World Coins

Gold 'Piano Hoard' declared treasure in Great Britain

A trove of classic British gold coins hidden for decades will soon have a new home.

The 913 coins, however, will not be returned to the family that most recently owned the piano in which the hoard was discovered, because the hoard was hidden decades before they bought the musical instrument.

Local coroner John Ellery at Shrewsbury Coroner’s Court resumed an inquest (investigation) on April 20 relating to the “Piano Hoard” that was found in South West Shropshire, a county in the West Midlands region of Great Britain. The inquest, originally opened Jan. 12, was adjourned March 16 pending the final decision. The hoard has now been declared treasure and, as such, belongs to the government.

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The coroner said the coin hoard qualifies as treasure because:

(1)?It is substantially made of gold or silver;

(2)?It was deliberately concealed by the owner with a view to later recovery;

(3)?The owner, or his or her present heirs or successors, remain unknown.

The coroner received nearly 50 leads or claims regarding the hoard, but none were found to have sufficient evidence.

Largest sovereign find

The hoard is the largest gold sovereign hoard ever found, consisting of 913 gold sovereigns and half sovereigns dating from 1847 to 1915.

The coins date from the reigns of Queen Victoria, Edward VII and George V. The hoard totals in excess of 6 kilograms of gold bullion.

The coins were found under the keyboard of the piano, in seven carefully stitched, cloth-bound packets and a single leather drawstring purse.

The packets were deliberately hidden within the upright piano made by Broadwood & Sons of London and sold to a music establishment in Essex in 1906. The enterprise that purchased the piano has been traced to two gentleman music teachers / piano tuners Messrs. Beavan & Mothersole of 27, West Road, Saffron Walden Essex. The history of the piano after that time is uncertain.

The Hemmings, a family then located in the Saffron Walden area, purchased the piano in 1983, for their children to learn to play, and it remained with them until very recently. The Hemmings moved to Shropshire in the late 1990s and recently donated the piano to Bishops Castle Community College.

The hoard was discovered beneath the keyboard of the piano while it was being overhauled and tuned by piano technician and tuner Martin Backhouse. He found the packages of coins and, after opening some and realizing the scope of the find, made college officials aware.

The college contacted the coroner’s service and was instructed to call Peter Reavill, the British Museum’s Finds Liaison Officer for the region. The hoard was brought to Reavill in its original packaging for analysis.

Reavill and staff from the Port­able Antiquities Scheme have identified and cataloged the extensive hoard.

One of the packages used recycled cardboard from a Shredded Wheat brand package that dates the packing and hiding of those coins to likely between 1926 and 1946, long before the Hemmings family purchased the piano.

Now that the find is declared treasure, an independent Treasure Valuation Committee will be convened at the British Museum to assign a market value to the hoard.;

Museums then have an opportunity to acquire some or all of the find. Saffron Walden Museum has expressed an interest in acquiring some of the hoard given the local context.

Backhouse and the college will share a reward if any of the coins are acquired by museums.

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