We’ve all wondered about those strange items buried somewhere at the backs of our cupboards. Are they just weird-looking vases? Or could they be worth thousands of dollars – like the Pablo Picasso plate unknowingly owned by an elderly woman for forty years? Well, the Antiques Roadshow has been the center for these kinds of curiosities for decades. The show – which originated in the U.K. – has proven so popular that versions have even popped up in the U.S., Canada and beyond. And now and again, long-hidden items come along that make jaw-dropping history.
40. Haunted 18th-century painting – $10,000 (U.S. series, 2016)
This piece from around 1790 featured Aaron Delano – a ship captain lost at sea and fifth great-uncle to the picture’s then-owner. The artwork had apparently haunted the woman and her family, too, and not just because it featured a tragic ancestor. Supposedly, you see, the owner could sometimes hear footsteps coming from the painting – and her husband even fell from the ladder that he used to take the painting down. But all of their fear disappeared when the intricate artwork went at auction for $10,000.
39. Norman Rockwell’s “The Little Model” – $500,000 (U.S. series, 2012)
Antiques Roadshow guests sometimes bring in copies of famous paintings – but every once in a while, an original turns up. And in 2012 a lucky man brought in what turned out to be an original Norman Rockwell piece. The 1919 painting, entitled “The Little Model,” ended up getting valued at $500,000.
38. Bébé Doll – $18,000 (U.S. series, 2006)
The owner of this French baby doll had never been able to play with it as a kid – because her parents preserved it behind a sheet of glass. As it turned out, though, the grown-ups made the right decision. In fact, Antiques Roadshow appraiser Billye Harris valued the toy – a Schmitt et Fils “000” Bébé doll made in 1884 – at $16,000 to $18,000.
37. Andrew Clemens sand art – $30,000 to $50,000 (U.S. series, 2002)
This bottled sand art was inarguably stunning to see, regardless of its value. To create it, artist Andrew Clemens had gathered sandy runoff from Pikes Peak National Park and used the multicolored bits to pour a perfect design. And his 19th-century work had a big price tag. After all, appraiser Allan Katz valued the sand-filled bottle at between $30,000 and $50,000.
36. Cottingley fairy photos – $31,000 (U.K. Series, 2008)
Cousins Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright snapped a quintet of photos in 1917 that supposedly captured fairies hovering in their Cottingley, U.K., garden. Although the world viewed the images as a hoax, one man set out to prove their veracity: Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle. And almost 100 years later, Griffiths’ daughter appeared with her granddaughter on Antiques Roadshow and learned that the famous faux images were worth $31,000.
35. Barbara Hepworth paperweight – $75,000 to $100,000 (U.K. series, 2012)
Barbara Hepworth is among the most famous sculptors in history. And while working as a governor of St. Ives School in Cornwall, Hepworth gifted the school with a paperweight called “Oval Form.” Said item subsequently turned up on a U.K. episode of Roadshow in 2012. At the time, the piece was thought to be worth up to $100,000. But it was later valued again, and its estimated worth had gone up to almost $1 million.
34. Richard Dadd painting – $125,000 (U.K. series, 1986)
Artist Richard Dadd’s 19th-century painting “Halt In The Desert” disappeared in 1857 and reappeared on Antiques Roadshow almost 130 years later. It turned out that the painting’s owners had left it in their loft for years before they brushed it off and brought it on TV for an appraisal. The piece was then valued at $300,000 – but the British Museum later bought it for nearly $125,000.
33. Art deco bracelet – $187,000 (U.K. series, 2016)
As soon as appraiser Geoffrey Munn saw this art deco bracelet from the 1920s or ’30s, his excitement was palpable. He said to the piece’s owner, “I don’t know about you, but I’m nearly fainting.” He also noted the piece’s “art and intrinsic value” before slapping it with an enormous price tag: approximately $187,000 for the slinky accessory.
32. 18th-century dollhouse – $187,000 (U.K. series, 2016)
Antiques Roadshow appraiser Fergus Gambon did not mince words when he saw this dollhouse from the early 18th century. In fact, he said the piece was “of national importance” to the U.K. The delicate children’s toy was built in 1705 and had passed down through generations of female members of the same family. And by 2016 the beloved plaything had a value of $187,000.
31. Baseball Hall of Famer and manager Ned Hanlon’s cufflinks – $200,000 (U.S. series, 2017)
Ned Hanlon made the Baseball Hall of Fame for his successful management of the Baltimore Orioles – who won a trio of pennants between 1894 and 1896. And, more than a century later, his great-grandson appeared on Antiques Roadshow with Hanlon’s cufflinks and other family heirlooms. Because collectors so desperately seek pieces from this early era of baseball, the assemblage was given an insurance value of $200,000.
30. Original Peanuts comic strip – $200,000 to $250,000 (U.S. series, 2005)
Charles M. Schulz drew the beloved Peanuts comic strip from 1950 into the early 2000s. This original piece of art came from the 1960s, so it came out relatively early in Schulz’s time helming the famous cartoon. That means, of course, it has a high value. In fact, a re-appraisal in 2014 confirmed it was worth up to $250,000.
29. Henry Francois Farny painting – $200,000 to $300,000 (U.S. series, 2017)
The student who brought this painting to Antiques Roadshow said that prior appraisers had valued it at a maximum of $250. But the show’s appraiser Meredith Hilferty recognized it as an authentic Henry Francois Farny piece. The American painter often brushed scenes featuring Native Americans, and this piece features a large group of them trekking through the wilderness. So the painting had a much higher value than anticipated – up to $300,000 at auction, Hilferty estimated.
28. Henry Nelson O’Neil’s “Eastward Ho!” – $242,000 (Canadian series, 2005)
While the U.S. and U.K. editions enjoy most of the newsworthy items, the Canadian Roadshow had a look-in in 2005 when Bill Donnelly brought in what turned out to be a Henry Nelson O’Neil original. It was valued at $242,000 – that’s U.S dollars, by the way – at the time. But when Donnelly’s daughter subsequently took it to auction in London, it sold for around $206,000.
27. 18th-century replica sword – $249,000 (U.K. series, 2009)
British Rear-Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson received the original version of this sword after a victory against the French at the Battle of the Nile in 1798. But even a commemorative gilded brass copy of the crocodile-handled sword was worth big bucks, according to appraiser Graham Lay. Incredibly, he valued the antique weapon at almost $250,000.
26. Racehorse sculpture – $249,000 (U.K. series, 2008)
Racehorse Brown Jack charmed the U.K. during seven years of successful races. And clearly his fans wanted the horse’s likeness in their homes to remember his power and speed. Sir Alfred Munnings crafted this model with intricate anatomical detail – which led appraiser Dendy Easton to value the piece at $249,000.
25. Commemorative Titanic bear – $249,000 (U.K. series, 2016)
The owner of this teddy bear left it atop a cabinet for years before taking it to an Antiques Roadshow taping. As it turned out, though, Steiff had manufactured the plush toy in 1912 to honor the children who died when the Titanic sank. Only 600 of the toys were made, and the show gave this remaining piece a $249,000 valuation.
24. John F. Kennedy’s leather jacket – $249,000 to $374,000 (U.K. series, 2015)
Legend has it that in the 1950s John F. Kennedy once wore a leather jacket while rendezvousing with his Swedish girlfriend. But the soon-to-be president left his outerwear behind, and, more than a half-century later, it ended up on Antiques Roadshow. With such an iconic former owner, then, the jacket’s projected value wasn’t too surprising – according to experts, it could bring home up to $374,000 at auction.
23. Patek Phillippe pocket watch – $250,000 (U.S. series, 2004)
When an item fetches a six-figure valuation on Antiques Roadshow, that’s usually the end of it. But now and then an item will end up getting appraised again for an even higher value. And among the most notable cases was a Patek Phillippe pocket watch. Originally valued at $250,000 in 2004, the device was later revealed to be unique and thus its value shot up to a staggering $1.5 million.
22. Bronze rhinoceros statue – $250,000 (U.K. series, 2011)
A statue of a rhino might not appear so impressive now, but in 1750 – long before David Attenborough existed – it was one of the only ways to get an idea of what one looked like. One such statue, modeled after a real rhino named Miss Clara, ended up being valued at around $250,000 for this very reason.
21. Beatrix Potter paintings – $312,000 (U.K. series, 2003)
Writer and illustrator Beatrix Potter created the beloved character of Peter Rabbit among many other animals that she featured in her children’s books. And one Antiques Roadshow guest had their hands on 23 of the famous author’s artworks, revealing that Potter was a friend of the family. Their collection – which even included unfinished sketches – was worth around $312,000.
20. Navajo Ute first phase blanket – $350,000 to $500,000 (U.S. series, 2004)
When your family owns an item originally gifted to them by American frontiersman Kit Carson, it’s a safe bet that they’re holding on to a hefty sum of money. In this case, the gift was a Navajo blanket that was valued between $350,000 and $500,000. Once it was auctioned, though, it fetched $1.8 million.
19. Alexander Calder mobile – $400,000 to $1 million (U.S. series, 2010)
American sculptor Alexander Calder is famously credited with inventing the mobile. So, if you have one that he made, chances are that it’s probably worth something. Don’t believe us? Well, a mobile that Calder had given someone in exchange for a needlepoint pillow appeared on Antiques Roadshow in 2010. And despite the item having been restored slightly in 1986, the appraiser still valued it at between $400,000 and $600,000 – before going on to suggest that it might even fetch $1 million.
18. A family’s silver collection – $436,000 (U.K. series, 1994)
The Crawley silver collection remains among the most unforgettable moments in the history of Antiques Roadshow. From his backpack, a young man pulled several pieces of silver that his father had collected over the years. Appraiser Ian Pickford was clearly in shock as he identified the age-old items – including a wine-tasting cup from the era of King James I. And the entire collection ended up going for $436,000 at auction.
17. Antony Van Dyck’s “Magistrate of Brussels” – $499,000 (U.K. series, 2013)
The hosts of Antiques Roadshow don’t tend to be experts themselves, but every so often they get the chance to drop some knowledge bombs. In 2013, for instance, U.K. presenter Fiona Bruce worked on an episode of Fake or Fortune? about the artist Antony Van Dyck. And as a result, she noticed immediately when one of the painter’s unfinished portraits appeared on Antiques Roadshow. It was then valued at nearly $500,000 – but it failed to sell at a London auction in 2014.
16. Joseph Kleitsch painting – $500,000 (U.S. series, 2015)
Many artists’ works only become collectible after they’ve passed on. And while Joseph Kleitsch did find some recognition during his lifetime, the fact that his wife sold one of his paintings for $100 after his death in 1939 suggests that he still had a ways to go. Well, that same painting turned up on a 2015 episode of Roadshow – and was valued at $500,000.
15. Picasso plate – $10,000 to $15,000 (U.S. Series, 2014)
The woman who owned this special plate admitted that she’d hung it over her stove for almost four decades. And there, it’d undoubtedly collected grease sent flying during cooking. She hadn’t thought twice about her kitchen decor, either – until she visited an art gallery and saw a plate similar to hers. And that plate was the work of Pablo Picasso. The Antiques Roadshow appraiser confirmed that hers, too, was a piece from the famed artist, and it was valued between $10,000 and $15,000.
14. Clyfford Still painting – $500,000 (U.S. series, 2009)
The U.S. version of Antiques Roadshow has only been going since 1997, but it didn’t take long for items worth six figures to start turning up. In 2009, for instance, a Clyfford Still painting broke the record for the most valuable item after getting a valuation of $500,000. The painting may have been worth even more, though, as another Still piece was auctioned off for $21 million at around the same time as the episode aired.
13. An original Banksy – $526,000 (U.K. series, 2014)
Street artist Banksy doesn’t make art to be sold; he paints it on walls and buildings to make a statement. Yet his artwork “Mobile Lovers” ended up on a door in Bristol, England, and someone had it appraised on Antiques Roadshow. And after the show suggested a $526,000 price tag, Banksy handed ownership of the piece to the city’s Broad Plain Boys’ Club so that it could receive the profits at auction.
12. Frederick Remington portrait with letter – $600,000 to $800,000 (U.S. series, 2014)
When your relative had a famous artist for a friend, it affords you certain advantages. And one guest on a 2014 episode of Roadshow brought in a portrait of their great-grandfather that had been painted by Frederick Remington – as well as a letter from the artist. The letter was valued at $2,000 and the painting at somewhere between $600,000 and $800,000.
11. Jardiniere by Christofle – $698,000 (U.K. series, 1991)
It’s hard to believe that before appearing on Antiques Roadshow in 1991, this extremely valuable work of art had been used as a plant pot. However, appraiser Eric Knowles knew the urn – with its handles molded into the shape of cranes – hailed from the late 19th century. And the gilded bronze piece sold for $698,000 at auction.
10. Robert Henri oil painting – $700,000 (U.S. series, 2010)
The woman who owned this oil painting had received it as a gift from her father – who said the artwork’s subject was her grandmother. What may have come as a shock was that the artist behind the opus was Robert Henri. This meant that the painting had serious value. Appraiser Peter M. Fairbanks suggested that the family take out a huge insurance policy on their art – as of 2016, they boosted their coverage to match the painting’s value of up to $700,000.
9. 18th century Qianlong jade collection – $710,000 to $1,070,000 (U.S. series, 2009)
In early 2009 the aforementioned Clyfford Still painting broke the record for the U.S. show’s most valuable item – but only a few months later that accolade was shattered. A collection of Chinese jade ornaments – originally bought by an American living in Beijing – were collectively valued at between $710,000 and $1,070,000. That made them only the third item to be valued at more than $1 million in the show’s worldwide history at the time.
8. Diego Rivera’s “El Albañil” – $800,000 to $1 million (U.S. series, 2012)
Any art aficionado will tell you that works from an artist’s early years tend to be extremely valuable. And if such an early piece went missing for many years, then the value skyrockets. This was the case with a 1904 Diego Rivera oil painting – which a U.S. guest brought in for a 2012 episode of Roadshow. In the end, the piece was valued at somewhere between $800,000 and $1 million.
7. Japonisme urn – $833,000 (U.K. series, 1991)
In some cases, items shown on the show end up being valued at a far higher price after the fact – and this might be the most dramatic example. In 1991 a Japonisme urn was given a valuation of roughly $12,000 in today’s money. But, years later, the item was sold off at an auction for an astonishing $833,000.
6. Boston Red Stockings baseball archive – $1 million (U.S. series, 2015)
If you’re not into baseball, the fact that trading cards with images of players on them could be valuable seems absurd – but they are. A collection of early prints from the 1870s – along with letters from several Boston players – was valued at $1 million in a 2015 episode of Antiques Roadshow. Later, though, other experts commented that the cards wouldn’t fetch such a high price at auction.
5. Chinese rhinoceros horn cups – $1 million to $1.5 million (U.S. series, 2011)
Many of the items that guests bring in are inherited or dug up during a clear out. But in some cases, people go out of their way to acquire them. One such attendant on the U.S. show spent years – and around $5,000 – building up a collection of Chinese cups made from rhino horn. And as it turns out, it was more than worth their while. You see, the collection was valued at somewhere between $1 million and $1.5 million – one of the highest valuations in the show’s history.
4. Leica Luxus II camera – $1.03 million (U.K. series, 2001)
If something is incredibly rare, then it’s much more likely to fetch a high price. In 2001 a guest on the U.K. version of the show brought in a gold-plated Leica camera thought to be the only model of its kind. At the time, it was valued at just over $1 million. Yet when the camera was auctioned off in Hong Kong, the owner “only” managed to get $620,000.
3. Fabergé flower – $1.25 million (U.K. series, 2017)
One of the most valuable items to have appeared recently on the show was an ornamental flower made by Gustav Fabergé’s famous company. The flower turned up in an episode of the British version in the West Midlands town of Dudley, and it was valued at a staggering $1.25 million.
2. F.A. Cup fifth edition – $1.25 million (U.K. series, 2015)
The current record holder on the U.K. edition of the show is, appropriately, something of a national treasure. The fifth edition of the F.A. Cup was served to winners of the prestigious soccer trophy from 1911 until 1991. The prize was brought in for a 2015 episode of the show and valued at “well over” $1.25 million.
1. Angel of the North scale model – $1.25 million (U.K. series, 2008)
The first item to break the £1 million mark on the U.K. version of the show turned up in 2008. Antony Gormley’s Angel of the North is among the most famous modern monuments in Britain. But whereas the actual statue cost about $1 million to construct, the six-foot-tall scale model that appeared on Antiques Roadshow was valued even more highly.
How would you react if you were told your antique was worth millions? Well, after rifling through her late relative’s attic, this woman found a mysterious box. But the container was locked, and the woman tried key after key to no avail. Then, finally, when the box could be prised open, it revealed its contents: one solitary ring with an inscription. This item was puzzling, though, as it didn’t seem to relate to any part of the family’s history. Then, when the full story subsequently unfolded, the ring’s true provenance left the woman flabbergasted.
The unnamed woman’s father-in-law had recently passed away, meaning it was left to her and her family to go through his possessions. And the relatives duly worked their way through the deceased’s home in Wales, eventually ending up in the attic. But while such high spaces can hold a treasure trove of long-forgotten relics, this family found something truly special.
More specifically, the family members came across a wooden box – one that was very obviously old and covered in scratches. Yet it wasn’t this item that was of particular interest; instead, it was all to do with the contents. Inside the box, you see, was a ring made from a silver-colored metal that featured a floral, almost feather-like engraving. The piece of jewelry also had an inscription of “C Brontë,” although this wasn’t a name that the finders were able to place within their family.
There was also a date emblazoned on the ring: “31st March 1855.” And as this too failed to ring a bell with the deceased man’s relatives, they decided to ultimately turn to the internet to try and find answers – or at least set them on the right path. Upon a search for the name and date, however, what emerged was quite the eye-opener.
You see, the top result that Google returned was for the famous 19th-century author Charlotte Brontë. And more than 150 years after her death – which did indeed occur on March 31, 1855 – Charlotte’s most famous novel, Jane Eyre, remains a highly lauded literary classic.
The third child of Maria and Patrick Brontë, Charlotte entered the world on April 21, 1816, in the small English village of Thornton. And while Thornton has since been consumed by the urban sprawl of neighboring city Bradford, Charlotte, along with her sisters, are still arguably the area’s most famed former inhabitants.
Patrick Brontë served as a priest but was also a keen writer – a passion he seemingly passed on to his children. He and Maria were the parents of Maria and Elizabeth, who were born in 1813 and 1814, respectively. Charlotte arrived next, followed by brother Patrick, or Branwell, in 1817 and two more sisters, Emily and Anne, in 1818 and 1820.
But the Brontës soon experienced a devastating loss that would forever leave a mark on the family. After mother Maria developed uterine cancer, she passed away at the age of just 38. And although Maria’s older sister, Elizabeth, ultimately joined the clan in 1821 to help raise the six children, Patrick never remarried.
Instead, while Elizabeth and a maid named Tabitha Aykroyd looked after the younger Brontës, Patrick sought solace in his work. After several failed attempts at finding a new wife, he decided to devote his time to the poor and sick. That said, the priest did pay some attention to his children’s needs – particularly when it came to their education.
But although the Brontë siblings were lavished with all the books and toys they desired, formal education was an expense that Patrick couldn’t easily meet. Nevertheless, the widower persisted, and he finally arranged for his daughters to attend a “charity school.” These establishments had relatively low fees and were known for helping out families of the clergy.
So, in July 1824 Patrick enrolled Maria, Elizabeth, Charlotte and Emily at the Clergy Daughters’ School in the village of Cowan Bridge. Unfortunately, though, their time at the facility was short-lived. Charlotte would later recall that conditions in the school had been unsanitary, and that this had badly affected the health of its students.
In 1825 there was even an outbreak of typhoid at the school, with Maria and Elizabeth contracting tuberculosis and growing seriously ill as a result. And even though both girls were therefore sent home, neither recovered from their sickness. Tragically, Maria passed away on May 6 aged 11, while Elizabeth followed on June 15 aged ten.
After his two eldest daughters died, Patrick then withdrew Charlotte and Emily from the Cowan Bridge school. But although Charlotte’s experiences at the institution had been unpleasant, she still managed to take inspiration from that period later in life. In particular, she drew upon her memories to create the fictional Lowood School featured in Jane Eyre.
Perhaps owing to the loss of her mother and two older sisters, Charlotte took on a more maternal role with her younger siblings in the following years. It was during this time, moreover, that she started writing poetry. This became a form of therapy for the adolescent – a magical realm into which she, her sisters and brother could escape.
From the age of 13 up until her death, Charlotte is believed to have penned over 200 poems. Her siblings were also keen wordsmiths, with much of their work going on to be published in the family’s own Branwell’s Blackwood’s Magazine. In 1831, though, Charlotte eventually returned to her formal studies by enrolling at Roe Head School.
And Charlotte’s time at Roe Head was altogether more pleasant than her earlier schooling had been. It was there, in fact, that she formed friendships with Ellen Nussey and Mary Taylor, who would continue to be part of her life into adulthood. At the age of 19, Charlotte also returned to the school to teach for several years.
Being an instructor at Roe Head was not as fulfilling as being a student, however, and sadness and isolation seemingly seeped into Charlotte’s poetry as a consequence. Indeed, works such as “We Wove a Web in Childhood” stand in stark contrast to the imagined world she had earlier inhabited with her brother and sisters.
Then, after leaving Roe Head, Charlotte found work as a governess, or private tutor, from 1839. The author didn’t much enjoy this role either, leading her to quit after two years. Nevertheless, it wasn’t all for nothing, as again Charlotte would mine her personal life for Jane Eyre, with one on-the-job incident believed to be the basis of part of the book’s opening chapter.
After that, Charlotte and Emily enrolled in a boarding school in Brussels, Belgium. In lieu of paying rent and tuition fees, the sisters took up tutoring posts in 1842, with Charlotte teaching English and Emily music. Ultimately, though, the pair returned home in October that year, as news came that their aunt Elizabeth had passed away from an intestinal obstruction.
Charlotte returned to the boarding school as a teacher the following January; Emily, by contrast, remained in England. But life in Belgium didn’t always run smoothly. Charlotte grew homesick, for one, and found herself developing a strong attraction to Constantin Héger, who ran the school with his wife. Eventually, then, she went home a year later – and with more experiences to draw upon for her future novels.
Then, after an attempt to set up their own boarding school in the Haworth family home, the surviving Brontë sisters took to self-publishing the novels on which they had been working. At the time, though, most writing by women was not generally held in the same regard as literature penned by men, and so the three women decided to release their works to the world under pseudonyms that obscured their gender.
Charlotte had previously sought motivation from then-Poet Laureate Robert Southey – although, in the end, he was far from encouraging. In response to the aspiring writer’s letter, Southey said, “Literature cannot be the business of a woman’s life, and it ought not to be. The more she is engaged in her proper duties, the less leisure will she have for it even as an accomplishment and a recreation.”
And so the sisters self-published and submitted their first manuscripts under the names Currer (Charlotte), Ellis (Emily) and Acton (Anne) Bell. Charlotte, for her part, had written The Professor, which had been based on her experiences in Brussels. But though the work was initially rejected, there was hope on the horizon. You see, publishers Smith, Elder & Co. had expressed an interest in any longer works that she – or, rather, Currer Bell – produced.
Charlotte was therefore sufficiently motivated to finish her second manuscript, Jane Eyre, and within a month and a half the novel was published. The book drew largely from her own experiences and was considered groundbreaking not only for being told in the first person, but also for being from a woman’s point of view. This combination proved to be a winning one, too.
But Charlotte’s success would be marred by further tragedy. While working on what was to become her second published novel, Shirley, the author’s brother, Branwell, contracted bronchitis and died in September 1848. Her sibling had been a heavy drinker and possible drug user, which may have compounded his illness.
Contrary to her brother’s diagnosis, Charlotte believed Branwell had died of tuberculosis – just as their older sisters had done 20 years previously. Whatever the truth, though, Emily would follow by falling ill soon after her brother’s funeral. Tuberculosis ultimately took her life in December 1848, with Anne dying of the same condition just months later.
To cope with the loss of three siblings in an eight-month period, Charlotte got lost in her writing. She had shared the pursuit with her late sisters, of course, with Emily’s Wuthering Heights and Anne’s Agnes Grey also proving a success in the wake of Jane Eyre. Yet Charlotte’s later novels never quite matched the popularity of her debut.
Shirley, published five months after Anne’s death, failed to connect with readers in the same way as Jane Eyre. By this time, moreover, it was widely suspected that Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell were in fact women hiding behind male pseudonyms. And Charlotte’s decision not to posthumously republish Anne’s second book, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, under her real name remains controversial today, with some believing that the decision negatively affected Anne’s popularity,
Nevertheless, if there were any lingering doubts as to the Bells’ true identities, they were confirmed as the surviving sister’s profile rose. And at around the time that Charlotte’s third novel, Villette, emerged in 1853, the author finally found love.
Arthur Bell Nicholls was the curate in the Brontës’ home village and the person from whom the sisters had taken their collective pen name. He had long been in love with Charlotte, who had resisted a proposal of marriage at first. After the writer grew increasingly enamored of Arthur, though, the pair went on to wed in June 1854.
Then, not long after tying the knot, Charlotte fell pregnant. But during what should have been a happy period, her health took a turn for the worse. According to her friend and fellow author Elizabeth Gaskell, Charlotte suffered “sensations of perpetual nausea and ever-recurring faintness.” Today, Brontë sisters biographers speculate that Charlotte suffered from malnourishment and dehydration as the result of severe morning sickness, and it was this that ultimately led to her death. Still, the official diagnosis sounds all too familiar.
You see, contemporary doctors decided that Charlotte had succumbed to tuberculosis. And with that, Patrick Brontë had survived his entire family, losing all five of his daughters and possibly his only son to the same disease. The most famous of the Brontë authors passed away on March 31, 1855, along with her unborn baby. She missed her 39th birthday by three weeks.
This date was the same as that inscribed on the ring found in the Welsh attic. But that wasn’t the only thing tying the piece to the famous writer. The ring hid a secret, you see, and it was this that its finder spotted soon after the jewelry’s discovery. Ultimately, then, she went to a taping of Antiques Roadshow in order to verify her suspicions.
For more than 40 years, the BBC has invited the public to have their belongings appraised by professionals on Antiques Roadshow. And while the ring’s new owner was pretty sure about the significance of what the jewelry contained, she needed to be certain. While being filmed for the series, then, she told an expert her story.
“I’ve got goosebumps now thinking about it,” the woman said to Geoffrey Munn, an Antiques Roadshow jewelry specialist. “[The ring’s] got a hinge on it, and inside there’s plaited hair. I think it may be the hair of Charlotte Brontë.” But Munn needed no further convincing; after all, he knew the traditions of the era.
Munn explained, “It was a convention to make jewelry out of hair in the 19th century. There was a terror of not being able to remember the face and character of the person who had died,” He further described, “[The ring] opens like a little [cookie] tin lid, and amazingly we see this hair-work within – very finely worked and plaited hair.”
But there was more. Munn also had recollections of pieces he had seen before, and he went on, “[The ring] echoes a bracelet Charlotte wore of her two sisters’ hair… So it’s absolutely the focus of the mid- to late 19th century and also the focus of Charlotte Brontë.”
So, Munn explained to the woman, he had “very little reason to doubt” to whom the hair belonged – not least because there are already numerous examples of similar items on show in museums. And as a consequence, the expert said that the idea the locks had once belonged to Charlotte Brontë was an “utterly and completely credible” one.
What’s more, Ann Dinsdale, the head curator of the Brontë Society & Brontë Parsonage Museum, had no reason to disagree. Indeed, she later confirmed that the piece would make a “lovely addition” to the array of artifacts already housed at the attraction. Speaking to The Guardian in 2019, Dinsdale said, “We already have a considerable collection of Brontë hair at the museum, and there’s usually a sample on display.”
In fact, it’s the lock of braided hair that makes the jewelry incredibly special. As Munn explained, the ring itself would have been only worth roughly £25, or $32. However, the inscription and hair increase that value significantly. The expert believed that, altogether, the find could fetch somewhere in the region of £20,000 – and that’s more than $25,000.