When the auction started, his heart started racing. He knew that the offer the jeweler had made days earlier was very tempting. But he thought that maybe he could get more.
But had he made the right decision? He thought it was worth more than the jeweler’s hasty offer. And when he heard the hammer strike the table at the auction, he couldn’t believe it.
Pile of garbage
James Davis felt incredible grief when his father, George Davis, died. He wasn’t interested in sorting his father’s things.
His father loved to hoard useless garbage. He was called a hoarder by his family, but he didn’t mind. Now James had to clear the attic in his New York home. He knew this was going to be a challenge, but he didn’t know what surprises he would uncover.
Trash or treasure?
There was all sorts of rubbish in the attic. There were outdated equipment and old bullets. James thought it was a shame to just throw everything away as his father was an avid collector and there might be something among the trash that was worth a lot.
After a full weekend of searching through the attic items, James came across a humble looking wooden box. It was hidden under old, moth-eaten blankets until now.
James opened the box expectantly, there could very well have been another piece of junk in there. But James had a feeling about this one, it had a certain charm – as if it were calling him.
There was a figure in the box. It looked exquisite and had an impact on James. The toy soldier’s eyes called him, sending a chill down his back.
It looked very old and at first glance you might think it’s just another toy soldier. But James felt a connection with the character. He picked it up carefully and examined it.
He couldn’t find any markings that revealed his origins. Without her, he hadn’t the faintest idea where it was coming from. It was heavy and fit well in his hand. He felt the need to turn the soldier around.
The piercing look the eyes gave James made him feel as though he should have the soldier examined. He needed an expert opinion, what did he know after all? He suspected that this wasn’t just a toy in his hands.
He thought the only person he could take this toy to was a jeweler. Without markings, he knew nothing about it. At the jeweler he would hear something that would change his life forever.
A closer look
The jeweler took out her special lens and focused on the figure. James could only stare in anticipation as he waited for her expert opinion, which he was so much looking for.
After a few minutes, which felt like hours to James, the jeweler had examined every aspect of the figure. He couldn’t help but notice the jeweler’s expression change as she glanced at her eyes. Did she see it too? Did his suspicions want to be confirmed?
“I’m going to give you $ 800,000 right here, right now,” the jeweler stammered. James saw the serious expression on her face and knew she was not kidding. Her grip seemed to be holding the toy soldier tight, as if she knew what value he was.
As James pondered what to do, he could see the eyes of the soldier staring at him. What should he do?
James was shocked by the amount of money he had just been offered. Was she really ready to pay such a huge sum for this toy? Maybe she made a mistake and he should run away with the money?
Then he felt he should trust his gut. He wanted to pocket the money, but maybe it’s worth more? He didn’t know what to do.
The jeweler was shocked when James politely declined her offer. He took the figure from her and hurried back to his house, where he could stow the soldier in his wooden box.
He decided the best place to keep it was in his safe. Now he could feel his nerves, he had to find out more about the soldier. It was time for a couple of calls.
A brave step
James believed this figure would be worth more than what the jeweler was selling if it were willing to drop that type of cash right away.
But what kind of toy soldier would be covered in real, precious gems? To James, they were worth a lifetime of savings. But instead of selling the figure if he had a chance, James decided to hedge his bets. But would it pay off?
After a few phone calls, James became even more interested in finding out the soldier’s secrets. With the help of a few telltale details, one of the jewelers James contacted was able to trace the figure’s origin.
When the gold-braided details on the figure’s clothes weren’t obvious enough, the exquisitely enamelled double-headed eagle motif embossed on the trimmings blew the case wide open.
The jeweler explained that the value was based not only on the soldier’s eyes – which were real sapphires – but also on the medals on his vest and the buckles on his boots. They were set with jewels too! James was stunned.
The stones that encrusted the piece were in and of themselves worth thousands, the jeweler claimed. But who had made such a piece and why?
James learned from experts that the character was modeled after Nikolai Nikolaievich Pustynnikov, a loyal personal Cossack bodyguard of Empress Alexandra Feodorovna. It had somehow found its way to his father’s attic, all the way from Russia.
In the end, he decided to hire a professional auctioneer to keep the collectors informed. What the ancient enthusiast Colin Stair actually got for the piece left James speechless.
“Please be enough to buy a house or something,” James prays quietly as he enters the auction house. Before he knows, the bid runs out.
The opening bid starts at $ 150,000 and James holds his breath. Suddenly the bid rises to $ 500,000 and a fight ensues. Wartski, a London-based jeweler, and another collector are bidding fiercely against each other – and they don’t give in when the old soldier’s price soars.
Any auctioneer worth their salt knows how to sell a piece to the highest bidder. He will talk about the history, components, and manpower behind their item in order to get the highest price.
Colin Stair, James’ auctioneer, had little to say before the room went into a frenzy. It was all over in 15 minutes.
Cool $ 6 million
In just 15 minutes, the 100-year-old figure was sold for a whopping 6 million dollars. James had sweated over his decision to turn down the $ 800,000 originally offered, but now he was overjoyed!
The figure was sold to the London-based jeweler Wartski, who was able to illuminate the origin of the piece.
“The purchase of the figure is a continuation of our long-standing tradition of acquiring Imperial Russian works of art,” said a Wartski spokesman.
The figure was commissioned by Tsar Nicolas II – the last Tsar of Imperial Russia – as a gift to the Empress. And the company he paid for it raised a few eyebrows from potential bidders.
Eggs – very valuable
Tsar Nicolas II went to the famous jewel-egg maker Fabergé to make the little soldier. It was later bought by U.S. businessman Armand Hammer for $ 2,250 (now about $ 35,000) before making its way to James’ father’s attic. And it had never been seen … until now.
It has “little sapphires in its eyes, little gold rim and gold braid, and all those intricately inlaid enameled double-headed imperial eagles,” auctioneer Colin Stair told WNYT. There are only 50.
When asked about the reasons for buying such an extremely expensive piece, the Wartski spokesman told Register Star: “In the 1920s and 1930s, Wartski was Armand Hammer’s main competitor in the purchase of the seized imperial treasures from the Soviet government.”
It is a long time to wait until you beat your rival!