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The newly discovered medieval chess piece, one of the Lewis Chessmen, had been missing for almost 200 years. Source: Courtesy of Sotheby's.

Rediscovered Viking-era Lewis Chessman Is Predicted To Make A Family Millionaires

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An old heirloom looks likely to make a lucky family a fortune when it goes to auction. They found one of the Lewis Chess pieces that belongs to one of the most famous chess sets in all of history. The Lewis Chessmen are one of Scotland’s most prized historical treasures. The discovery of the medieval chess piece means that we almost have a complete set of these extraordinary Norse chessmen.

Stored in a Drawer

The find was made in Edinburgh and in a family home. According to the BBC “the Edinburgh family's grandfather, an antique dealer , had bought the chess piece for £5 in 1964.” It appears that he bought the chess piece without fully realizing its significance, even though the grandfather had catalogued the item. According to the Daily Mail , “it can be assumed that he was unaware he had purchased an important historic artifact .” The family who owns the item want to remain anonymous.

The chess piece is made out of walrus ivory and was passed down as an heirloom. The family has a lot of antiques and they have kept the piece for over 50 years. It was kept in a drawer in a bag which helped to preserve it. According to the Daily Mail , one member “of the family thought it had magical qualities.”

The newly discovered piece is a warder which 'has immense character and power'. (Courtesy of Sotheby's)

The newly discovered piece is a warder which 'has immense character and power'. ( Courtesy of Sotheby's )

The Edinburgh family became curious about the chess piece in recent years and decided to get it appraised. They took it to one of the world’s leading Auction Houses, Sotheby’s of London. The BBC quotes Sotheby's expert Alexander Kader, who stated that his "jaw dropped" when he realized what he was appraising.

The Lewis Chessmen

The family had in their possession one of the lost Lewis Chessmen. The piece is rather weather-beaten and slightly damaged, but it seems to represent a warrior. It is known as a warder, a man with helmet, shield, and sword and it is the equivalent of a rook on a modern chess board.

The Lewis Chessmen are a group of chess pieces that were found on the Isle of Lewis , in the bleak Outer Hebrides in the North Atlantic, in 1831. They were uncovered when a storm swept aside some sands on Uig Bay and were found by sheer chance. They are made from walrus ivory and whale teeth. Some counters from another game and an ivory buckle were also uncovered with the pieces.

The Lewis Chessmen are a group of chess pieces that were discovered on the Isle of Lewis in 1831. (Courtesy of Sotheby's)

The Lewis Chessmen are a group of chess pieces that were discovered on the Isle of Lewis in 1831. ( Courtesy of Sotheby's )

The pawns are from 3.5 inches (8 centimeters) high and the queen is 7 inches (10 centimeters) high. The pawns come in a variety of sizes and this may indicate that they come from a number of different sets. According to the BBC, the “Lewis Chessmen set includes seated kings and queens, bishops, knights, and standing warders and pawns.” However, five pieces had been lost and the set was incomplete.

The Lewis Chessmen pawns are from 3.5 inches (8 centimeters) high. (Courtesy of Sotheby's)

The Lewis Chessmen pawns are from 3.5 inches (8 centimeters) high. ( Courtesy of Sotheby's )

From the Viking-era

The pieces are from the late Viking era and they were probably owned by a Norse noble or monarch. It is likely that based on their style of carving that they were made in Norway, but some state they were made in England. Why such valuable pieces were abandoned is something of a mystery. Several theories have been proposed to explain why the pieces were buried, including that it was hidden during an attack or after a shipwreck.

The Lewis Chessmen are very popular, and the pieces are on display in Edinburgh and London. They have been a source of controversy in the past when the Scottish government demanded that all of the pieces be kept on display in Edinburgh. The Lewis Chessmen have become part of popular culture and even inspired a scene in one of the smash-hit ‘ Harry Potter ’ movies.

The Lewis Chessmen are very popular, and the pieces are on display in Edinburgh and London. (Courtesy of Sotheby's)

The Lewis Chessmen are very popular, and the pieces are on display in Edinburgh and London. ( Courtesy of Sotheby's )

Sotheby’s examined the chess piece for six months before they announced the discovery of the long-lost chessman. This was to ensure that they were absolutely certain of its authenticity. The piece is going on display in both London and Edinburgh before it is going to auction. Sotheby’s estimate for the piece is in the range of 600,000 to one million pounds sterling (800,000 to 1.2 million dollars).

Sotheby’s examined the chess piece for six months. (Courtesy of Sotheby's)

Sotheby’s examined the chess piece for six months. ( Courtesy of Sotheby's )

Now, because of the discovery, only four chess pieces are missing, one knight and three warders. But the chances of finding more after all these centuries are surely very low. It is hoped that a British museum may seek to buy it or be able to display it at some date in the future.

Top image: The newly discovered medieval chess piece, one of the Lewis Chessmen, had been missing for almost 200 years. Source: Courtesy of Sotheby's .

By Ed Whelan

Comments

In the paragraph reporting the price ranges expected at auction, the amount at the low range should have 600,000 pounds sterling = 800,000 USD instead of 8,000,000 USD.

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