Most stories of financial success are relatively boring. They involve years of hard work, countless sacrifices, and repeated failures before the money starts pouring in and the glamorous part of the story finally takes place.
Those types of stories aren’t what we’re talking about here. These financial miracles are the ones that happen seemingly (and sometimes literally) overnight, and forever change the course of someone’s life. They aren’t about hard work, they’re about blind luck. And while you can hardly count on ever having fortune smile on you in quite the same way, it never hurts to dream.
In the summer of 2008, 72-year-old Bernice Gallego found an old baseball card in a box of antiques. Figuring it might be worth something, she decided to see what sort of price it could fetch on eBay and set the starting bid at ten bucks. After numerous inquiries about the card, she figured it might be worth a little more than she’d initially expected, and decided to end the auction pending some additional research. It turned out the card dated all the way back to 1869 and was of the sport’s first professional team, the Red Stocking B.B. Club of Cincinnati and it was estimated to be worth approximately $100,000.
If that’s not enough to have you envying Bernice’s good fortune, add to that the fact that she was also a winner of $250,000 from a slot machine several years back. Some people have all the luck.
When you’re dealing in antiques, most of us aren’t knowledgeable enough to know what’s worth a bundle and what is just plain old. Fortunately there’s the Antique Road Show. And, for one anonymous gentleman with a hand-woven Navajo blanket, an appraiser helped him determine he was holding onto a life-changing piece of antiquity.
The blanket turned out to be one of the first types of chief’s blankets ever made and is called a Ute First Phase wearing blanket. It was made sometime between 1840 and 1860 and represents the “purest form” of Navajo weaving. Literally overnight the blanket this man had been laying over the back of one of his chairs transformed into a piece of history valued somewhere between $350,000 and a cool half a million.
After finding out his father had passed away suddenly, John Baran received an alarming phone call, telling him he was the sole heir to a small fortune he’d been entirely unaware of. His father, a meter reader for the electric company, had accumulated a 401(k) worth approximately half a million dollars. Not only that, but John was also inheriting his childhood home, now worth an impressive $850,000. Overnight, a 37-year-old Landscape Architecture student with a wife, two kids, and a mountain of debt gained some instant financial security.
It’s easy to laugh at the guy in the metal detector commercial who brags about finding a ring for his wife, but it’s a whole lot harder to laugh at the father and son who inadvertently discover a priceless historical artifact.
In 2007, father and son David and Andrew Whelan literally struck buried treasure, unearthing a Viking hoard on a piece of farmland in Yorkshire. The treasure, consisting of gold and silver, was estimated to have a value of approximately 1 million pounds (or 1,651,000 U.S. dollars). The two treasure hunters did share their bounty with the man whose land they found it on, and they reported this particular find as being considerably more noteworthy than their previous hauls from that area, which had consisted of “a few pieces of metal and 90 buttons.”
There’s nothing wrong with being in the right place at the right time, and for 22-year old Matt Murphy, the fan who caught Barry Bonds’ record breaking 756th home run, Bonds’ historical accomplishment became an impressive financial windfall. Murphy sold the ball for the nice round number of $752,467, and although that figure is nothing to scoff at, the ball from Mark McGwire’s 70th and final home run of his record-setting 1998 season was sold at auction by fan Philip Ozersky for an astonishing $3,005,000. Even after the auction house’s commission was claimed Ozersky walked away with an even 2.7 million dollars.
The saying is “better late than never,” and for Russell Christoff, a photo shoot from back in 1986 ended up scoring him $15.6 million almost 19 years after the fact. The 58-year-old teacher from Northern California had unknowingly become the face of Taster’s Choice Instant Coffee. While shopping for Bloody Mary mix at a Rite-Aid, he stumbled across a familiar face on the label of Nestle's Taster's Choice; it was a younger version of himself peering right back.
After doing some investigating Christoff discovered the company had used his pics for about six years (from 1997 to 2003) in at least seven different countries, and had been using his image in Canada since the original photo shoot in 1986. Although he had been compensated for the initial photo shoot, since he was never notified any images were being used he’d assumed nothing came of it. In 2005, a jury awarded Christoff with $330,000 for the use of his likeness and additional damages in the amount of 5% of the profit from Taster's Choice sales during the six-year period: a final tally of $15.6 million.
Moldovon student Sergey Sudev instantly rose from obscurity to the upper echelon of wealth when he inherited 950 million euro from an uncle he hadn’t seen in over 10 years. The journalism student reacted how most normal people would react if a knock on the door revealed they had instantly become a billionaire: with a healthy amount of skepticism. However, the fortune was by no means a scam, and his uncle had indeed left him the equivalent of roughly 1.4 billion U.S. dollars. Perhaps not knowing quite how to handle his new found wealth, Sudev continued to pursue his journalism studies, presumably sans student loans.