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Lewis Chessman found in drawer expected to raise £1m at Sotheby’s auction

The Scotsman logo The Scotsman 02/07/2019 Conor Matchett

a statue of a man © Provided by Johnston Publishing Ltd 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.

Bought for a fiver

A newly discovered Lewis Chessman at Sotheby’s on June 3, 2019 in London, England. On 2 July in London, Sotheby’s will offer the first discovery of an unknown missing piece from the hoard of 93 objects found in 1831 on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. Made in the late 12th/early 13th century, and most likely Norwegian in origin, the Lewis Chessmen were probably the stock of a trader in chessmen that never reached their market, who buried them after a shipwreck. Acquired for £5 in 1964 by an antiques dealer in Edinburgh, the Lewis Warder will be presented with an estimate of £600,000-1,000,000 in Sotheby’s sale of Old Master Sculpture & Works of Art. The Lewis Chessmen are regarded as the most famous chess pieces to have survived from the medieval world. © Getty A newly discovered Lewis Chessman at Sotheby’s on June 3, 2019 in London, England. On 2 July in London, Sotheby’s will offer the first discovery of an unknown missing piece from the hoard of 93 objects found in 1831 on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. Made in the late 12th/early 13th century, and most likely Norwegian in origin, the Lewis Chessmen were probably the stock of a trader in chessmen that never reached their market, who buried them after a shipwreck. Acquired for £5 in 1964 by an antiques dealer in Edinburgh, the Lewis Warder will be presented with an estimate of £600,000-1,000,000 in Sotheby’s sale of Old Master Sculpture & Works of Art. The Lewis Chessmen are regarded as the most famous chess pieces to have survived from the medieval world. 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.

Related: Incredible treasures discovered by accident (Lovemoney)

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.

A close up of the Isle Of Lewis Chessmen (Uig Chessman) named after the bay in which they were discovered in 1831,  Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides, Scotland circa 1970. Most of the pieces are carved in walrus ivory. © Getty A close up of the Isle Of Lewis Chessmen (Uig Chessman) named after the bay in which they were discovered in 1831, Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides, Scotland circa 1970. Most of the pieces are carved in walrus ivory. 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 dropped"

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.

Related: Sales of the century: The most valuable collections ever sold (Lovemoney)

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'."

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