Lewis Chessman could raise £1m at auction after being discovered in a family drawer

By Conor Matchett
Tuesday, 2nd July 2019, 7:35 am
Updated Tuesday, 2nd July 2019, 9:29 am
The Lewis Chessman could raise £1m at auction after being discovered in an Edinburgh family's drawer (Photo: Getty Images)

A medieval chess piece which had been missing for nearly 200 years is likely to raise £1m at an auction later today (Tuesday 2 July).

The Lewis Chessman, discovered in an Edinburgh family drawer, is part of a hoard of 93 objects discovered on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides.

Sotheby’s auction house is due to sell the piece at auction on Tuesday 2 July with it predicted to sell at a whopping £1m.

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Bought for a fiver

The treasure has spent the last two centuries hiding in the drawer of an Edinburgh family after their grandfather, an antiques dealer, bought the piece for just £5 in 1964.

Unaware of its significance, the 8.8cm piece of crafted walrus ivory was passed down to his family, who have looked after it for 50 years.

While the significance of the piece was not always known, the family “treasured” it, reported the BBC.

The owner’s late mother believed it “almost had magical qualitiies”.

Symbol of European civilisation

Believed to be made in Scandinavia, most likely Norway, experts call the chessmen an “important symbol of European civilisation”.

Found buried in a sand dune on the Isle of Lewis in 1831, their discovery and their origin has been shrouded in mystery.

The chessmen are among the biggest draws at the British Museum and the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.

Around 80 pieces of the hoard are in the British Museum with 11 in the National Museum of Scotland, however one knight and four warders - men with a helmet, a shield and a sword - are missing from the four combined chess sets.

They have also appeared in popular culture, most notably as inspiration for part of the plot for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

Jaw dropping

Sotheby’s expert Alexander Kader, who examined the piece for the family in order to ascertain its worth, said his “jaw dropped” when he realised what the family had in their possession.

He said: “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.

“I said, 'Oh my goodness, it's one of the Lewis Chessmen'."

This story originally appeared on our sister site, The Scotsman.