A Woman’s Humble Antique Market Find Sells for $15,000 At Auction

"You never know what hidden gems could be hiding in your jewelry box!” said the amazed auctioneer.

Auctioneer Will Gildings poses with a Victorian brooch by William Bruges. Photo: Gildings Auctioneers.

An amateur jewelry enthusiast was astounded when a Victorian brooch she bought for just £20 ($25) at an antiques market in the 1980s sold at auction for £11,780 ($15,000), including fees. The piece was identified as a rare treasure on the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow, causing jewelry expert Geoffrey Munn to exclaim “my pulse is racing” at the exceptional discovery.

On the show, Flora Steel described how she chanced upon the brooch in 1988 and was drawn to its eye-catching and colorful design formed of precious stones like lapis lazuli, orange coral, and green malachite. It would be decades, however, before she realized the piece was more than just a pretty bauble.

Over a decade ago, Munn made a special appeal on Antiques Roadshow‘s “Most Wanted Finds” segment, imploring anyone in possession of one of nine brooches made in 1864 by Neo-Gothic Victorian architect William Burges to come forward. He presented a series of sketches from the archives of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London showing the nine designs.

Though the whereabouts of the original pieces was unknown, Munn hoped to aid in their discovery. He described them as the “holy grail of 19th-century design.” Many years later, Steel happened to see the call to action while scrolling on social media.

“When the clip popped up on my phone, I said to myself, ‘that reminds me of the brooch I found 35 years ago’,” she recalled. “So, I decided to have a better look at the V&A drawing and lo and behold, there was my brooch! I practically fell off my chair!”

a circular brooch with orange, blue, and green stones and gold details

A Victorian brooch by William Burges. Photo: Gildings Auctioneers.

Luckily for Munn, this was the third time his appeal had reached its intended audience. In 2011, shortly after the clip first aired, a pensioner named Jill Cousins appeared on the show with one of the nine brooches. He valued the rare piece at £10,000 ($12,500) but when it went on sale at Gildings auction house in the small town of Market Harborough, it fetched an impressive £31,000 ($40,000).

A second example that resurfaced after Munn’s announcement was sold privately by Gildings to the V&A museum.

“I’m thrilled to see it,” Munn said when he encountered Steel’s brooch, which he said was originally made for the wedding of Burges’s friend, the scholar Reverend John Gibson, and Caroline Bendyshe, great-niece of Admiral Lord Nelson. He gave an estimated value of £10,000 ($12,500). It was offered at auction on Tuesday by Gildings and the final hammer price of £9,5000 ($12,080) was just shy of the lots high estimate of £10,000 ($12,700). It was bought by a private collector based in the U.K.

“The whole process of making the discovery, appearing on one of my favorite TV programs and now seeing the brooch sell has been such an unexpected and joyful experience,” said Steel. “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!”

“It just goes to show, you never know what hidden gems could be hiding in your jewelry box!” said Will Gilding, director of Gildings. 

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