Man became millionaire overnight after spending £32 at garage sale

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire: Jeremy Clarkson shocked by guess

Make the most of your money by signing up to our newsletter for FREE now

Invalid email

We use your sign-up to provide content in ways you’ve consented to and to improve our understanding of you. This may include adverts from us and 3rd parties based on our understanding. You can unsubscribe at any time. More info

Mr Norsigian purchased the photograph at a local garage sale for $45 (£32) and did some research to find out who the photographer was. Mr Norsigian suspected that the image may have been taken by American landscape photographer Ansel Adams.

The image itself was a glass negative depicting Mirror Lake in Yosemite National Park, which is what Mr Norsigian had been drawn to.

Mr Norsigian was working in construction and on the side as a painter when he made the purchase that would change his life forever.

It appeared to be by acclaimed landscape photographer Ansel Adams, one of the most important American landscape photographers of the 20th century and famous for his back and white depictions of the American West.

Mr Norsigian bought two boxes of glass plate photography negatives at a garage sale in Fresno California for only $45 (£32).

Garage sale

After spending only £32 for two boxes of images, Mr Norsigian found himself to be £177million richer (Image: GETTY)

This wasn’t unusual for the photography fan, and he was drawn to those specific photos as he had once worked in the Yosemite area that they had captured.

The previous owner could not say who had taken the photographs, so Mr Norsigian set about to find out on his own and he quickly realised it had all the tell-tale signs and features of Ansel Adams.

This revelation meant that Mr Adams must’ve created a series of lost negatives during his lifetime, of which the photograph Mr Norsigian had found was either a part of or the sole piece.

He quickly got an estimation on its value, which was said to be a very conservative valuation of $200million (£144million).


Mr Norsigian noted that hearing this number had quite a heart-stopping effect, and he moved to try get the image verified in order to claim his official overnight millionaire status.

However, what ensued after he made this revelation known was described by many as an ugly court battle between himself, Mr Adams’ heirs and the Ansel Adam Trust.

A series of experts had to be brought in to verify the image, from the Ansel Adams Trust to a meteorologist, who examined the cloud formations in the image when compared to other images Mr Adams had created around the same time.

Despite all of these expert confirmations, Mr Adams’ heirs and the Ansel Adams Trust was still sceptical, both of the image itself and who should receive the profits from it if Mr Norsigians’ claimed were true.

Photograph by Ansel Adams

Ansel Adams died at the age of 82 in 1984, making his photographs all that more valuable (Image: GETTY)

Mr Norsigian even went to the extent of hiring trial attorney Manny Medrano, who commented to CNN: “I have sent people to prison for the rest of their lives for far less evidence than I have seen in this case.”

The trial lasted for almost two years, during which the image was kept in a vault by Mr Norsigian and taken out only when new verification and evidence was needed by the courts.

When the case was finally decided in Mr Norsigians’ favour, it was concluded that these prints were the ones everyone had thought to be destroyed in 1937 when a fire broke out in Mr Adams’ Yosemite National Park studio.

This also explained why some of the edges seemed to have been burnt, experts believe that it barely survived the fire and Mr Adams took it with him to Pasadena when he left to teach photography.

While the image itself is quite literally one-of-a-kind and incredibly valuable, the majority of its value will actually come from the sales of prints from this image over the next 20 years.

The eight and a half inch by six and a half inch negative appears to have been taken in the 1920s or 30s when Mr Adams was using this size.

For Mr Norsigian, this discovery meant possible financial freedom for the rest of his life, but for art fanatics around the world it also closed a hole in the life story of Mr Adams.

William Murphy

Related post