U.S. gold coins discovered in the garden of a London home, where they were buried in fear of a Nazi invasion during World War II, recently sold for more than $150,000 in U.S. funds.
The coins were sold Nov. 29 during an auction conducted by London auctioneers Morton & Eden, with 67 coins offered as one lot, and an additional 10 coins sold individually.
The story behind the coins is both bittersweet and uplifting, wherein a family that could not escape Nazi atrocities even after fleeing to Great Britain eventually experienced restoration of some property in an unusual case of treasure law in the United Kingdom decades after the end of World War II.
The hoard of 80 gold $20 double eagles from the United States survived the war, rediscovered in two groupings, in 1952 and 2007, but five members of the family that buried the coins did not. The heirs, however, would be reunited with the portion of the hoard discovered in the 21st century.
Martin Sulzbacher, a German banker who emigrated to the United Kingdom in 1938 shortly before Kristallnacht, was declared an “enemy alien” by British authorities in 1940 and sent abroad during the war, on the Arandora Star, which was torpedoed by a U-boat off the coast of Ireland on its way to Canada. After surviving that attack, Sulzbacher was sent on another ship, to Australia, and later sent to the Isle of Man, where his wife and children had been sent.
His family, including a brother, Fritz, who was a citizen of the United Kingdom and remained there, removed the coins from a safe deposit box at a bank, prior to the Blitz, and buried the coins at the family’s London home, fearing, if the Nazis were to invade, that coins in a bank would be seized, as had been done with similar property in the Netherlands.
Fritz Sulzbacher and four family members perished in a direct hit on their home from a German bomb during the Blitz, and the location of the coins was lost with them.
Upon returning to the United Kingdom in 1942, Martin Sulzbacher learned the coins had been buried and mounted unsuccessful efforts to recover them. One jar of 82 coins was discovered during a construction project in 1952; according to the British Museum, the coins were awarded to Sulzbacher. Sulzbacher died in 1981 with the whereabouts of half of the treasure still unknown.
The remaining portion of the hoard was discovered by Terence Castle and a friend in 2007 as they dug a pond in a garden in Hackney, a borough in east London; the find was announced Oct. 18, 2010, and during a treasure inquest earlier this year it was announced that a surviving family member had been located in Israel.
Because Max Sulzbacher, 81, Martin’s son, was located, the treasure was awarded to him rather than becoming, technically, crown property. The Treasure Act 1996 was intended to deal mainly with older coin hoards, often dating back to Roman or Celtic times. This is the first time since the act came into force in 1997 that an original owner or descendant made a successful claim for an item that otherwise would have been declared treasure, according to the British Museum, whose Portable Antiquities Scheme manages treasure finds in the United Kingdom.