Can you spot a winner? I can. Maybe not always, but more often than not. I call it my special purpose.

But can it make you rich?
Sure. Imagine you paid that guy Hiro from Heroes to bend time and space for you. You could whisk back to July 1995 and buy Dell. Take along $1,000, and you've got $39,000 in 10 years.

While you're there, grab some AOL for $1.66. That nets you another 10 grand. Your $1,000 investment in Cisco Systems balloons into $6,000 in 10 years.

You're probably wondering: "If I could bend time and space, would I only invest $1,000? Well, that's what you should be wondering. What you're really wondering is whether I'm pulling these examples out of my hat. Well, I'm not. I'll even show you a table to prove it.

That's right, I said a table.
In fact, I heard about all three mind-boggling investments we just discussed (and others you're about to see) one sunny day in 1995. And every one of those stories made perfect sense to me at the time. Remember, we're not talking 1989 here.

With the exception of AOL, every business we'll discuss today was pretty much proven by 1995. They were all industry leaders ... run by entrepreneurial zealots ... essentially printed cash ... and insiders loved them.

Just as important, they were only modestly huge at the time. That made them attractive to institutions but left them room to run. Only one thing could have made them better, as you'll soon see. But first, it's time I revealed my top-secret source and showed you that table.

I won't keep you hanging
A Fool named Tom Gardner turned me on to those stocks in 1995, plus the others in the table below. Tom is a founder of The Motley Fool. He's also bald and tells decent stories. One day back in 1995, he got it into his bald head to build a portfolio we could hold for 10 years.

Here's how we fared ...

Company

7/7/95

7/5/05

Return

Dell

$1.00

$39.85

3,885%

AOL

$1.66

$16.48

893%

Cisco

$3.07

$18.82

513%

Texas Instruments

$8.30

$28.94

249%

Gap

$5.11

$20.26

296%



Actually, there were 10 stocks in all. After 10 years, we were up an astonishing 667% (versus 147% for the S&P 500) -- turning $10,000 into some $77,000.

But you could have done better
Of course, you'd have to go further back in time and bought when companies like these were smaller. If you'd caught Dell back in 1990, for instance, you'd have ended up with four times as much. You could also have bought Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) or Sun Microsystems (NASDAQ:SUNW) for comparable gains.

Clearly, great stocks get greater when you get in early. That's why, even when they're red-hot as they have been lately, large caps such as Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Corning (NYSE:GLW) will never make Tim Hanson's list of the market's 10 best stocks. But an upstart retailer like Chico's FAS (NYSE:CHS) does -- it's up 17,600% in 10 years.

That's also why Tom Gardner digs up small companies for his Motley Fool Hidden Gems subscribers. It may also explain why a pick like Nuance Communications (NASDAQ:NUAN), a maker of voice-recognition software, promptly doubled since it was recommended in January 2006. Same story for China's leading online travel agent Ctrip.com (NASDAQ:CTRP) and more than a dozen Hidden Gems picks since 2003.

Of course, I don't know that for certain
But our chances of catching a 17,600% gainer skyrocket when we buy small companies. We just need to know a good story when we hear one. Or hear better stories. That's why you should meet Tom G.

Especially now that you can try his Hidden Gems service for free. There's no pressure to join, and you get three full years of great stories while you mull it over. That's more than 60 small-cap picks from the guy who told me about AOL in 1995 -- for free. To learn more, click here.

Paul Elliott doesn't own any of the stocks mentioned. Dell and Gap are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. Gap and Dell are also Inside Value picks. Nuance and Ctrip are Hidden Gems picks. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.