The large majority of finds recorded by The Portable Antiquities Scheme are discovered by metal detectorists, however we also see artefacts found by members of the public and gardeners. You may recall the object voted number one in the series entitled Britain’s Secret Treasures was a Lower Paleolithic flint handaxe made more than half a million years ago found by a man walking his dog along a beach in Norfolk.
This gold mourning finger ring dating to circa AD 1600 to 1800 is not a hugely unusual find across the country. In fact over one hundred have been reported as treasure across the country under the Treasure Act 1996. Memento Mori finger rings and were popular from 16th to 18th centuries and were made to memorialise the dead but also to keep reminders of one’s own mortality. They are often engraved with skulls and have mottos inscribed within the hoop. This one for example reads: “Live Holy and dye happy“. They may also be inscribed with the initials of the person that has passed along with the date.
For more information regarding the ring visit www.finds.org.uk record number: WMID-6ABC41
Perhaps slightly unusual is the fact that this ring was discovered in a back garden in Birmingham. You may think if you find something in your back garden that you as the landowner will be entitled to keep it. However this is not the case if a single object is of precious metal such as this finger ring, then it must be declared to the local coroner within 14 days of discovery. The easiest way to do this is to contact your local Finds Liaison Officer (FLO) who will complete all the paperwork on your behalf. They will write to the Treasure Team based at the British museum and the local coroner with the information of the find plus when and where it was found. Your local FLO will photograph your find and then in most cases write the specialist report, this is then used by the coroner to make a decision regarding if the object qualifies to be declared treasure or not. If you are unsure if to declare an object then you can always contact your local FLO, information can be found at www.finds.org.uk on the contact page
If a local museum is interested in acquiring the object and the coroner declares it treasure at inquest that means that the Crown is then formally regarded as the owner of the item. The next phase is that it will then be valued by The Treasure Valuation Committee. Once the interested museum pays the agreed valuation, unless the reward is waivered which is encouraged, then the title is regarded to have transferred from the Crown to that museum.
Besides single objects such as finger rings, brooches and thimbles to name a few; if you discovered two or more coins found together of gold or silver content or 10 or more base metal coins found together which can be dated to over 300 years old then these must also be declared. For all the relevant information regarding the items that constitute treasure see the treasure page at www.finds.org.uk
Finally, although you are not obliged to record non treasure items we are interested to see those other items you may find. The majority of objects we record on the database do date to over 300 years old, however we have recorded other items such as World War One medals that have been lost and have local historical value. In some cases members of the original owners family have been traced and the objects have been returned to the family. So if in doubt regarding the age of your object please get in touch with us.
Victoria Allnatt and Teresa Gilmore
Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Chamberlain Square, Birmingham, West Midlands, B3 3DH. Telephone: 0121 348 8225