Until this week it was believed that the famous Lewis chessmen collection consisted of 93 pieces. However, a previously long-lost piece has been unveiled, and is expected to be auctioned for as much as £1 million.
Southeby’s auction house in London announced what appears to be the first additional piece from the Lewis hoard to have been discovered since 1831. The piece is a warder, or rook, and is distinctive for its darker look, as the other pieces of the hoard are in pale in colour.
Until recently even the owners did not know how valuable it was. “My grandfather was an antiques dealer based in Edinburgh, and in 1964 he purchased an ivory chessman from another Edinburgh dealer,” explained a family spokesperson. “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 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.”
The figure was purchased for £5 in 1964. Southeby’s will have it go up for auction in London on July 2, where it is expected to fetch between £600,000 to £1,000,000.
Alexander Kader, Sotheby’s Co-Worldwide Head of European Sculpture & Works of Art, said in a statement:
“With fond memories from my childhood of the brilliantly animated television series that paid full tribute to the inspiration of the Lewis hoard, this is one of the most exciting and personal rediscoveries to have been made during my career. 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. There is certainly more to the story of this warder still to be told, about his life over the last 188 years since he was separated from his fellow chessmen, and just as interesting, about the next chapter in his journey now that he has been rediscovered.”
The hoard was discovered on the Isle of Lewis, the westernmost of the Outer Hebrides. However, the exact spot and how remains a mystery. At some time just before April 1831 the hoard was unearthed, apparently in the sands of Uig Strand, an inlet in the north-west of the island, although a site a little further south on the same coast has been suggested. Most of the collection was purchased by the British Museum, while the other remaining pieces are now owned by the National Museum of Scotland.