An inquest was opened at St Pancras Coroner’s Court on Monday, 18 October 2010, in relation to a hoard of American gold twenty-dollar coins found in the borough of Hackney, Greater London.
The inquest has been opened to determine whether the hoard qualifies as Treasure. Because the coins are less than 300 years’ old, in order to qualify as Treasure they need to meet the following criteria:
1. Made of gold or silver
2. Deliberately concealed by the owner with a view to later recovery
3. The owner, or his or her present heirs or successors, must be unknown
The inquest will be resumed and concluded at the Poplar Coroner’s Court on the 8th day of February 2011.
The coins were reported to Kate Sumnall, Finds Liaison Officer for the Portable Antiquities Scheme, based at the Museum of London. They number 80 in total and were minted in the United States between 1854 and 1913, and all are $20 denominations of the type known as ‘Double-Eagle’.
The coins, some of which are less than 100 years’ old, would not be the youngest items to fall under the definition of ‘Treasure’ or the earlier legal category of ‘Treasure Trove’ – there are cases of more recent British coins, including a hoard of silver threepences from Abbey Hulton, Staffordshire dating to 1943 which were declared Treasure Trove. However, this find is totally unprecedented in the United Kingdom. The value of the coins at the time of their deposit would have been very substantial; this coupled with the fact that the coins are a specific type of foreign currency, points to a compelling story behind their collection and concealment.
As the coins are composed predominantly of precious metal, they will qualify as ‘Treasure’ under the terms of the Treasure Act 1996 and thus become the property of the Crown, if the coroner finds that they have been buried with the intent of future recovery. However if the original owner or his or her heirs are able to establish their title to the coins, this will override the Crown’s claim.
The coroner has suspended the inquest until 8 February 2011 order to allow possible claimants to come forward. Anyone with any information about the original owners of the coins, their heirs or successors, should provide this to me, the Treasure Registrar, at the British Museum. Claims should be submitted before the coroner concludes the inquest. We will require evidence about how, when, where and why they were concealed and evidence upon which the Museum can be sure of the ownership by any potential claimant. Our office will work in cooperation with the Coroner and with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, on whose behalf we perform the administration of Treasure cases, to evaluate claims of ownership.
There is no penalty for mistaken claims made in good faith but any false claims may be reported to the police for consideration of charges of perverting the course of justice, or other offences of dishonesty.
If no valid claim is made for the coins, and the Coroner finds them to be Treasure, the coins would then be valued by the Treasure Valuation Committee at their full market value. Hackney Museum has expressed an interest in acquiring the coins, so upon agreement of the valuation, it would have up to four months to raise the money to pay for the hoard, and this sum would be divided between the owner of the land and the finder.
The Treasure Act 1996 established a set of criteria that archaeological finds have to meet in order to be classed as ‘Treasure’, among which is a requirement that the item be over 300 years old at the time of recovery. For instance, finds made in 2010 would normally have to date from 1710 or earlier to qualify. But the Treasure Act also made provision for any finds that would have qualified as ‘Treasure Trove’ under the old legislation (items of precious metal, buried with the intent of future recovery, whose owners could not be traced) but which fail the other tests to nevertheless be classed as ‘Treasure’. This is one such circumstance, and the first in recent years which has not been disclaimed by the Crown.
Dr Barrie Cook of the British Museum (Department of Coins and Medals) stated in his report to the coroner:
The 80 coins are all gold 20-dollar pieces of the United States, issued between 1854 and 1913. The coins are thus all the same denomination, introduced in this form in 1850, and were struck to the same standard, 90% gold, used from 1837 until the end of US gold coinage in 1933. The catalogue shows that the coins gradually increase in number across the decades from 1870 to 1909 (13 coins from 1870-9; 14 from 1880-89; 18 from 1890-99; and 25 from 1900-9). Over a quarter of the total were issued in the last 6 six years represented. Together these factors suggest that the material began to be put aside during this later period, rather than being built up systematically across a range of time represented. The main element among this latest material are the 17 coins dating to 1908, which suggests that a single batch of coins from that year might have formed the core for the group.
A catalogue of the hoard runs as follows:
Date Mint Total number in find
1854 San Francisco 1
1867 San Francisco 1
1870 San Francisco 1
1875 Carson City 1
1875 San Francisco 1
1876 San Francisco 5
1876 Philadelphia 2
1877 San Francisco 2
1877 Philadelphia 1
1881 San Francisco 1
1882 San Francisco 2
1883 San Francisco 3
1884 San Francisco 2
1885 San Francisco 1
1888 San Francisco 4
1889 San Francisco 1
1890 Philadelphia 1
1891 San Francisco 1
1893 San Francisco 1
1894 San Francisco 4
1896 San Francisco 3
1898 San Francisco 4
1899 San Francisco 4
1900 San Francisco 2
1901 San Francisco 3
1902 San Francisco 2
1905 San Francisco 2
1907 Philadelphia 1
1908 Philadelphia 17
1909 Philadelphia 1
1910 Philadelphia 1
1913 Philadelphia 3
1913 Denver 1
The images above are copyright the Museum of London.
Ian Richardson, Treasure Registrar, British Museum, London WC1B 3DG, tel.: 020 7323 8546, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Kate Sumnall, Finds Liaison Officer & Community Archaeologist, Department of Archaeological Collections and Archive, Museum of London, 150 London Wall, London EC2Y 5HN; tel.: 020 7814 5733; e-mail: email@example.com