A piece of a famous medieval chess set that had been missing for almost 200 years has sold at auction for £735,000.
The warder – equivalent to a rook on a modern chess board – is part of a set known as the Lewis Chessmen that was made from walrus ivory in the late 12th or early 13th century.
It was bought for £5 in 1964 by an antiques dealer, and passed down through the family, who had no idea it was so special until they took it to Sotheby’s auction house to be valued.
Regarded as the most famous chess pieces to have survived from the medieval world, it is thought the Lewis Chessmen may have been underground for 500 years.
They could have been buried, possibly by a merchant, to avoid taxes after being shipwrecked.
While 93 pieces were discovered on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides in 1831, the whereabouts of five further ones remained a mystery.
Alexander Kader from Sotheby’s said the warder – a man with a helmet, shield and sword – is “a little bit bashed up” and has “lost its left eye”.
But the “kind of weather-beaten, weary warrior added to its charm”, he said.
Having looked after it for more than 50 years, the antiques dealer’s family were “quite amazed” by its value, and Mr Kader said his “jaw dropped” when he realised what it was.
He explained: “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’.”
He continued: “It has been amazing having him on view at Sotheby’s over the last week – he has been a huge hit. When you hold this characterful warder in your hand or see him in the room, he has real presence.”
Some 82 pieces of the Lewis Chessmen are now in the British Museum, while 11 others are held by the National Museum of Scotland.
The previous record for a medieval chess piece was set in 2016, when a piece of a king made in Germany, and believed to be from 1300 to 1320, sold for £653,000 at Sotheby’s in London.