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He Criticized Dad For Hoarding ‘Junk’, Then Finds Out What He Really Had

When the auction started, he immediately started sweating. It had taken every ounce of his willpower not to accept the offer the jeweler had made.

But was it right to reject it in the hope of earning a bigger sum? When the hammer finally fell at the auction, he was left shell-shocked and on his knees.

George Davis’ son James was devastated when he passed away, but he was not looking forward to the task of rooting through the old man’s belongings.

His father was a notorious hoarder of junk – so much so that his family had called him the “hoarder” when he was alive. Clearing out the attic of his upstate New York home was a challenge of epic proportions. But one, James would soon learn, would lead to a very unusual discovery.

The Rhinebeck attic was packed with all manner of trinkets, collectibles, and old appliances. James didn’t want to just dump it all, because he knew his father was an antique lover and there may have been something valuable up there.

After sweating through a whole weekend of emptying the space, James eventually came across a modest wooden box under some old blankets and boxes. 

The lid of the box came open with ease, leading James to believe it was nothing but another useless knick-knack.

But inside was a carefully-wrapped figurine. It was a well-crafted model soldier that struck James the second he saw it. But it wasn’t the model itself that caught his eye. It was its piercing eyes.

At first glance, James thought he’d come across an old toy soldier. He picked it up and inspected it, fascinated. 

He searched for a logo or some other clue as to where the toy was made but found none. The weighty piece fitted comfortingly in his hand, but James couldn’t explain the strange feeling that came over him when he turned it over. 

The tiny eyes staring up at him from the figurine convinced James to get an expert opinion. He was beginning to suspect that this was no toy after all.

After searching for a model number or manufacturer name and coming up short, he eventually decided to take it to a jeweler. It was here he would make one of the most important decisions of his life.

The jeweler pulled out her magnifying glass and stared intently at the figurine. James was left in suspense as the expert checked over his attic find. 

After a few excruciating minutes of examining the soldier from every angle, he noticed her eyebrows twitch slightly when her gaze fell on the eyes. Suddenly, her mouth hardened. Had she found something?

“I will give you $800,000 for it right here, right now,” the jeweler said. James could tell she wasn’t joking around by the dead-eye stare she gave him as she held the little soldier tightly in her hand – as if she was reluctant to let it go. 

Strangely, James could have sworn he felt the soldier’s eyes on him as he weighed up his decision, too.

James was incredulous at the enormous sum the woman was prepared to pay for the dusty trinket he’d found, surely there had been some kind of mistake? 

But a little voice in his head reminded him that he was right to trust his gut-feeling. He should take the cash and run. But would he listen?   

To the jeweler’s horror, James declined. He took the figurine back and quickly put it away in the box before hurrying out of the establishment. 

When he finally got home, James put the figurine in his small safe. His mind raced with a million questions. He knew it was time to make some calls.

James was convinced this figurine would be worth more than what the jeweler offered if she was prepared to drop that kind of cash on the spot. 

But what kind of toy soldier would be covered in real, precious gemstones? To James, they were worth an entire lifetime of savings. But, Instead of selling the figurine when he had a chance, James decided to hedge his bets. But would it pay off?

After a few calls, James was even keener to find out the soldier’s secrets. Based on a few tell-tale details, one of the jewelers James had gotten into contact with was able to trace the figurine’s origins. 

If the gold-braid detailing on the figure’s clothes wasn’t obvious enough, the exquisitely enameled double-headed eagle motif that was embossed onto the trimming blew the case wide open.

The jeweler explained that the value wasn’t just based on the soldier’s eyes – which were real sapphires – but also on the medals on his vest and the buckles on his boots. They were jewel-encrusted too! James was stunned.

The stones that encrusted the piece were worth thousands in and of themselves, claimed the jeweler. But who had made such a piece, and why?

James learned from experts that the figurine was modeled after Nikolai Nikolaievich Pustynnikov, a loyal personal Cossack bodyguard to Empress Alexandra Feodorovna. It had somehow made its way into his father’s attic, all the way from Russia.

In the end, he decided to hire a professional auctioneer to help get the word out to collectors. What antique enthusiast Colin Stair actually got for the piece left James dumbstruck.

“Please be enough to buy a house or something,” James prays silently as he enters the auction house. Before he knows it, the bidding is on. 

The opening bid starts at $150,000, and James holds his breath. Suddenly, the bid climbs to $500,000 and a battle ensues. Wartski, a London-based jeweler and another collector bid fiercely against one another – neither backing down as the price of the old soldier skyrockets.

Any auctioneer worth his salt knows how to sell a piece to the highest bidder. He’ll talk about the history, components, and manpower behind their item in order to secure the highest price. 

However, Colin Stair, James’ auctioneer, barely had to say anything before the room was whipped into a frenzy. It was all over in 15 minutes.

Within just 15 minutes, the 100-year-old figurine sold for a whopping $6 million. James had been sweating over his decision to turn down the original $800,000 he had been offered, but now he was over the moon! 

The figurine was sold to London-based jeweler Wartski, who was able to shed some light on the piece’s origin.

“The purchase of the figure is a continuation of our long-running tradition of acquiring Imperial Russian Works of Art,” said a Wartski spokesperson.

The figurine was commissioned as a gift for the empress by Czar Nicolas II – the last czar of Imperial Russia. And the company he paid to make it raised a few eyebrows from would-be bidders.

Czar Nicolas II had sought out famed jeweled-egg maker Fabergé to craft the little soldier. It was later bought by US businessman Armand Hammer for $2,250 (now equal to about $35K) before finding its way into James’ father’s attic. And it hadn’t been seen again… until now.

It has ‘little sapphires in the eyes, little gold trim and gold braid and all these elaborately inlaid enameled double-headed imperial eagles,’ auctioneer Colin Stair told WNYT. There are only 50 in existence.

When asked about the reasoning behind purchasing such an extraordinarily expensive piece, the Wartski spokesman told the Register Star: “Wartski was Armand Hammer’s prime rivals in the 1920s and 1930s in buying the confiscated Imperial treasures from the Soviet government.” 

That’s a long time to wait to get one over on your rival!


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