A long-lost Viking chess piece, carved from walrus ivory and worth up to 1 million British pounds ($1.8 million), has been found in an antique dealer’s drawer.
The Lewis Chessmen are intricate, expressive chess pieces carved from walrus ivory in the 12th century
They were discovered on the Isle of Lewis in 1831, but five of the pieces were missing
The Scottish family that had the chess piece were unaware of its significance
The piece, which was bought for just 5 pounds ($9) in 1964, has been identified as one of the 900-year-old Lewis Chessmen, among the greatest artefacts of the Viking era.
The Lewis Chessmen are a hoard of 93 pieces in the form of Norse warriors, including shield-chewing berserkers, carved in the 12th Century.
They were discovered in 1831, buried in a sand dune on Scotland’s remote Isle of Lewis.
The pieces are held in the British Museum in London and the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, but five of them have been missing — until now.
The newly discovered piece is 8.8 centimetres tall and the equivalent of a rook.
It was passed down to the family of the unnamed Scottish antiques dealer, who did not realise its significance.
In a statement, a family spokesman said the dealer had bought it in 1964 from another Edinburgh dealer.
“It was catalogued in his purchase ledger that he had bought an ‘Antique Walrus Tusk Warrior Chessman’,” the spokesman said.
“From this description it can be assumed that he was unaware he had purchased an important historic 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.”
Sotheby’s auction house said the chess piece was expected to bring between 600,000 pounds and 1 million pounds at an auction next month.
Alexander Kader, a European sculpture expert with Sotheby’s, said the find was “one of the most exciting and personal rediscoveries to have been made during my career”.
Mr Kader told the BBC that his “jaw dropped” when the family brought the piece in to be evaluated.
“They brought it in for assessment,” he said. “That happens every day. 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’.