Gold coin hoard found in piano declared treasure

1906 Broadwood & Sons upright piano donated to The Community College of Bishops Castle. Photo by Peter Reavill.Last November, piano tuner Martin Backhouse was having a hard time with some sticky keys on a 1906 Broadwood & Sons upright piano he was overhauling for The Community College of Bishops Castle. Martin found the problem when he removed the keys: eight parcels full of gold coins.

The school alerted the Finds Liaison Officer for the region, Peter Reavill, and he and his colleagues at the Portable Antiquities Scheme examined and catalogued the hoard. Inside seven cloth-wrapped parcels and one suede drawstring pouch, they counted 913 gold sovereigns and half-sovereigns ranging in date from 1847 to 1915, issued in the reigns of Queen Victoria, Edward VII and George V. The weight of the coins totals more than 6 kilos (13+ pounds) of gold bullion.

Gold sovereign from the reign of Queen Victoria (1898 – Jubilee Bust of Victoria), from the hoard. © Portable Antiquities Scheme/The Trustees of the British Museum. Photo by Peter Reavill.One of the pouches was packed with cardboard that provided an important clue to when the hoard was hidden. It was an ad for Shredded Wheat created after 1926 and likely before 1946. Attempts to trace the ownership history of the piano to determine who might have stashed the coins inside it went nowhere. After its manufacture by Broadwood & Sons of London, it was sold to music teachers Messrs. Beavan & Mothersole of Saffron Walden, Essex. There is no trace of its movements for almost 80 years. The trail picks up again in 1983 when it was acquired by Mr. and Mrs. Hemming, also of Saffron Walden, for the children to learn on. It remained with the Hemmings until last year when they donated it to the Bishops Castle Community College.

On April 20th, John Ellery, senior coroner for Shropshire, held an inquest in Shrewsbury and declared the gold coins treasure according to the 1996 Treasure Act, which means they now officially belong to the Crown. The British Museum will convene a Treasure Valuation Committee to assess the market value of the coins. Local museums will be given the chance to acquire the hoard for the assessed sum, which will then be split between finder Martin Backhouse and the piano’s owners, the Bishops Castle Community College.

Suede drawstring pouch and coins from the hoard. © Portable Antiquities Scheme/The Trustees of the British Museum. Photo: Peter Reavill.Coins made of precious metals that are more than 300 years old qualify as treasure, but these coins are comparatively recent. The determination that they are treasure is based on three criteria: 1) they are made of gold, 2) they were deliberately hidden with the ultimate aim of recovering them at a later date, 3) the owner and/or heirs are unknown. This was the standard applied to the Hackney Double Eagle hoard discovered in a London backyard in 2010, whose coins are also gold and have almost the exact same date range (1854-1913). The publicity from that case resulted in the identification of the legitimate owner, the son of the original owner who had died in 1981.

That has not happened in this case, despite the coroner adjourning the inquest twice to give any potential claimants the chance to come forward. Surprising absolutely nobody, many claimants came forward, almost 50 of them, hoping to get their hands on some of that sweet, sweet gold sovereignage, but no evidence was found to substantiate any of the claims, hence the treasure verdict.

This video from the British Museum’s YouTube channel tells the story of the Piano Hoard.



6 thoughts on “Gold coin hoard found in piano declared treasure

  1. I think everyone who has a piano will now take more notice and look inside hoping to find treasure. I wish I had when I sold my piano before moving to Crete.

  2. Rita, I had no idea that you live on Crete. Are you familiar with the surroundings of the Phaistos ‘palatial’ area and would you say the complex was originally even greater, taking e.g. their not so central (any more?) ‘central courtyard’ into account ? Do you have any idea, what the structures down in the valley are, that you see on Gmaps a little to the SE direction at ‘@35.0505124,24.8144461,249m/data=!3m1!1e3’ ? When I was there, nobody told me about whatever might be down there. To me, it looks more than, let’s say, the shelters for donkeys that it might be.


    PS: As far as the piano is concerned, I cannot write anything that would make much sense, apart from the fact that I listened to ‘Hauschka’ and his prepared piano, recently. He uses all kinds of stuff in order to pull the piano strings, and altogether it is actually much more ‘analogue’ than I thought it would be. The reasons to put the gold coins were most likely different ones.

  3. I’m sitting here looking at my old (1915) Grinnell Bros. piano which also has “sticky keys”. Hmmm. My wife is telling me to take it apart.

  4. Sweet Jesus! With the price of gold today that’s got to be one happy piano tuner!

    I wonder if he can loan his long lost Cousin Bruce a few thousand? There’s a sure thing running at this Wenesday’s matinee at the dog track. I’ll pay him back double when I… err… we win.

  5. My local museum has a smaller size piano (with carrying handles and attached candle holders) that is reputed to have contained money. Sadly, no one has ever found any. Apparently, it was a popular hiding place.

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