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 Computer. Take along $1,000, and 10 years later, you've got $39,000.

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 those three stocks (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 ... they 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 they still had room to run. Only one thing could have made them better, as you'll soon see. But first, it's time I revealed my source and showed you that table.

A Fool named Tom Gardner
That's who turned me on to those stocks in 1995, plus the others in the table below. You may recognize Tom as a founder of The Motley Fool. He's also bald and tells good stories. One day back in 1995, he got it into his bald head to build a portfolio that we could hold for 10 years.

Here's how we fared ...

















Texas Instruments








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 buy when companies like these were small. If you'd caught Dell back in 1990, for instance, you'd have ended up with four times as much. But could you have comparable gains on IBM (NYSE:IBM) and Disney (NYSE:DIS), too? Sure, you'd just have to go back even further in time.

Clearly, if you can find a truly great company, the earlier you get in the better. That's why, even when they're "leading the market," monsters like Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) and Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG) don't make the list of the market's 10 best stocks. But largely unknown exploration and production company Southwestern Energy (NYSE:SWN) does -- it's up more than 2,900% from 1999 through 2008.

That's also why tiny Middleby (NASDAQ:MIDD), a maker of commercial ovens, is up nearly 200% since Tom Gardner made it one of his first recommendations to members of his Motley Fool Hidden Gems small-cap newsletter. It may also be why drug giant GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE:GSK) bought up tiny CNS Inc., and those same folks walked off with a 250% windfall.

Of course, I don't know that for certain
But our chances of catching a 2,900% gainer -- or even a 200% gainer, for that matter -- 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 I think you should check out the team Tom Gardner assembled at Hidden Gems.

Two gentlemen in particular, Andy Cross and Seth Jayson, were handpicked and trained by Tom Gardner in his Hidden Gems method and worked directly with Bill Mann, one of the best investors I know, for years. So, when they tell me they're finding some amazing bargains in this market, I listen. Maybe you should, too.

Especially now that you can try the complete Hidden Gems service for free. Nobody will pressure you to join, and you get six full years of great stories while you mull it over. Right there, that's dozens of small-cap value picks -- each found using the exact strategy perfected by the guy who told me about AOL in 1995 -- for free. To learn more, click here.

This article was originally published on Dec. 5, 2006. It has been updated.

Paul Elliott owns shares of Johnson & Johnson. Johnson & Johnson and GlaxoSmithKline are Motley Fool Income Investor recommendations. Disney and Gap are Stock Advisor recommendations. Dell is an Inside Value recommendation. Middleby is a Hidden Gems pick. You can view all of Tom's Hidden Gems picks immediately with your free trial. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.