Car-boot find may be a Knights Templar antique
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