£50,000 Renoir found in £5 box of junk

Dublin flea marketPeter Morrison/AP/Press Association Images

A woman in West Virginia stumbled across a masterpiece by Pierre-Auguste Renoir in a £5 box of assorted junk at a flea market. She initially bought it for the frame, but decided to have it valued, and discovered she had a £50,000 painting.

So what did she find, and where are the bargains lurking?

The find

According to a number of reports, she actually bought the box because she liked the look of a doll in it, and thought she could do something with the painting's frame. However, before dismantling it, she decided to check it was nothing special.

She took the painting to the Potomack County auction house, where Anne Norton Craner examined it. It was labelled 'Renoir', and on closer examination it matched a painting in a catalogue produced by a French gallery detailing all of Renoir's work.

The gallery's research suggests the painting, 'On the Banks of the Seine' was given to one of the artist's models, sold to a gallery, and then on to a collector. This collector died in 1966 and it disappeared.

Craner has estimated the value of the painting at between $75,000 and $100,000, and it goes on sale on 30 September.

So where is your valuable antique find lurking?

One rich vein worth considering is a car boot sale. One of the most famous finds was discovered on Antique's Roadshow back in 2008, when a woman from Dumfries brought in a vase she had bought at a car boot sale for £1. It was the rarest and most valuable piece of glass ever seen on the programme, and eventually sold for £32,450.

Antique shops and junk shops are also worth exploring. One notable sale in 2002 was a Chinese vase from the era of Emperor Qianlong, which had been picked up in an antique shop in Dorset for £100 in 1985 and sold 17 years later for an astonishing £100,000.

If you like long odds and long hours, arming yourself with a metal detector is an option. In October 2010 a metal detector enthusiast found a Roman bronze helmet in a field in Cumbria. It sold at auction for an incredible £2.3 million - shared between the enthusiast and the landowner. Clearly these sorts of finds can produce astonishing results - although the downside is that if you're not one of the lucky few, you become one of the cold and lonely many.

It seems that charity shops may not be the treasure troves they once were, as staff are trained to spot finds. This year, a rare antique Chinese brushpot was discovered by staff at a charity shop in North Somerset, so they sent it onto auction where it raised £360,000.

But by far the most common place to find these things is in your own home. There are lots of stories of old pots left on the shelf, and one notable one of a cracked vase which was being used as an umbrella stand by a couple in Dorset. It turned out to be a 1740 pot made for Emperor Qianlong and sold for £750,000.

So what do you think? Has this inspired you to redouble your efforts to find that hidden masterpiece? Where does your fortune lie?
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