This Guy Bought An Old Dresser For $100 — But What He Found Inside Was Stunning

As Emil Knodell was loading his newly purchased dresser onto his truck, it began clinking and clattering like a slot machine. “It sounded like a metallic waterfall,” he told NBC News. “It was like the Hardy Boys. Jackpot!” After all, he had bought the antique for less than $100 — and was about to discover that its contents were absolutely staggering.

Bargain hunter

Emil Knodell, a retired marketing director who lives in Bellville, Texas, bought the dresser at a Premier Estate Sales Network event in Missouri City. “I always come to a sale with an open mind because you never know,” Knodell told Click 2 Houston. “It’s always good to come at the half-price time because then the big fun starts.”

Phenomenal find

The purpose of an estate sale is to rapidly wind up a household’s assets and materials, usually after a death. And since the emphasis is on speed and efficiency in this process, items are sometimes overlooked or significantly undervalued. Because of this, bargains are common at such sales — but phenomenal finds are rare.

The thrill of the chase

So while professional estate sales companies usually know their stuff, entrepreneurs and antique collectors regularly scour estate sales for hidden treasures. This is especially so since the thrill of the chase is often just as rich as the rewards. Just think of all the reality TV shows that follow this exact premise!

Treasure seeker

But if you're thinking of getting involved, you might have more luck at an unassuming yard sale. Here, valuable items are sometimes wrongly assumed to be junk. For example, in 2007 one New York household sold a Ming dynasty vase at a yard sale for just $3. The family who bought it then sold it on for $2.2 million. Of course, this raises an ethical quandary.

What to do

Possession is, so the saying goes, nine-tenths of the law. But if you buy an item for peanuts and later discover that it is worth much, much more, do you have a moral responsibility to inform the seller? Do you keep the item or return it? Or do you quietly sell it and pocket the money? Well, we can tell you what Knodell did.

The antique dresser that had caught Knodell’s eye was said to date to around 1890. It featured three drawers and a solid marble top. He thought it might be a good addition to his dining room, and he got it for an impressively low price. In fact, the dresser had already been discounted twice... but that wasn't enough for Knodell.

Forcing down the price

On the first day of the sale, it was fully priced at $300. On the second day, it was $225. And on the third, the price tag was $150. After that, Knodell made an undisclosed offer somewhere below the figure of $100. Clearly, then, Premier Estates Sales was entirely unaware of what was inside the dresser.

Inside the dresser

After purchasing the furniture item, Knodell asked Jeff Allen, a staff member from the estate sale firm, to help him load it onto his truck. “He asked for help loading it,” Allen told ABC News. “As soon as we laid it down, it started making all this racket on the inside. Obviously, we were very intrigued with what was happening with the dresser.”

Secret drawer

Knodell and Allen then set the item upright, and upon examining it more closely, they made an amazing discovery. “When you look at the front of it, it looks like it has three obvious drawers with molding on the base,” Knodell told ABC News. “But the bottom has a secret drawer that opens up.” The secret drawer had, it seems, escaped the attention of everyone, including the seller, the buyer, and Premier Estate Sales.

Adrenaline rush

Sliding open the secret drawer, Knodell and Allen finally set eyes on the treasure that had lain hidden inside. “It was a real adrenaline rush,” Allen told ABC news. “Both of us were in shock for a second.” After all, it’s not every day that you find a secret treasure trove.

Moral dilemma

Perhaps many people would be quite comfortable with claiming the stash as their own. “Finders, keepers” and all that — and for most people, this haul would be worth a life-changing amount. But by the same token, taking these items could be construed as being extremely dishonest. And, indeed, selling them on just didn’t sit right with Knodell.

A cloud of dishonesty

“I bought the chest [of] drawers. I didn’t buy those things,” Knodell told ABC News. “If I kept them, I would never feel right about it. There would be a cloud over the whole thing. It’s a feeling more than anything else.” But it could also be because of Knodell's impressive background.

Do the right thing

“I’m an old ex-Marine, and I try to do the right thing,” Knodell continued. “Jeff also, the man in charge, his immediate reaction was, ‘Let’s call the owner.’ There was never a question of anyone keeping it. It was, ‘This is fantastic. Let’s call the owner and get the stuff back to them.’”

Sentimental value, too

What’s more, the executor, it turned out, is the son of the deceased, and he told Allen that he remembers seeing the dresser as a child in his grandparents’ house in Michigan. And, of course, he had not known that it contained a hidden compartment filled with treasures and mementos.

Return to their rightful home

That's why Knodell made arrangements to return the items. So, although he didn’t bag any treasure that day, he gets to sleep at night knowing that he did the right thing. And that, needless to say, is priceless... But, what everybody really wanted to know was, just what was in the secret drawer?

The haul

The haul included emeralds, diamonds, rings, bracelets, antique coins, foreign currency, military dog tags, Civil War medals, and a lock of hair. In fact, the entire drawer was filled to the brim with intriguing historical trinkets. Which begged the question, how many generations had they been passed through?

Generational treasure

It was impossible to know for sure, but since the dresser itself appeared to date from the late 19th century, there was a fair chance that some of the items are at least a hundred years old. The Civil War memorabilia hinted that some of the relics might be of considerable value to collectors.

Incredible value

And, in fact, Allen was able to put a professional estimate on their value. According to him, the assorted jewelry and memorabilia were worth approximately $15,000. So if Knodell bought the dresser for around $100, his profit would have been around 150 times what he had paid for it. Not bad for a day’s work.

The moral choice

As we know, though, there was a small problem for Knodell. After all, these items had not been priced into the sale, and yet they now belonged to Knodell. Technically, then, he could have walked away with his pockets full and with a clear conscience. He had not broken the law. That said, what is lawful is not necessarily the same as what is moral or ethical. Antique dealer Bruce Scapecchi of Des Moines, Iowa, can certainly attest to that — as he also discovered a unique treasure for just $1 at a yard sale right in his hometown.

Turning tables

Charity executive Sue McEntee was looking to sell various of her family’s surplus possessions outside their house in Des Moines. With everything in place, then, the 50-something pitched up a sign signaling the start of the sale. McEntee’s display eventually caught the attention of bargain-hunter Scapecchi, who prides himself on his eye for a steal.

Garage sale fanatic

However, it would turn out that Scapecchi was scrupulously honest that day. “I go, in the summer, [to] anywhere between 2,000 to 5,000 garage sales,” he later boasted to CBS-affiliated local Des Moines TV station KCCI. However, one item, hidden away under an old ping-pong table, piqued his interest more than any other.

One question

It was an item hiding in plain sight among many. Scapecchi discovered a collection of baseball bats, most of which were metallic, under that table. Yet nestled among their number was an old wooden bat that immediately caught his attention. A few moments later, then, he grabbed the lumber and approached its seller with just one question on his mind...

A distinctive bat

McEntee told KCCI what happened next, explaining, “[Bruce] picked this particular [bat] up, and he looked at me and said, ‘Do you know what this is?’” The seller was no doubt nonplussed. She recalled her reply, saying, “I thought, well yeah it’s a bat! Then he pulled me off to the side, and he said, ‘I think you might have something here.’” And while McEntee may not have noticed it, there was indeed something very distinctive about that old bat.

Unique grip

Scapecchi noted at once that the bat had a unique grip to it that indicated to him that it had once belonged to an incredibly famous baseball player. However, for all the years she’d had it in her possession, McEntee was none the wiser as to its apparent historical importance. In fact, prior to the sale, her now grown-up children had played with the bat in that very same yard.

A strange request

Still, Scapecchi thought the item may well have been swung in far more prestigious venues. “That was Jackie Robinson’s style,” the baseball fan informed McEntee about the bat’s grip. Stunned by this discovery, Scapecchi wanted to apply a clever technique to see if his hunch was correct. McEntee told KCCI, “When [Bruce] looked at it, he said, ‘It’s hard for me to tell, but there’s one true way…’” So, the venerable guy made what may have seemed like a very strange request.

Pencil trick

What followed metaphorically knocked the ball out of the park for McEntee. “[He said,] ‘I want you to go get a pencil,’ so I went in the house and got a pencil and came back out,” she continued to the KCCI cameras. “There’s an area on the bat where he rubbed a pencil against [it], and if you’re out in the sun you can see the name ‘Jackie Robinson.’ And I was like, ‘Holy cow!’”

Not for sale

In a matter of minutes, McEntee discovered that she was the proud owner of a very valuable bat. Yes, it was a piece of equipment that had once belonged to one of the most influential sportsmen in history. Unsurprisingly, the Des Moines native couldn’t quite believe it. She remembered, “So [the bat] went from being on the ground, under a table, ready to be sold for $1, to in the house very quickly!”

Famous teammate

And while many sports fans might question how one of Robinson’s bats ended up at the McEntee residence, the woman herself had a surprising explanation. “My uncle, Joe Hatten, played for the Brooklyn Dodgers,” she informed KCCI. “He was a left-handed pitcher — they called him ‘Lefty Joe’ – and he and Jackie played baseball together in the ’40s.”

Fast news

So, although he’d already been struck by the potential significance of the bat, Scapecchi was stunned by McEntee’s subsequent revelation. “[Hatten] was one of the few players who would room with Jackie Robinson,” he admiringly recalled to KCCI about her unprejudiced relative. “And I just thought that was incredible.” Understandably, news of the fantastic find spread fairly quickly.

Museum bound

And by an incredible coincidence, two exhibitions on the history of African-American baseball players was being held in Omaha, Nebraska. These special showcases were being promoted by the city’s Great Plains Black History Museum. Hence, Jim Beatty, the chairman and president of the institution, soon heard about the Des Moines discovery.

Pride of place

Beatty was informed of the yard sale find by two excited fans who had watched a news story on television. And were the bat to be officially authenticated, the museum man planned on speaking with McEntee to see if his attraction could get her permission to display it in pride of place in one of the World College Series exhibitions.

Robinson was the man

Robinson’s importance to the game of baseball, and American sports in general, is beyond words. Born in 1919, he took center stage in 1947 as the very first black player to compete in the Major League, joining the Brooklyn Dodgers. From there, wearing the number 42 on his back, the “Dark Destroyer” racked up an impressive roll call of honors, including Rookie of the Year in 1947 and National League Most Valuable Player for 1949.

Reach his peak

Robinson’s burgeoning career then reached new heights in 1955 when his team won the World Series. Unfortunately, he retired from the game in 1957, largely due to problems related to diabetes. Robinson became a sporting icon, though, and in 1962 he made more history — as the first black player to be welcomed into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Sadly, he passed away ten years later, with the Dodgers retiring his number 42 shirt soon afterward.

Curious public

In 2013 Robinson’s story was adapted into a film, simply titled 42. Black Panther actor Chadwick Boseman took on the lead role of the iconic player, while Hollywood legend Harrison Ford played Branch Rickey, the Brooklyn Dodgers’ then-manager. As a result of the movie’s release, Beatty at the Great Plains Black History Museum noticed a spike in interest in its Robinson exhibits.

Raising awareness

The museum president said as much in an article on the online baseball community Minor League Ball in June 2013. “Everyone coming in, especially the kids, the first thing they ask about is Jackie Robinson,” he said. “So we point them to the display. The movie has been a huge plus in terms of increasing awareness of not only Jackie Robinson, but also the courage of many — not the least of whom was Branch Rickey — in order to make that happen.”

Not going anywhere

Back in Des Moines, someone else was enjoying the benefits of this increased awareness. And McEntee’s grip on the bat ultimately remained firm following its uncovering at her yard sale. “We’re going to keep it,” she confirmed to KCCI in June 2013. “I mean, the stories with my uncle and [Robinson]. Yeah, it’s not going anywhere.”

An honor

Robinson’s legacy continues to be honored year on year by the professional Major League Baseball organization. Every April 15, the sport observes Jackie Robinson Day, marking the date on which the legend made his MLB bow. As for the Dodgers, the team moved west the year after Robinson retired and became the Los Angeles Dodgers. And in April 2017 a bronze statue of arguably the team’s most famous player was unveiled at Dodger Stadium, commemorating the 70th anniversary of his first appearance.

A fitting conclusion

So, in the summer of 2013, Bruce Scapecchi discovered an unexpected piece of history in the unlikeliest of places. Thanks to Scapecchi's keen eye and baseball knowledge, a bat owned by the legendary Jackie Robinson was saved from being sold for $1 in a yard sale. Now, this precious item, once treasured by a valued teammate, continues to be cherished by a grateful Sue McEntee.