Once the auction was underway, his heart started racing. He knew that that the offer the jeweler had made days before was very tempting. But he thought that maybe he could get even more than that.
But had he made the right decision? He thought it must have been worth more than the jeweler’s hasty offer. And when he heard the stroke of the hammer hitting the table at the auction, he couldn’t believe it.
Pile Of Junk
James Davis felt unbelievable grief when his father, George Davis, passed away. He wasn’t keen on having to sort through his father’s belongings.
His father loved to hoard useless junk. He was called a hoarder by his family but he didn’t mind. Now James had to clear out the attic in his house in New York. He knew this was going to be challenging but he didn’t know about the surprises he would uncover.
Trash Or Treasure?
There was all sorts of junk in the attic. There were antiquated appliances and old baubles. James felt it was a shame to just trash it all since his father was an avid collector and there might have been something worth a lot amongst the junk.
After an entire weekend of sorting through the items in the attic, James stumbled upon a humble-looking wooden box. It was hidden under old moth-eaten blankets until now.
James opened the box in anticipation, inside there very well could’ve been another piece of junk. But James had a feeling about this one, it had a certain allure to it – like it was calling out to him.
Inside the box was a figurine. It looked exquisitely crafted and had an impact on James. The toy soldier’s eyes were what were calling out to him, they sent a shiver down his spine.
It looked very old, and at first glance, one might think it’s just another toy soldier. But James felt a connection with the figurine. He carefully picked it up and examined it.
He couldn’t find any kind of markings revealing its origins. Without them, he didn’t have the faintest clue where it was from. It was heavy and fit nicely in his hand. He felt the need to turn the soldier over.
The piercing look the eyes gave James made him feel like he had to go get the soldier checked. He needed an expert opinion, after all, what did he know? He had his suspicions that this was no mere toy in his hands.
He thought the only person he could take this toy to was to a jeweler. With no markings, he knew nothing about it. It was at the jeweler that he would hear something that would change his life forever.
Taking A Closer Look
The jeweler took out her special lens and fixated on the figure. James could only stare in suspense as he waited for their expert opinion he sought so highly.
After a few minutes that felt like hours to James, the jeweler had looked at every aspect of the figurine. He couldn’t help but notice the jeweler’s facial expression change when she took a look at the eyes. Did she see it too? Were his suspicions going to be confirmed?
“I will give you $800,000 for it right here, right now,” the jeweler stammered. James saw her serious expression and knew she wasn’t joking. Her grip seemed tight on the toy soldier like she knew what its value was.
As James thought about what to do, he could see the eyes of the soldier staring at him. What should he do?
James was staggered by the amount of money he was just offered. Was she really willing to pay such an enormous sum for this toy? Maybe she had made a mistake and he should run away with the money?
Then he felt like he should trust his gut. He wanted to pocket the cash but maybe it’s worth more? He didn’t know what to do.
The jeweler was met with horror when James politely refused her offer. He took the figurine from her and rushed back to his house where he could stash the soldier away in its wooden box.
He decided the best place to store it was in his safe. Now he could feel his nerves, he needed to find out more about the soldier. It was time for a few phone calls.
A Bold Move
James was convinced this figurine would be worth more than what the jeweler offered if she was prepared to drop that kind of cash on the spot.
But what kind of toy soldier would be covered in real, precious gemstones? To James, they were worth an entire lifetime of savings. But, Instead of selling the figurine when he had a chance, James decided to hedge his bets. But would it pay off?
After a few calls, James was even keener to find out the soldier’s secrets. Based on a few tell-tale details, one of the jewelers James had gotten into contact with was able to trace the figurine’s origins.
If the gold-braid detailing on the figure’s clothes wasn’t obvious enough, the exquisitely enameled double-headed eagle motif that was embossed onto the trimming blew the case wide open.
The jeweler explained that the value wasn’t just based 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 jewel-encrusted too! James was stunned.
The stones that encrusted the piece were worth thousands in and of themselves, claimed the jeweler. But who had made such a piece, and why?
James learned from experts that the figurine was modeled after Nikolai Nikolaievich Pustynnikov, a loyal personal Cossack bodyguard to Empress Alexandra Feodorovna. It had somehow made its way into his father’s attic, all the way from Russia.
In the end, he decided to hire a professional auctioneer to help get the word out to collectors. What antique enthusiast Colin Stair actually got for the piece left James dumbstruck.
“Please be enough to buy a house or something,” James prays silently as he enters the auction house. Before he knows it, the bidding is on.
The opening bid starts at $150,000, and James holds his breath. Suddenly, the bid climbs to $500,000 and a battle ensues. Wartski, a London-based jeweler and another collector bid fiercely against one another – neither backing down as the price of the old soldier skyrockets.
Any auctioneer worth his salt knows how to sell a piece to the highest bidder. He’ll talk about the history, components, and manpower behind their item in order to secure the highest price.
However, Colin Stair, James’ auctioneer, barely had to say anything before the room was whipped into a frenzy. It was all over in 15 minutes.
A Cool $6 Million
Within just 15 minutes, the 100-year-old figurine sold for a whopping $6 million. James had been sweating over his decision to turn down the original $800,000 he had been offered, but now he was over the moon!
The figurine was sold to London-based jeweler Wartski, who was able to shed some light on the piece’s origin.
“The purchase of the figure is a continuation of our long-running tradition of acquiring Imperial Russian Works of Art,” said a Wartski spokesperson.
The figurine was commissioned as a gift for the empress by Czar Nicolas II – the last czar of Imperial Russia. And the company he paid to make it raised a few eyebrows from would-be bidders.
Czar Nicolas II had sought out famed jeweled-egg maker Fabergé to craft the little soldier. It was later bought by US businessman Armand Hammer for $2,250 (now equal to about $35K) before finding its way into James’ father’s attic. And it hadn’t been seen again… until now.
It has ‘little sapphires in the eyes, little gold trim and gold braid and all these elaborately inlaid enameled double-headed imperial eagles,’ auctioneer Colin Stair told WNYT. There are only 50 in existence.
When asked about the reasoning behind purchasing such an extraordinarily expensive piece, the Wartski spokesman told the Register Star: “Wartski was Armand Hammer’s prime rivals in the 1920s and 1930s in buying the confiscated Imperial treasures from the Soviet government.”
That’s a long time to wait to get one over on your rival!