Family finds gold in piano; government looks to muscle in

The recent discovery of a UK gold cache raises the specter of every-hungry leviathan ruthlessly employing the law to gobble up assets for its own benefit.

Late last year a hoard of gold coins, English sovereigns minted between 1847 and 1915, was found in old upright piano in Shropshire, in the United Kingdom, after the piano’s new owners had it retuned and repaired.

Under the UK’s Treasure Act of 1996, such discoveries are legally obligated to be reported to the local coroner within 14 days, which was done.

The piano was made by a London firm and initially sold in Essex, near London, in 1906. But its ownership from then until 1983 – when it was purchased by a family in the area who later moved to Shropshire – is unknown, according to the BBC. The new owners were recently given the instrument.

The Shrewsbury Coroner’s Court is currently seeking information about the piano’s whereabouts between 1906 and 1983.

There is a great deal at stake as the objects will qualify as “treasure” and be the property of the Crown if the coroner finds they have been hidden with the intent of future recovery, according to the BBC.

However, if the original owner or their heirs can establish their title to the find, the Crown’s claim will be void.

Under the Treasure Act of 1996, ‘Treasure’ is defined as:

  • All coins from the same hoard, with a hoard is defined as two or more coins, as long as they are at least 300 years old when found;
  • Two or more prehistoric base metal objects in association with one another;
  • Any individual (non-coin) find that is at least 300 years old and contains at least 10% gold or silver;
  • Associated finds: any object of any material found in the same place as (or which had previously been together with) another object which is deemed treasure; and
  • Objects substantially made from gold or silver but are less than 300 years old, that have been deliberately hidden with the intention of recovery and whose owners or heirs are unknown.

The government has not detailed just how many coins were uncovered in the piano or their value, but Peter Reavill, Finds Liaison Officer for the British Museum’s Portable Antiquities Scheme at Shropshire Museums said, “It is a lifetime of savings and it’s beyond most people.”

I’d be curious to hear what British citizens think about this law. I understand the government’s interest in unique treasures such as the Irish Crown Jewels, spectacular Viking hoards or Anglo-Saxon gold and silver metalwork, when and if they are uncovered.

But what we have here are simple gold coins – even if in a very substantial quantity.

It would be nice to find the individuals or their heirs who secreted the money away inside the piano; the government, meanwhile is threatening, per usual, to overstep its original purpose and strong-arm the family who, through a bit of blind luck, managed to come into possession of the coins.

Government, which already pockets a considerable sum of the average individual’s wages, has no business confiscating a collection of gold coins simply because it’s forever on the lookout for additional ways to line its coffers.

(Top: Some of the gold coins found inside an old upright piano in the United Kingdom late last year.)

19 thoughts on “Family finds gold in piano; government looks to muscle in

  1. According to the Act, the coins will be treasure trove if they would have been so under previous Common Law provisions….the coroner will investigate the origin of the find but as the area of treasure trove is subject to the prerogative powers of the Crown – into which the coroner cannot enquire -it is down to a court to determine whether there was intent to recover at a later date.
    As usual with modern parliamentary drafting the Act is a mess.
    If the catchall section permitting what was treasure trove before the Act to become treasure within the meaning of the Act, then do the prerogative powers still apply…if not, then the coroner could determine the nature of the hoard, opening yet another can of expensive legal worms….

    What baffles me is why the family reported it in the first place! Yes i know one is obliged to, but you’d have to be mad to do so.

    • My thoughts exactly – why would anyone want to bring the government into it? That is, unless someone else threatened to report it. Maybe there’s some sort of finder’s fee where whomever reports such booty automatically gets a cut, thereby creating a nation of tattletales.

      And, what a surprise, the law is murky. My guess is that in the end, it will tilt toward the government.

      • Isn’t that how it always goes? In favor of the government? Governments are necessary, but boy they sure do suck at times!!

    • Almost always at the expense of its citizens. Government has limitless funds to fight lawsuits; individuals do not. And the government is happy to wear down – financially and chronologically – those seek to fight it.

      • Yes, and it’s a shame. Isn’t it funny when people get a title and some authority behind their name, they lose all interest in qualities such as empathy and fairness??? I guess once they get the power, they’re not ashamed to let their true colors show.

      • Once the faceless government gets its hooks into something, it’s all but over, too. All actions like this do is create a nation, or nations, of sneaks. Who wants to run the risk of having a fortunate find snatched away by a greedy, self-righteous bureaucrat?

  2. I was thinking about this article for many weeks after hearing it on the radio, and I could imagine someone putting it there for safety then perhaps with dementia he or she forgot where it was put….

    • That wouldn’t surprise me; it would be easy to squirrel away money and then, get busy and, eventually, forget about it.

      Of course, given the time frame (the last coin was dated 1915) the individual could also have died in World War I.

  3. I doubt that it is the English government claiming the coins. More likely it is the House of Windsor.

  4. The decision of the coroner has happened today. The money was found by a piano tuner who was tuning the piano at a school in Shropshire. The piano had been given to the school. The proceeds of the sale will be split between the school and the piano tuner who found it.

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