The Lewis chessmen or Uig chessmen was named after the bay they were found. Created in the 12th century, and discovered in Scotland along with other game pieces; it is a group of distinctive chess pieces carved from walrus ivory and whales’ teeth. It’s the only surviving medieval chess sets.
A small walrus tusk warrior figure from the chess set was bought by an antique dealer in Edinburgh in 1964. He kept it safe in his household drawer and passed it down through his family. The family wasn’t aware of the gem they had until it was brought to Sotheby’s. This masterpiece is from one of the true wonders of the medieval world.
The Lewis chessmen hoard was found in 1831 in Scotland, and the elaborately carved pieces soon became stars of museum collections in London and Edinburgh. Not only that, these pieces have become well known in popular culture from Noggin the Nog to Ron Weasley’s perilous chess game in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
Recently the auction house Sotheby’s announced it had authenticated the missing ‘small walrus tusk warrior’ figure and would sell it in July 2019. The estimated value could be between £600,000 and £1m.
This missing piece measures 8.8cm tall. It was earlier labelled as “antique walrus tusk warrior chessman”. The antique’s owner have asked to remain anonymous.
A family member said it had been stored away in their grandfather’s house, with everyone unaware of its importance. “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.”
Alexander Kader, the Sotheby’s expert was the first who examined the piece for the family. He said his jaw had dropped when he saw it, and he knew straight away what it was. “I said: ‘Oh my goodness, it’s one of the Lewis chessmen.”
He added: “They brought it in for assessment. 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.”
Kader went on to add that the discovery was “one of the most exciting and personal rediscoveries to have been made during my career”.
He added: “Today all the chessmen are a pale ivory colour, but the new Lewis warder’s dark tone clearly has the potential to offer valuable and fresh insight into how other Lewis chessmen may have looked in the past.”
Wait until July to get the real value of the medieval walrus tusk warrior chessman.