Turns out this bargain was quite a steal.
A Toronto-area woman unwittingly purchased six Revolutionary War-era documents at a upstate New York estate sale for $3 about a year ago -- only to learn the state of New Jersey has long been looking for them.
"I thought I hit the jackpot; I was all excited, like I had a winning lottery ticket," Christine Ridout, 52, told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "Never in my lifetime would I have expected to come across anything like this. Then, I looked at the State of New Jersey website and felt like I was holding a lottery ticket that had expired.”
Among the long-lost papers was one dating to 1771, signed by William Franklin, the illegitimate son of Ben Franklin and reportedly the last colonial governor of the Garden State.
"I thought I hit the jackpot; I was all excited, like I had a winning lottery ticket."
- Christine Ridout
Another from 1710 sported the royal seal of the court of St. James in Britain.
Ridout recalled for the Inquirer the moment she spotted the aged, tattered document in a cardboard box sitting atop a kitchen table. The estate sale had reportedly been one of several such garage sales the veteran bargain hunter had stopped by that day in Buffalo.
“I asked, 'How much?' and was told $3, so I said, 'OK, I'll take them,' " Ridout told the paper. "I had no sense of their history or value.”
Alas, the Inquirer reports that at least five of the six documents have been reported stolen by the state of New Jersey to the FBI, among other law enforcement agencies.
"That's my kind of luck," Ridout reportedly said. "I thought [the discovery of the 18th-century materials] really knocked it out of the park. But the State of New Jersey says, 'It belongs to us.'"
State officials have since requested the return of the materials – which the Inquirer quotes sources as saying could be worth thousands of dollars.