Family discovers long-lost Lewis Chessman piece in drawer – which could fetch £1m at auction
The family says their late mother kept the piece wrapped in a small bag inside a drawer and believed it had “magical qualities”.
The piece is of a warder with a helmet, shield and sword
An Edinburgh family has discovered that a unique-looking chess piece they kept in a drawer is a medieval relic that was missing for almost 200 years.
They were told the object their antiques dealer grandfather bought for just £5 in 1964 is one of the missing Lewis Chessmen treasures – and could fetch £1m at auction.
The Lewis Chessmen is a set of 93 historically-significant chess pieces which was found on the Isle of Lewis in 1831, but the whereabouts of five pieces from the collection have remained a mystery.
The family’s grandfather had no idea of the significance of the 8.8cm piece – which is of a warder with a helmet, shield and sword – and it had been kept in the family for 50 years.
The item, which is the equivalent of rook on a modern chess board, had been “treasured” by the family for decades, before they decided to take it to Sotheby’s auction house in London for valuation.
The family had kept the medieval piece in a drawer for decades. Pic: Sotheby’s
They are seen as an “important symbol of European civilisation” and were said to inspire part of the plot in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
Sotheby’s expert Alexander Kader, who examined the piece for the family, said his “jaw dropped” when he recognised the piece.
“We get called down to the counter and have no idea what we are going to see. More often than not, it’s not worth very much,” he said.
“I said, ‘Oh my goodness, it’s one of the Lewis Chessmen’.”
He added: “It’s a little bit bashed up. It has lost its left eye. But that kind of weather-beaten, weary warrior added to its charm.”
Mr Kader said the family, who wished to remain anonymous, were “quite amazed” by the discovery.
The current owner’s late mother had believed the piece “almost had magical qualities” and kept it wrapped in a small bag inside a drawer.
The piece has been missing for almost 200 years
A statement from the family said: “My mother was very fond of the Chessman as she admired its intricacy and quirkiness.
“She believed that it was special and thought perhaps it could even have had some magical significance.
“From time to time, she would remove the chess piece from the drawer in order to appreciate its uniqueness.”
The family also said their grandfather had purchased the ivory chessman from another Edinburgh dealer and had catalogued it as an “Antique Walrus Tusk Warrior Chessman”.
Since the Lewis Chessmen hoard was discovered in 1831, one knight and four warders have been missing from the four combined chess sets.
The newly-discovered piece will go up for auction with an estimate of £600,000 to £1m.
Mr Kader said: “There are still four out there somewhere. It might take another 150 years for another one to pop up.”