Nov. 15, 2011 -- A San Jose man needed no treasure map when he reportedly stumbled on to $500,000 worth of gold and silver after bidding on an abandoned storage unit. The man, identified only as John, apparently paid $1,100 for the unit only to see his blind investment turn into a goldmine after a number of rare coins and a few gold and silver bars were found in the blue Rubbermaid container.
The reported find, in Contra Costa County, was so unexpected that even though the auction was held by American Auctioneers, the subject of A&E's Storage Wars, there were no cameras present when the cache was discovered.
Even without cameras Laura Dotson, the co-owner of American Auctioneers along with husband Dan, still said she was delighted.
"It helps, it solidifies what we're doing in the business," Dotson told ABCNews.com. "It shows hope that with all these units, that there is treasure to be found."
Although the buyer wants to remain anonymous, Dotson said he called her after getting the gold and silver appraised. According to Dotson, the first thing he said was, "Wow, this is a wonderful life."
In recent years storage unit auctions have gained wide-spread recognition after becoming reality fodder for shows like Storage Wars and Spike TV's Auction Hunters.
In California, where American Auctioneers is based, a storage unit is available for auction if rent has not been paid in three months. Bidders are able to view the storage unit from outside for five minutes to glean what they can, and then the bidding starts. While some units are worth little, the possibility of a big payoff draws in participants who are willing to take a chance.
John Cardoza of Storage Auction Experts, which was not involved in the auction, told ABC News that for people who know what they're doing, "Six out of seven units can make money." However, he stresses that the chance to make half a million dollars off a $1,100 bid is a bit rarer. "I hear similar stories about once a year," said Cardoza.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the unit was owned by a recently deceased elderly woman. Cardoza says that since the storage units must be listed in the paper prior to the auction, some bidders use names to try to decipher what's in the unit. "What some people do is, they look at the names. If it's Ethel or Myrtle, it sounds older," said Cardoza, who says an older person may have more collectibles than a younger person.
While the coins were apparently found in the unlikeliest of treasure chests -- a Rubbermaid container – it was said to have been heavy enough that three men had to carry it out.
Dotson says the plastic container initially piqued the buyer's interest, although for more pragmatic reasons. "He said that he liked it was in [plastic] and clean and easy to move," said Dotson. "It's a chance of a lifetime."