The pair of sphinxes was just determined to date back over 5,000 years and recently sold for more than $265,000 at auction after spending 15 years in an English garden.
Fifteen years ago, a homeowner in England paid $407 for pair of sphinxes to spruce up their garden. But the sphinxes were not mere garden ornaments. They’re 5,000-year-old artifacts — and they just sold for $265,000.
“All the time they sat there and [the sellers] had no idea what they had in their garden,” exclaimed Jason Mander, whose auction house Mander Auctioneers sold the sphinxes.
He added, “As it turns out they’re thousands of years old and genuine. So it’s quite amazing really.”
The sellers first came across the sphinxes at a country house sale in East Anglia. Believing them to be 18th-century replicas, they paid £300 ($407) for the pair and brought them home to their garden.
There, the two 5,000-year-old statues sat on the homeowners’ patio. For more than a decade, they weathered English storms and occasional home repairs, including a zealous gardener who attached them to the earth with cement.
But when the homeowners decided to move house, they judged the sphinxes as too heavy to bring along — and started to look for an auction house to sell them. Mander Auctioneers agreed to sell the sphinxes “just amongst” other items that the homeowners wanted to sell.
“The condition was quite poor with heavy wear and various losses,” Mader said. “They had been repaired by the current owners, using concrete, to fill the missing part under the head of one of the statues.”
Neither the sellers nor Mander himself — who listed the sphinxes as a “pair of 19th Century carved stone garden models” — predicted what happened next.
“We didn’t really question them and put them in [at auction] at £300 to £500 ($410 to $680),” Mander explained.
“And then the auction just went crazy.”
The sphinxes had, in fact, piqued the interest of international buyers before the auction. After examining the stone sphinxes, many had concluded that they were legitimate.
“[The sphinxes] took fifteen minutes to sell, with competition from four telephone bidders and numerous internet buyers,” Mander said.
“The bidding quickly went up to £100,000 and then seemed to stall, until the hammer finally fell at £195,000 [$265,000] to an international auction gallery, setting a new house record.”
As it turned out, the sphinxes appeared to be around 5,000-years-old. Sphinxes are a popular motif in Egyptian culture which symbolizes strength. The most famous example, of course, is the Great Sphinx of Giza.
“Opinion was that they were genuine Ancient Egyptian examples, which had somehow passed through recent history as 18th-century copies,” explained Mander.
It’s not the first time that ancient Egyptian artifacts wound up in the United Kingdom. Wood fragments from Queen’s Chamber of the Great Pyramid in Giza were discovered in a Scottish cigar box in 2020, and hundreds of Egyptian artifacts were found in an English castle in 1988.
For the sellers, the fact that they once owned Egyptian artifacts came as a delightful surprise. Mander said that the sellers were “really pleased,” though the final sale was “beyond comprehension” for them.
The auction house is also happy with the sale. “These are one of the highest value lots to be sold at a provincial auction this year,” Mander said.
The sale of the sphinxes is also personally satisfying for Mander himself. “It’s a lovely story and as an auctioneer, it’s a dream,” Mander said.
“They’re a lovely couple, they’ve just moved house, so it’s really nice and from my perspective the perfect scenario.”
Now, the sphinxes will likely go to a museum where experts will examine them more closely. Hopefully, they’ll be able to pinpoint the sphinxes’ exact age.
Until then, the silent pair will keep their secrets. Who knows how they made their way across the world from Egypt to England?
“I wonder where they’ve been for the last 5,000 years,” Mander said. “It’s quite incredible, really.”
After reading about the “garden ornament” sphinxes that turned out to be actual artifacts, learn about the ancient Roman stepping stone found in an English garden. Or, see why ancient Egyptian statues often lack noses.