It’s time to check every drawer in your home.
A family in Great Britain discovered in a drawer that a chess piece their grandfather, who dealt in antiques, bought in 1964 for the tiny sum of what was then five pounds is now worth up to roughly 1.3 million dollars.
The piece turned out to be one of the famed Lewis Chessmen pieces, carved from walrus tusks and whale teeth, which date back to AD 1150-1200, created near Trondheim in Norway. They were later shipped to the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, which was then owned by Norway, where they were buried by their owner so he would not have to pay taxes. The pieces were discovered in 1831. They now draw huge audiences at the British Museum and the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.
The Daily Mail reports that a family spokesman said in a statement:
My grandfather was an antiques dealer based in Edinburgh, and in 1964 he purchased an ivory chessman from another Edinburgh dealer. It was catalogued in his purchase ledger that he had bought an “Antique Walrus Tusk Warrior Chessman.” From this description it can be assumed that he was unaware he had purchased an important historic artifact … 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.
For many years it resided in a drawer in her home where it had been carefully wrapped in a small bag. From time to time, she would remove the chess piece from the drawer in order to appreciate its uniqueness.
The Daily Mail describes the piece: “The newly-discovered piece is a warder, a man with helmet, shield and sword and the equivalent of a rook on a modern chess board, which ‘has immense character and power … At present, eleven of the 93 pieces are in Edinburgh in the National Museum of Scotland, and 82 are in the British Museum.”
The New York Times reported in 2016:
There are 93 pieces to the trove: 8 kings, 8 queens, 16 bishops, 15 knights, 12 warders (fierce warriors that are the equivalent of modern rooks), 19 pawns, 14 tablemen for the game of tables, similar to backgammon, and a belt buckle. Some are stained red, indicating that the colors of the sides were red and white, not black and white. The British Museum has 82 pieces, and the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh has the other 11.
Sotheby’s expert Alexander Kader stated that his “jaw dropped” when he saw the piece. He added, “They brought it in for assessment. That happens everyday. Our doors are open for free valuations. 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.’”
In 2001 the film “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” used a replica of the Lewis chess set near the climax of the film.