Family discover that £5 chess piece is actually medieval treasure worth £1 million

Family discover that £5 chess piece is actually medieval treasure worth £1 million

A family recently discovered that an object they kept in the family for decades was actually a treasure that has been missing for 200 years. They recently discovered that something bought for just £5 and kept in a drawer was one of the long-lost Lewis Chessmen, and now it could fetch up to £1 million at an auction.

Five pieces from the Lewis Chessmen collection have been missing for years, after the hoard of 93were discovered at the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides in 1831. In 1964, a man bought one of the pieces for just £5, before passing it down to his family over the years. The Edinburgh-based antique dealer and his family - who chose to remain anonymous - treasured it as a family heirloom with no knowledge of its significance.

The Lewis Chessmen collection is one of the biggest draws to the British Museum (which currently holds 82 pieces) and the National Museum of Scotland (which has 11). One knight and four warders have been missing for years until this newest warder (the modern-day equivalent of a rook) was found, decorated with a helmet, shield and sword.

Newly-discovered Lewis Chessman. Credit: Getty

These pieces are seen by historians as an "important symbol of European civilisation" according to the Daily Telegraph and are said to be a major inspiration behind the Chess scenes in Harry Potter & The Philosopher's Stone. They also inspired the appearance of the characters in the classic Oliver Postgate children's TV series Noggin the Nog.

Now the piece is being taken to Sotheby's auction house in London, where it was examined by the head of European sculpture and works of art, Alexander Kader.

"They brought it in for assessment. That happens every day. Our doors are open for free valuations," Kader told the Press Association.

"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'. It's a little bit bashed up. It has lost its left eye. But that kind of weather-beaten, weary warrior added to its charm."

Norse chessmen, from a Viking hoard, Isle of Lewis, Scotland. Credit: Getty

A spokesperson for the family in question also released a statement regarding the find, in which one family member said:

"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 historical artefact.

"It was stored away in his home and then when my grandfather died my mother inherited the chess piece. 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 Lewis Chessmen. Credit: Getty

Mr Kader kept the discovery under wraps for six months while authentication processes were taking place, and can now confirm that it could fetch up to £1 million when it hits the auction floor.

"There are still four out there somewhere," he added. "It might take another 150 years for another one to pop up."

The Chessman will be on display in Edinburgh on Tuesday and later in London, shortly before the auction - which takes place on July 2. It is estimated to be bought at somewhere between £600,000 to £1 million.