This Viking Relic, Once Purchased for Less Than $10, Just Sold for More Than $900,000 at Auction
It lay forgotten in a desk drawer for more than 50 years before it was unearthed and sold at Sotheby's auction house this month.
It could happen to anybody: A woman was cleaning out her father's belongings when she discovered an antique chessman piece tucked away in the back of an old desk. According to BBC News, that antique turned out to be a 900-year-old Viking artifact that experts consider to be one of the most important relics of their culture, and it would later sell for a whopping $924,000 at Sotheby's auction house to much fanfare this month.
The chess piece, which is less than four inches tall and is carved out of walrus ivory, is part of the Lewis Chessmen, a collection of 93 chess pieces in the form of Norse warriors that were carved in the late 12th century. Most of the set was first discovered in 1831, buried in a sand dune on the Isle of Lewis off the coast of Scotland-currently, they sit on display in the British Museum of London and the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburg. Last month, however, a family of antique dealers in Edinburg decided to have their chessman appraised, and realized it was one of five chess pieces missing from the collection.
"It was stored away in his home, and then when my grandfather died, my mother inherited the chess piece," a family member told Australian Broadcasting Corporation News. "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." Per ABC's report, the chess piece was rolled up in a small bag for more than 50 years. The family shares that they purchased the piece for just five British pounds in 1964-an amount equivalent to just about $6 in the United States today.
Sotheby's listed the Lewis Chessmen as "the most famous chess pieces to have survived from the medieval world." According to Fox News, these chess pieces inspired filmmakers to replicate them on the set of the very first Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, where they served as the visual representation of "Wizard's Chess" that is highlighted throughout J.K. Rowling's fictional series.
Alexander Kader, Sotheby's expert appraiser, told the BBC that his "jaw dropped" when he realized what the Edinburgh family found. While the new owner of the piece hasn't been named, Sotheby's said its final price set a new record for a medieval chess piece at auction. "This is one of the most exciting and personal rediscoveries to have been made during my career," Kader said. "It has been such a privilege to bring this piece of history to auction and it has been amazing having him on view at Sotheby's over the last week… When you hold this characterful warder in your hand, or see him in the room, he has real presence."