A Toronto woman spotted a $3 box of documents at a Buffalo estate sale; at the time, "I had no sense of their history or value," she says. Turns out they were worth a heck of a lot more: One was signed by Benjamin Franklin's illegitimate son, William, New Jersey's last colonial governor, while a 1710 document was stamped with Britain's royal seal. "I thought I hit the jackpot; I was all excited, like I had a winning lottery ticket," Christine Ridout tells the Philadelphia Inquirer.
The exact value of the documents is unclear, though a piece comparable to her Franklin document went for more than $1,300 at a 1995 auction. But Ridout's luck, it seems, didn't last: New Jersey calls five of the six papers "missing or alienated," saying it has a right to the documents. The state "is empowered to demand and receive from any person any public record in private possession belonging to this State," it says on its official site. "I ... felt like I was holding a lottery ticket that had expired," says Ridout. The state says it can, at "its discretion," offer compensation for such documents; Ridout hopes to get some payment.