Car-boot find may be a Knights Tem­plar an­tique

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - AUCTIONS - JONATHAN BROWN

IT SOUNDS like Cash in the At­tic meets The Da Vinci Code. A pile of junk cleared from a coun­try home finds its way to a car-boot sale in a nearby mar­ket town. Among the de­tri­tus is a piece of wood mea­sur­ing 25cm by 10cm, cov­ered with painted fig­ures.

An­tiques dealer Martin Roberts sus­pected that the item be­ing sold by a friend was worth a punt, so he of­fered to swap it for a pine chest of d r awe r s a n d s i x Vi c t o r i a n glass han­dles which he had bought for £13 (R173). He agreed to hand back 10 per­cent of the fi­nal sale price achieved.

The gam­ble now looks like it may pay off hand­somely af­ter the piece was iden­ti­fied as a pos­si­ble taber­na­cle door be­long­ing to the Knights Tem­plar and dat­ing back to the Mid­dle Ages.

Roberts hopes that his lat­est find could match his best dis­cov­ery: a 3 500-year-old Egyp­tian arte­fact he found in a box­ful of sil­ver­ware at a house clear­ance near Har­ro­gate.

Hav­ing paid £50 for that lot, he sold the 10cm royal shabti torso of Amenophis III, thought to be the grand­fa­ther of King Tu­tankhamun, for £30 000 to a Bri­tish bid­der, who paid 12 times the re­serve price.

Roberts, a for­mer pro­fes­sional golfer, shocked ex­perts – who in­sisted on wear­ing gloves to ex­am­ine the taber­na­cle – when he told them that he had driven around for two weeks with it on his van’s dash­board.

“When I touched it, it sent shiv­ers through me,” he said.

It was ini­tially checked out by a dealer in Don­caster, who sug­gested that the poly­chrome car­toon im­ages could be of St Ge­orge and the Dragon.

But he now thinks it is more likely to be a Ro­man stab­bing a Turk – a ref­er­ence to the Cru­sades – as well as a priest car­ry­ing a cross. A sec­ond ex­pert sug­gested that it could be traced back to the Or­tho­dox Church, be­tween 700 and 1200 AD.

The door was found at Masham, North York­shire, close to Mid­dle­ham Cas­tle, the for­mer home of Richard III, which dates to the time of the Nor­man Con­quest. One the­ory is that it may have fallen into the pos­ses­sion of one of the in­flu­en­tial res­i­dents of the cas­tle, which is known as the Wind­sor of the North.

“At the end of the day, I go around and find things. I buy from car-boot sales and junk shops, but I have never had such a won­der­ful re­sponse as when peo­ple see this panel,” said Roberts.

“We are try­ing to find any his­to­ri­ans who might know about it. If it is sig­nif­i­cant, I might want to put it on dis­play in a mu­seum. If it is part of our her­itage, it must not sit in some col­lec­tor’s pri­vate dis­play where no one can see it, sim­ply be­cause he has got more car­rots than any­one else,” he said.

Roberts, who took up an­tiques deal­ing on eBay six years ago fol­low­ing the death of his wife from can­cer, said he de­vel­oped an in­ter­est in the busi­ness through his fa­ther.

“My dad sat me down and said to me, ‘Your brother is a roofer and your other brother is a steel erec­tor – you are go­ing to be an an­tiques dealer’, and he gave me a set of books,” he re­called.

“I don’t al­ways buy plums. Some­times I buy lemons and I have cer­tainly bought plenty of them.

“It is a real buzz. The money is great but if you re­lied on the plums, you would be starv­ing,” he ad­mit­ted.

Roberts, who has also dis­cov­ered a bronze Egyp­tian fig­ure from 600 BC, ad­mit­ted that his knowl­edge of the Tem­plar pe­riod was sketchy.

“When it comes to the his­tory I am on a Monty Python level. The best de­scrip­tion of the Knights Tem­plar is in Spa­malot – I’ve seen that,” he said.

“You can drop on stuff but you have to know what you are looking for. I have a wish list from cus­tomers who want me to find things for them.” Roberts added: “Maybe now we could sell the movie rights to this.” – The In­de­pen­dent

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