Rare toadstone ring, once believed to hold magical powers, expected to fetch up to £5,000 after it was found in box of jewellery at Sworders Fine Art Auctioneers in Stansted
A rare gold toadstone ring has been discovered in a box of jewellery that has come up for sale at Stansted auction house Sworders.
The Cambridge Road company's jewellery expert, Catriona Smith, came across the ring, which is actually a fossilised fish tooth from the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, while sorting through the items to be sold on behalf of a Stansted resident, who had no idea of its value.
It is expected to fetch between £3,000 and £5,000 at Sworders' fine jewellery and watches sale on November 23.
The ring is set in a high-carat gold shank in the Tudor or early Stuart period.
Catriona said: “I knew straight away what the toadstone was, but recommended a report to the client as the potential buyers would require the certification.” It was later authenticated as a fossilised fish tooth by the Gemmological Certification Services.
Toadstones are now understood to be the button-like palatal teeth of lepidotes, an extinct genus of ray-finned fish. However, throughout the Middle Ages and into the 18th century they were thought to be found in the heads of living toads and were highly prized for their supposed magical properties. In particular, it was believed they could be used as an antidote to poison and were commonly worn about the person as amuletic rings and pendants.
Loose toadstones were discovered among other gemstones in the Cheapside Hoard, a collection of lost jewels discovered by workmen excavating a cellar in 1912, while William Shakespeare referred to them in As You Like It (1599), writing: 'Sweet are the uses of adversity, Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous, Wears yet a precious jewel in his head'.
The mount to the ring is pierced to the underside in the expectation that the stone’s protective powers would be increased on contact with the wearer’s skin. At some point in its life the ring had become too small for the owner to wear, so instead it was fitted to a chain.