A small, un-prepossessing figure carved out of walrus tusk that was tucked away in a drawer for many years, has been identified as one of the missing Lewis chess pieces.
The Lewis chessmen are amongst Scotland’s most iconic artifacts. Named after the Hebridean island on which they were discovered in 1831, the pieces were probably made in Trondheim, Norway. The Western Isles of Scotland were part of that country in the twelfth century and lay on the trade route between Norway and Ireland.
93 pieces were discovered at Uig Bay, but only 88 are currently accounted for. Until now. In 1964, an antiques dealer in Edinburgh paid £5 (about £100 in today’s money) for the 8.8cm tall figure, which was passed down through the family and ended up in the back of a drawer.
Eventually a member of the family decided to take the piece to London auctioneers, Sotheby’s where the Head of European sculpture and works of art, Alexander Kader immediately recognised it as one of the missing figures. Unsurprisingly, the expert described the discovery as “one of the most exciting and personal rediscoveries to have been made during my career”.
The piece is a ‘warder’, the equivalent of a modern rook, and was one of the shock troops of Scandinavian medieval armies. It will go on sale at the auction house in July with an estimated value of £600,000 to £1m – quite a return on the original £5 investment.