A chess piece purchased for $7.50 by an antiques dealer in Scotland in 1964 has been identified as one of the 900-year-old Lewis Chessmen, among the greatest artifacts of the Viking era. Sotheby's auction house said Monday the chess piece is expected to bring between $670,000 and $1.26 million at an auction next month, per the AP. The Lewis Chessmen are intricate, expressive chess pieces in the form of Norse warriors, carved from walrus ivory in the 12th century. A hoard of 93 pieces was discovered in 1831 on Scotland's Isle of Lewis. That collection is now held in both the British Museum in London and the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh—but five of the chess pieces were missing.
The piece to be auctioned July 2, the equivalent of a rook, is the first of the missing pieces to be identified. It was passed down to the family of the antiques dealer, who didn't realize its significance. Per CNN, a spokesperson for the dealer's family says in a statement that the dealer had logged the piece in his ledger as an "Antique Walrus Tusk Warrior Chessman," meaning "it can be assumed that he was unaware he had purchased an important historic artifact." The anonymous spokesperson's mother inherited the piece and kept it in a drawer, "where it had been carefully wrapped in a small bag." The spokesperson adds, "From time to time, she would remove the chess piece from the drawer in order to appreciate its uniqueness." Alexander Kader, a Sotheby's European sculpture expert, says the find is "one of the most exciting and personal rediscoveries to have been made during my career." (Read more discoveries stories.)