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The biggest payouts in Storage Wars history

Reality shows have dominated the TV landscape of the 21st century, so it was no surprise when A&E's bid with Storage Wars paid off in spades. The show follows a cast of colorful characters vying for abandoned storage units in the hopes that they'll be able to flip their purchase for as big a profit as possible. With that kind of premise, it's no wonder the show would have engrossed viewers as they vicariously experience the thrills of spending big bucks in the hopes of even bigger returns, along with all of the emotional highs and lows that the risky business entails. Regardless of how real everything actually is, the entertainment factor never falters.

While the roller coaster of success and failure is constantly running its course, there have been several points over a dozen seasons during which bidders have genuinely hit pay dirt on a level that was worthy of note. If you're wondering what abandoned lockers held the largest treasure troves (some of them literally), read on to see some of the biggest payouts in Storage Wars history.

The Frank Gutierrez collection

If you search for the biggest recorded find on the show, chances are one storage unit is going to show up every time. The unit was purchased way back in Season 3 by none other than Darrell Sheets, the gutsy gambler whose presence has been a staple on the show over the years. Sheets is famous for his gunslinging bids that occasionally pay off and just as often leave him with next to nothing.

But, while the up and down nature of Mr. Sheets' haphazard bidding history has always been entertaining to watch, in this case, it was Sheets himself who walked away smiling. He spent a paltry (in retrospect, at least) $3,600 on a locker that looked interesting, but not particularly special. Imagine the big shot's surprise when he discovered that it was home to a whole slew of paintings by Frank Gutierrez. When the proud new owner brought in an art expert to price the stash out, he was floored to find out that the whole collection was worth upwards of $300,000. While some disagree with the appraisal, according to the show's stated value, it remains one of the largest storage unit finds on record. Sometimes it pays to gamble, kids.

The King of Rock and Roll

Back in the early days of Storage Wars, Dave Hester happily filled the role of resident baddie. The man would drive folks crazy with his belligerent swagger and was always looking to pick a fight or drive up the price of a unit that someone else wanted, even if his only objective was to stick in their craw and get them to lose their cool.

But in spite of the rascally overtones, Hester was still a savvy player who did well during his time on the program. The best example of his success came all the way back in the first season, when Hester bought a storage unit that was loaded with newspapers. At first it seemed that all Hester had done was purchase a load of outdated periodicals. But then he discovered that the stash was all from the same day: August 16, 1977. Sound familiar? That's the day Elvis Presley died. The unit ended up being a gold mine, with the plethora of papers all sporting the King of Rock and Roll's face adding up to a staggering $90,000.

The "Holy Grail" of lockers

While Indiana Jones may be clever enough to choose the Holy Grail on his own, if he wanted to be extra cautious he probably should have held off on the decision so that he could talk things over with Darrell Sheets. Over the course of the show the Gambler — who is already showing up for the second time on our list — has found other ways to make bank besides dealing in rare art. In this case, it came in the form of a comic book and toy collection that he purchased back in Season 5 which he literally dubbed the "Holy Grail of toys."

The locker contained an endless supply of G.I. Joes, Hot Wheels, and a whole host of other collectible dolls and toys, along with an absolutely massive collection of comics — we're talking 3,000 books, which Mr. Sheets valued at approximately ten dollars a piece. The count kept rising as Sheets tallied up the mountain of collectibles, finally settling on a total that topped $90,000.

Video game treasures

Moving from comics to video games, the first episode of Season 10 featured another huge find, this time going to bidder Rene Nezhoda, who landed the locker for a meager $1,500. The haul? Video games, video games… and still more video games. The collection was monstrous, filling up a large locker and clearly assembled by a collector who knew their stuff. 

Throughout the very long process of adding up the endless procession of vintage entertainment pieces, it quickly became apparent that this wasn't just a massive pile of surplus. There was nary a duplicate in the mix, with the dusty pile of memorabilia containing everything from rare Sega Genesis games to a copy of the NES game Bubble Bobble Part 2 that was worth several hundred dollars on its own. The whole collection, once it had been painstakingly counted up, was worth upwards of $50,000. Kotaku broke down some of the particular gaming treasures in their coverage of this incredible find.

A Night at the Museum

Another locker that Rene Nezhoda and his wife Casey picked up during Season 6 paid astronomical dividends. This time though, rather than vintage games, the haul had much more of a Night at the Museum vibe to it. As the couple began unloading the treasures, they discovered an endless procession of high-value pieces that ranged from a beautiful grandfather clock in mint condition to a set of Baroque by Wallace collectible silver that was easily worth at least two grand, along with an oil canvas painting that came with its own self-valuing paperwork stating it was worth $8,000!

The collection ended up including (among other things) pictures, model ships, artistic flower pots, and statues. And they weren't just from one locale, either — some of the pieces hailed from places as distant as Africa and Asia. It was the kind of event that "you chase your whole career," as Rene put it. By the time all was said and done, the jubilant couple was practically standing in a museum. After valuing the locker at $50,000 minimum, the scene ended with Casey hugging Rene as the latter scratched his head in stupefied bewilderment at the unbelievable find.

$27,000+ in vending machines

Backing things up again to the early moments of Season 2, in the second episode of the season Dave Hester, fresh off his Season 1 Elvis Presley newspaper find, weaseled his way into another locker that ended up paying big dividends. At first glance the unit seemed to be full of nothing but old, broken vending machines, and Hester did his best to play it off as more trouble than it was worth.

But, while the rules of the game prevent any of the bidders from doing more than look at the opened lockers before the bidding starts, Hester had managed to get a glimpse of some newer models in the back. Once his bit of acting had discouraged others from bothering with the unit, he proceeded to snatch it up for the bargain price of roughly $1,300, and the master of misdirection made his way into the unit where he proceeded to uncover a whopping $27,000 and then some in new and used vending machines.

$275 for a Marshall and Wendell

While he wasn't particularly remembered for his huge paydays, Barry Weiss, known as "The Collector," was a staple of the show during its early seasons. The retired antique collector was always entertaining to watch as he made his bids, took his chances, and often fell flat on his face. But just like Darrell "The Gambler" Sheets, every once in a while Weiss would find something worthwhile, as was the case back in the fourth episode of Season 1.  

In the episode, an oddball locker was opened up that seemed to be filled with nothing more than salon paraphernalia. Apparently dead set on opening up his own barber shop, Weiss snapped up the unit for $275. When he got inside, though, he was pleasantly surprised to find a 1928 Marshall and Wendell piano among the hair supplies. The value? Between $10,000 and $12,000. Not a bad haul, and certainly one of the cheapest deals on the list.

A creepy sculpture

Weiss came through in a big way once again during Season 2, when he showed up late to an auction and quickly bought what appeared to be a worthless locker with a couch and a few odds and ends, all for a seemingly overpriced $1,525. But in this case, the Collector knew what he was doing.

He had spotted a small box tucked away in the back with something that he absolutely needed to investigate. It turned out he had found a sculpture of a wooden bust with real inset dentures and glass eyes, along with a window in the back of its head that — we kid you not — revealed an entire scene taking place inside the statue's brain. The rather odd piece turned out to be a bit of a collectors item and was valued at $6,000. The only problem? Weiss was too enamored of the strange bust to even consider selling it.

A $1,400 candlemaker

Midway through Season 3 of the spin off show Storage Wars: Texas, Mary Padian, who eventually joined the flagship series and was known as "The Junkster," stumbled into an interesting find over which she and her partner, Jenny Grumbles, got into a bit of a disagreement. The item in question was an antique candlemaker, with Grumbles wanting to "pop it on a shelf and sell it for fifty bucks."

Padian wasn't about to accept that kind of petty cash, though. She took it to a candle shop where the seller appraised the unsuspecting little unit at an impressive $1,400 at the least. While it isn't a shocker as far as the price tag goes, especially in a list filled with precious artwork and priceless video game stashes, the piece's estimated price still increased nearly thirty-fold in value during its valuation, which made it one of the more unexpectedly valuable treasures to ever air. The best came at the end of the scene, when the show's producers unwittingly revealed to Grumbles how much Padian had made from the candlemaker, which the Junkster had seemingly failed to mention to her now furious partner.

Pirate treasure

While Storage Wars has had a long and successful run showcasing hundreds of different storage units and their contents, a couple of incidents have shown that the biggest finds don't always take place in front of the camera. This was the case when a story broke several years ago in which Dan and Laura Dotson, the hosts of the show, revealed that an ecstatic new storage locker owner who had chosen to remain anonymous had actually outdone Darrell, Weiss, Hester, and the whole Storage Wars crew in the find of a lifetime.

In an interview, the pair explained how one lucky customer had picked up a pair of units for less than $2,000, only to discover that one of them literally had a pirate's treasure in it. From gold doubloons to pieces of eight, all two hundred years or older, the haul added up to $500,000 in gold coins. The best part? It was in a plain blue Rubbermaid tote. Not quite what you'd expect for a treasure that looked like it came right out of Pirates of the Caribbean.

$7.5 million

If half a million dollars in gold coins wasn't enough, Dan Dotson has also gone on record reporting a second anonymous sale that, believe it or not, dwarfs the pirate treasure. According to a recent interview, Dotson was approached by a woman who informed him that he had sold a storage unit to her husband for $500, and he had found a safe inside it. He had taken the safe to a locksmith and was floored when he found $7,500,000 in cash inside it.

The sketchy story got more complicated as the woman explained that soon afterward an attorney had approached them, claiming that the original owners were offering a $600,000 reward for the return of the mega-payload. They declined the first offer, but ended up taking a second one of $1,200,000. It's suspected that a random depository of cash that large likely had some sort of cartel or mafia connection, so it probably wasn't a bad idea to get it off their hands, especially with that kind of reward. After all, even $1,200,000 in cash is a pretty good return for an original investment of $500.