£20 brooch sells for over £11,500 at auction

A Victorian Gothic brooch, acquired for less than £20 in 1988, went under the hammer for £11,780 inclusive of charges in Market Harborough on Tuesday March 19th.
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The sale at Gildings Auctioneers followed the brooch’s appearance with its owner on BBC One’s Antiques Roadshow 2023 Christmas special, where it was given a valuation of £8,000 - £10,000 by the show’s jewellery expert, Geoffrey Munn.

The auction marked the third time Gildings have sold the only known examples of long-lost brooches designed by the leading Victorian art-architect William Burges, who is most famous for designing Cardiff Castle.

Remarkably, all three sales have taken place after the silver brooches’ owners became aware of their hidden treasure via chance viewings of Antiques Roadshow.

William Burges broochWilliam Burges brooch
William Burges brooch

Just like two previous owners in 2011, Flora Steel, an art historian based in Rome, had no idea her brooch had any value aside from in her case, a fondness for it as part of the silver jewellery collection she started aged thirteen.

It was only when she happened to click on a 2011 ‘Most Wanted Finds’ video and saw the moment when a Leicestershire woman showed Geoffrey Munn a brooch which he’d previously revealed on the show to be his ‘holy grail’ find that Flora Steel realised that she too had one of three brooch designs detailed on sketches held in the Victoria and Albert Museum’s archives.

Flora’s amazing discovery came as a welcome distraction after a difficult two years fighting breast cancer. Now cancer-free, she is planning to give the proceeds of the auction to her son and his family, and also donate a proportion to a breast cancer research fund.

Feeling too nervous to attend the auction in person, Flora decided to find out the result in the Jewellery Gallery of the V&A, where the second rediscovered brooch is displayed.

Flora Steel wearing the broochFlora Steel wearing the brooch
Flora Steel wearing the brooch

“As a lifelong jewellery lover I thought, ‘what better place to be to find out the result?’” she comments. “The whole process of making the discovery, appearing on one of my favourite TV programmes and now seeing the brooch sell has been such an unexpected and joyful experience, especially coming as it has after a difficult time. And of course, this has confirmed selling it is most definitely the right decision as I don’t think I would dare wear it now that I know what it’s worth!”

“We’re absolutely delighted to have achieved this great result for Flora’s very special piece of jewellery,” comments Gildings director Will Gilding. “After a local lady brought her brooch to us instead of the local market in 2011 after seeing the sketches on Antiques Roadshow, we were astonished when another owner got in touch after seeing footage of that first find. So, for this to happen again thirteen years on with Flora bringing us a third example of a lost Burges brooch almost beggars belief!”

The brooches on the V&A sketches were made by William Burges for the weddings of two friends in 1864, a time when bridesmaids typically provided their own dresses but received a gift of jewellery.

Flora Steel’s brooch, which combines a Celtic influence with its Victorian Gothic aesthetic, was made for the wedding of the Rev’d John Gibson, a scholar-clergyman, who as Dean of Jesus College Cambridge and a key player in the Gothic Revival movement, was involved in the restoration of Jesus College Chapel. In 1857 he was instituted to the Rectory of King’s Stanley, Gloucestershire. He married Caroline Bendyshe, a great-niece of Admiral Lord Nelson in London in January 1864 and the brooch is inscribed with the couple’s initials, ‘JCG’.

After attracting interest from all over the world, the brooch has now found a new home with a private collector in the UK.

Will Gilding adds: “160 years on from the wedding it was made for, it’s wonderful to see this incredibly special piece of jewellery emerge from obscurity as it moves on to its next chapter with a new owner who will treasure it for years to come. Also, it just goes to show, you never know what hidden gems could be hiding in your jewellery box!”