We like to imagine that thrift stores are overflowing with great finds — vintage clothes, valuable antiques, cool records — but there’s a lot of junk on the shelves as well. So much, in fact, that none of us would expect to find any lost valuables.

In 2014, three roommates walked into a Salvation Army hoping to find a cheap piece of furniture. And while what they came away with initially seemed like another piece of junk, it turned out to be the bargain for the ages…

As they settled into their new apartment, roommates Lara Russo, Cally Guasti, and Reese Werkhoven had tons of chores to take care of. None of them expected that one routine purchase would lead to the greatest discovery of their young lives.

CBC

The trio resided in the charming, old-fashioned town of New Paltz, nestled in New York’s Hudson Valley. Though the community made for a neat place to live, these friends weren’t exactly surrounded by luxury.

Flickr / Amy Wallace

Lara, Cally, and Reese were all either enrolled in college or recently graduated. Most of their income went toward rent and ramen, so any leftover cash had to be invested wisely. One thing they all agreed on was that their apartment desperately needed furniture.

DeviantArt / HanaKyuuri

The twenty-somethings wandered into their local Salvation Army store and inspected their couch selection. They came across some really nice pieces that unfortunately wouldn’t fit in their apartment. Only one would, and it was a doozy.

So, the roommates had no other choice but to lug home the oldest and ugliest couch that the store had to offer. Still, it was only twenty bucks, so they certainly found a bargain, even if it was unsightly.

CNN

Lara, Reese, and Cally celebrated by sitting back on their new couch and watching some TV. Some doubts crept through their minds, however. One part of the couch was so uncomfortable. It almost felt like there was something inside of it.

Inspired by this half-serious thought, the roommates began to search through their sofa. Most of its sections simply proved to be lumpy and misshapen. But then Reese froze — he’d found a thick envelope in one of the pillows.

Cally and Lara tore apart the rest of the couch in a frenzy. Within a few seconds, they located a second envelope. And then another. And soon, more — there were envelopes hiding throughout the couch!

Their new sofa lay in pieces, but that didn’t seem to matter. The roommates now had a stack of mysterious packages begging to be opened. Each of them peered inside one, but had no idea how to react. Or, as Reece later put it, “I almost peed.”

Were they seeing things? Each package contained rolls of bills inches thick. Practically every denomination was stuffed in there, from ones up to one hundreds. It would take the roommates a while to count it all up. It was serious a bundle.

Lara, Cally, and Reese both laughed and cried while they counted the bills. Sure, they’d all found loose change between couch cushions before. This type of discovery, on the other hand, defied explanation.

Altogether, the couch money added up to $41,000! The roomies chattered about how much rent it would cover. Reese mentioned buying his mom a car. Unfortunately, they discovered one final object that threatened to throw a wrench into their plans.

A separate envelope, torn and battered as it was, held a bank deposit slip. The paper contained all sorts of personal information, including a full name — presumably the owner of all that cash.

The trio had a true dilemma on their hands. Although the money would really help them out, the friends agreed the right thing to do would be to return it. But first they had to see if they could track down the owner.

NPR

Hoping they weren’t throwing away the windfall of a lifetime, the roommates shared the bank information with the Salvation Army. Against all odds, the charity managed to track down the original owners. There was no backing out now.

The next day, the New Paltzers drove out to the provided address. When they finally arrived, nobody liked what they saw. The house was totally rundown. Multiple “Beware of Dog” signs hung on the fence. Who, the kids wondered, were they about to get involved with?

Much to their relief, an old woman opened the door and welcomed them inside. She spent most of her days alone, as her husband passed away and she retired from her florist shop. She claimed the money was hers — but she’d completely forgot it was in the couch!

WBFO

Seeing her young visitors scratch their heads, she explained she grew up in a time when people couldn’t trust banks. Instead of putting their life savings in an account, she and her husband stuffed their nest egg into the furniture — until their kids donated it.

New York Magazine

In that moment, the roommates understood the pile of cash wasn’t theirs to take. They returned the money to the elderly woman, who thanked them profusely. She felt so grateful, in fact, that she sprung a surprise on them.

She allowed the roommates to keep $1,000 as a finders’ fee! Though it paled in comparison to the total fortune, a cool grand wasn’t a bad return on a $20 purchase. Naturally, they got to keep the sofa as well.

ABC News

Still, Lara, Cally, and Reese insist their true reward was returning the retirement savings to their rightful owner. Most others would’ve spent all the cash, or failed to find it at all! But these pals could rest easy — literally and figuratively — knowing they did the right thing.

Metro

These friends aren’t the only people who’ve found something unexpected at a thrift store. Those who bought these items didn’t realize at first just how much they were really worth, but when they did, it was life-changing…

1. When students Skyler Ashworth and Talia Rappa were looking through clothes at a thrift store in Florida, they couldn’t help but notice six NASA spacesuits on the rack. They purchased the official 1980s-era suits for a mere 20 cents each, only to discover later that they were actually worth much more: $5,000 per suit!

2. Zachary Bodish was immediately drawn to this reproduction Picasso poster when he spotted it at a thrift store near Columbus, Ohio, and he purchased it for $14. Not long after, he discovered that it wasn’t a replica at all, but a linocut made by Picasso himself. He eventually sold it to a private buyer for $7,000!

3. Vinyl collector Warren Hill always kept his eyes peeled for rare records selling at New York City street sales, though he never had much luck. That is, until he stumbled upon a Velvet Underground test-pressing that was only intended to be seen by the record label and the distributor. He later sold it on eBay for a stunning $25,000!

4. Jennifer Thompson purchased the Nintendo game Stadium Events from a North Carolina thrift store for just $8. Little did she know that it was highly coveted by collectors. She couldn’t believe it when someone purchased it from her for $25,000!

5. A German student returned home with a $215 foldable couch she’d picked up at a flea market, only to have a rare painting fall from its crease. Created between 1605 and 1620 by an unknown artist, it depicted Italian master Carlo Saraceni. Despite the nameless artist, it eventually auctioned for $27,630!

6. A woman shopping at a thrift store in Somerset, England, was happy to pay $3 for this metal bowl. When she brought it to have appraised, the experts instantly knew it was a Chinese tripod censer that dated to the 18th-century Qianlong period. That could certainly help explain why it eventually fetched $30,000 at auction!

7. When Zach Norris went to a Phoenix thrift store in search of a cheap golf trolley, he got much more than he bargained for. He forked over $5.99 for a neat-looking watch by Jaeger-LeCoultre. It wound up being worth a whopping $35,000!

8. A couple from Knoxville, Tennessee, Sean and Rikki McEvoy, randomly purchased a black sports sweater from a thrift store. They had no idea it had once belonged to famed football coach Vince Lombardi. They paid just 58 cents for the item, though it was worth $43,000!

9. When an Australian man purchased this pretty item for $3 from a shop in Sydney, he had no idea it was actually an incredibly rare Chinese libation cup made of rhino horn. He later earned a cool $60,000 when the cup was auctioned by Sotheby’s.

10. In 1994, an avid golfer walked into a Toronto thrift store and found an eye-catching green jacket selling for just $5. The jacket turned out to be an authentic jacket from a 1950s Augusta National! Even without the golfer’s name stitched onto it, a memorabilia company purchased it for the high price of $139,349.

11. One British man spotted this watch at a parking lot sale and paid $35 for it. He was elated when he found out that it was the exact same watch Sean Connery wore when he starred as James Bond in the 1965 film Thunderball. Even better: he sold it for a staggering $145,000!

12. When this painting was donated to the Columbia-Williamette Goodwill, the staff priced it to sell for $10. It wasn’t long before someone recognized it as a watercolor by American artist Frank Weston Benson. It later sold for an astonishing $165,002!

13. A person was shopping at a flea market in Brooklyn when they stumbled upon a $15 necklace designed by American sculptor Alexander Calder. Though Calder wasn’t known for his jewelry, they couldn’t turn down such a deal. It’s a good thing they didn’t because it turned out to be worth $267,750!

14. London man John Richard paid only $30 for this Andy Warhol print bag—featuring the likeness of Elvis Presley—at a local thrift store. After it was appraised, he learned that only 10 were ever made by designer Philip Treacy, which explains why it is rumored to be worth a grand total of $480,000!

15. When this item was donated to a charity shop in England, staff members quickly realized it might be worth something. As it turned out, it was a bamboo pot created between 1662 and 1672 by Gu Jue, a famed Chinese artist. Even though it needed to be restored, it sold for a whopping $500,000!

16. Claire Wiegan-Beckmann purchased a card table from a garage sale for $25 in the 1960s. Years later, she decided she would have it appraised on the TV program Antiques Roadshow. That’s when she discovered it was from the 1700s and worth $541,500!

17. In the 1980s, a ring caught a shopper’s eye at a parking lot sale at a London hospital. He purchased it for $14, and after wearing it for five years, he decided to have it officially appraised. That’s when he learned it was a 26.27-carat diamond! He eventually sold it for a staggering $915,000.

18. An Indiana man paid $30 for this painting hoping to use it to cover a hole in his wall. One day, while playing a board game based on art auctions, he noticed that one of the cards featured a similar painting. That’s when he discovered it was the “Magnolias on Gold Velvet Cloth” by Martin Johnson Heade… and it was worth $1.2 million!

19. One New York family spent $3 to have this seemingly ordinary bowl displayed on their mantel. But they began to wonder of its true worth and they brought it to Sotheby’s, where they were informed that it was an ancient Chinese ceramic—and would fetch between $200,000 and $300,000. It later sold for a cool $2.2 million.

20. In 1989, a man purchased a painting for $4 because he liked the frame. He removed the painting to put something else inside and discovered an original print of the July 4, 1776 Declaration of Independence. It was auctioned by Sotheby’s in 1991 for $2,420,000!

Sothebys / Wikimedia commons