Estimated at £30-50, a severely damaged 1889 penny coin has just sold for nearly £5500 at auction. It was relatively rare because of its age, but not that special in terms of numismatics. No, what attracted bidders in their droves was the fact that the damage was caused by a bullet in the trenches during the First World War and its presence in the pocket of Private John Trickett had saved his life. This stroke of luck meant that, years later, his granddaughter was born and it was she who decided to put the coin up for sale – where her cousin successfully outbid others to keep it in the family.
This is a fine example of how it is so often the story associated with an item, rather than any intrinsic value, that makes it so sought after at auction.
Mistakes happen too, and while they can often be costly, they can also bring a great stroke of luck. One of my favourite stories involves a man who bought a painting in a thrift shop in Pennsylvania for $4 because he liked its frame. Removing the picture to inspect the frame more closely, he found that it concealed one of the original copies of the American Declaration of Independence, which went on to sell for $2.4 million at auction.