A $25 Brooch Turns Out to Be a Rare Victorian Treasure That Could Be Worth $19,000

A similar brooch rediscovered in 2011 more than tripled its high estimate to fetch $40,000.

Victorian Gothic Revival brooch by architect William Burges. Photo courtesy of Gildlings Auctioneers.

When the amateur jewelry enthusiast Flora Steel bought an eye-catching brooch for less than £20 ($25) at an antiques market in England in the 1980s, she had accidentally scooped up an impressive bargain. It has been revealed on an episode of the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow that the brooch is an exceptionally rare piece by the Victorian architect William Burges. It will be offered by Gildings Auctioneers this spring with an estimate of £10,000–£15,000 ($12,500–$19,000).

It is little surprise that Steel was drawn to the silver brooch back in 1988. The colorful item contains a central stone of precious lapis lazuli surrounded by pieces of bright orange coral and swirling green malachite.

“The brooch originally caught my eye for its strong design, strange lettering, and unusual stones,” said Steel.

She never have guessed at the brooch’s real historical significance until she happened to watch a video about “Most Wanted Finds” from Antiques Roadshow. In footage from over a decade ago, the show’s jewelry specialist Geoffrey Munn presented sketched designs for a set of nine brooches drawn by Burges and currently held at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. The brooches themselves have since been lost to history, but Munn described them as the “holy grail of 19th-century design.”

“I’ve always adored the Antiques Roadshow,” recalled Steel. “So when the clip popped up on my phone, I said to myself, ‘that reminds me of the brooch I found 35 years ago.’ 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!”

Appearing on the show 12 years later, Steel showed her brooch to Munn, who couldn’t conceal his excitement. “My pulse is racing,” he said. “I’m thrilled to see it.”

Burges, a Neo-Gothic architect most famous for stately buildings in Wales like Cardiff Castle and Castell Coch, designed the bridesmaid’s brooch as a personal commission for the wedding of a close friend. Munn estimated its value at around £10,000 ($12,500).

It is not the first time that Munn’s appeal for Burges’s brooches has led to a happy outcome. Shortly after the episode first aired, in 2011, a pensioner called Jill Cousins came forward with a brooch that matched one of the designs from the V&A archive. Munn was able to confirm that it had been designed for the wedding of Burges’s friend and fellow architect John Pollard Seddon in 1864.

“It’s a Tutankhamun experience!” exclaimed Munn about that unlikely discovery. He also valued that piece at around £10,000 ($12,500), but when it hit the auction block at Gildings in August 2011, it fetched a whopping £31,000 ($40,000). A second example that resurfaced in 2011 was privately sold by Gildings to the V&A and is on public display in the jewelry galleries.

“A Burges brooch has again been discovered via a chance sighting via the Antiques Roadshow,” commented Will Gilding, director of Gildings. “For it to happen once, amazing. Twice, remarkable! A third time? Pinch me!”

“Whether this brooch reaches the heights of the first one we auctioned or indeed results in any more examples being unearthed remains to be seen,” he added.


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