother, however, when her sister saw Cathy, she greeted it like she was 4 years old again and had just been reunited with her long-lost best friend. Diane yielded the doll to her sister, losing this treasure for the second time.
Had it not been stolen, my father’s Victor shotgun would be worth a disappointing $100 today. On the other hand, the Mossberg 22-caliber rifle that I bought for $15 in 1964 is worth almost $500. It is one of the few things I have from my past that actually increased in value.
With hope in our hearts, we stashed away a ton of original Star Wars toys. Thanks to our destructive children (like baby sister Pam), they are unfortunately all in pretty terrible shape. Perhaps if we just keep them long enough we can still trade them in for our villa in France.