Here’s a story about one of the more unusual Treasure cases we’ve had in recent years, involving a piano. This is an extremely rare find. This is the first case of this kind that I
have ever dealt with. And I was going through my mind what he could have found in those pianos. It was one of those sort of incredible moments. Treasure is defined by the Treasure Act (1996), which applies in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Treasure consists of objects which are found that are made of 10% gold or silver and are more than 300 years old. When you receive a phone call from a school and they say we have found something really interesting inside a piano and you think this isn’t really one for me, it’s not something that, and then they start to talk about well there’s lots of pouches and they are full of gold coins and you think OK this is something special. So, last November, Martin went to the community college at Bishop’s Castle to tune a piano which they had had donated by a member of the public. Mr Backhouse our piano tuner was working for us, on the morning of the day concerned and he came down to the offices and I could hear him speaking to Kathy Dowbiggin, our business manager, and because our offices are adjacent I could overhear what was going on and he was somewhat perturbed Well Mr Backhouse kept talking about – he’d found these things and “never in all his days had he found what he was about to show us…” I had only taken out the first octave when I realised I thought something is going on what is going here and I thought I’m going to have to open up one of those packages to see what it is because there was no way I was expecting any gold. Opened it up and thought that’s… that can’t be sovereigns – did a double take – because I thought they might just be ordinary coins for a while… No way, this was something BIG. From there they contacted the coroner, John Ellery, who is based up in Shrewsbury and who has responsibility for Shropshire, who then directed them to come to me because I’m the person who deals with things like this, although this is the first sort of case I have had to deal with of a modern find. What we are dealing with are a number of individual packages which have been bundled together in a really really meticulous way. So we have got six individual packages like that and then a little collection of coins sewn up into a little pouch itself and then the other interesting one is that we have got a kidskin, a leatherskin pouch and that has coins within it as well. We started to unpack them and realised that actually, we are dealing with a really significant find here, somebody’s lifetime savings which has been put away. Our job has been very much to work alongside Martin and the school to produce a catalogue of all of that material so that the coroner can decide whether it qualifies as Treasure. The Treasure Act also makes provision for finds which would have been Treasure under the previous law. Practically speaking that’s going to apply to things that are less than 300 years old, but which consist of finds that are made predominantly of gold and silver, so more than 50% gold or silver, which were buried with the intention of future recovery and whose original owners or their heirs are unknown and that’s why this hoard of coins found in the piano is being considered under the Treasure law. The British Museum is central to this story because the Museum’s department of Learning and National Partnerships hosts the Portable Antiquities and Treasure section and we have teams which manage both finds that are reported under the Treasure Act but also the Portable Antiquities Scheme and so finds of potential Treasure have to be reported to the coroner and then they get registered with our Treasure team here at the British Museum but those finds are usually reported through Finds Liaison Officers who work for the Portable Antiquities Scheme in England and Wales. So over the last couple of months we have been unpacking the coins, looking at them, learning from them, identifying them, trying to get a real feel for the history behind them. It’s a huge privilege to know that you are opening a package and you are the first person to see this and touch it since the person who put it there and that is you reaching back and shaking hands with somebody in the past.