Toadstone ring could cast magic in sale

A rare 16th or 17th-century gold ‘toadstone’ ring, found in a box of mixed jewellery during a valuation, comes for sale at Essex auction house Sworders this month, with expectations it could reach £3000-5000.

Tudor or early Stuart period toadstone ring

Toadstones are now understood to be the button-like palatal teeth of lepidotes, an extinct genus of ray-finned fish from the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. 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, unearthed by workmen in 1912 and recognised as the world’s greatest single collection of Elizabethan and Stuart jewellery, 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‘.

This example, set in a high carat gold shank in the Tudor or early Stuart period, was bought in for sale as part of a box of jewellery. While the seller, from the Stansted Montfitchet area, had no idea of its potential worth, it was spotted by Sworders’ jewellery expert Catriona Smith, who 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.  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.

The ring is included in Sworders’ Fine Jewellery and Watches sale on November 23.