900-Year-Old Viking Chess Piece Sold for Almost $1 Million

LONDON, ENGLAND – JUNE 3: A newly discovered Lewis Chessman at Sotheby’s on June 3, 2019 in London, England. On 2 July in London, Sotheby’s will offer the first discovery of an unknown missing piece from the hoard of 93 objects found in 1831 on the Isle of Lewis in …
Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Sotheby's

Purchased for less than $10 in 1964, the 3 1/2-inch “Lewis Chessman” was auctioned off at Sotheby’s in London for $924,000.

This particular figure — a “rook” — had been passed down through the family of the antique dealer who originally acquired the piece for a pittance. For a long time, it lay hidden in a drawer at the dealer’s daughter’s home.

The famed Lewis Chessmen are artifacts recovered from Scotland’s Isle of Lewis in 1831. Dozens of pieces were found there, but five went missing. This is the first of those missing pieces to be positively identified. Sotheby’s called it one of “the most famous chess pieces to have survived from the medieval world.”

The pieces are carved from walrus tusks, into the forms of Norse warriors. A total of 93 pieces are already preserved; 11 are in Edinburgh’s National Museum of Scotland, but the remainder — and vast majority — are kept in the British Museum of London.

The Lewis Chessmen inspired the pieces used in the giant game of chess portrayed by the film adaptation of Harry Potter & The Sorcerer’s Stone. Before the sale, Sotheby’s had estimated that the piece could have sold for as much as $1.26 million.

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