American gold coin hoard found in London

Usually when we hear of coin hoards being dug up in England, they’re Roman or Saxon or medieval. It seems like people in the UK stumble on ancient buried treasure every other day. Dozens of gold coins minted in the US in the late 19th-early 20th centuries, however, are not so regularly found. In fact, until a couple of fellas decided to do some gardening in their east London back yard, such a find was unprecendented.

Hoard of 80 gold Double Eagles found in HackneyThe details of the discovery are being kept quiet for now, both to prevent lookie loos and to ensure there are no false ownership claims. What we do know is that two people found a hoard of 80 gold Double Eagle $20 pieces, dating from between 1854 and 1913, in a Hackney garden. Double Eagles are made from 90% gold — 0.9675 troy ounces if it — and 10% copper alloy. The coins come from all over the country, minted in San Francisco, Philadelphia, Denver and Carson City, among other cities.

They were worth $20 because that was the fixed value of an ounce of gold in 1849 (yes, the year of the California Gold Rush) when they were first minted. That would be a value of $521.28 in modern buying power, all in one heavy gold coin, and that’s not counting the fluctuating value of the gold itself. Some designs, years and mints are more valuable than others, but there’s little doubt the value of the entire collection will probably reach the six figures.

The Hackney coins start just 5 years after the first Double Eagle was struck, although the bulk of the hoard comes from the later years. According to Dr Barrie Cook of the British Museum’s Department of Coins and Medal:

“The catalogue shows that the coins gradually increase in number across the decades from 1870 to 1909 (13 coins from 1870-9; 14 from 1880-89; 18 from 1890-99; and 25 from 1900-9).

“Over a quarter of the total were issued in the last 6 six years represented. Together these factors suggest that the material began to be put aside during this later period, rather than being built up systematically across a range of time represented.

“The main element among this latest material are the 17 coins dating to 1908, which suggests that a single batch of coins from that year might have formed the core for the group.”

That means the burier might actually be alive. It’s unlikely, but certainly possible, and his heirs could very well be around to file an ownership claim. The details of the location which have not been released will be used to screen out potential Double Eagle Anastasias.

The finders have reported the coin hoard to the Portable Antiquities Scheme, and an inquest has been opened. Any claimants have until February 8 to come forward. If nobody does claim ownership and the coroner determines that it’s officially treasure (which he will because buried gold is pretty much the Platonic form of official treasure), then the Crown becomes the official owner, fair market value will be assessed, and the finders paid in that amount by whichever institution wants the hoard.

Hackney Museum has already raised its hand. Meanwhile, the coins will go on display at the British Museum starting tomorrow.

9 thoughts on “American gold coin hoard found in London

  1. “The coins will qualify as Treasure under the terms of the Treasure Act 1996 and thus the property of the Crown, if the coroner finds that they have been buried with the intent of future recovery.”

    That seems counter intuitive to me, that they are treasure if they were buried with the intent of recovery. It doesn’t seem to be true of the other items you’ve reported on, such as the Scottish torcs (or the Flemish tgoblins.)

    1. There’s a separate standard for find objects that are of relatively recent make. Gold and silver objects less than 300 years old, have been deliberately hidden with intent of recovery and whose owners and heirs are unknown, qualify as treasure under the act.

      For older objects, they just have to have a small percentage of gold/silver, or be in a hoard, or be found in the same place as other objects determined to be treasure. Two or more prehistoric objects not made of precious metal also count as treasure.

      You can see how the bronze Roman cavalry helmet slipped through the cracks.

      1. The intent of recovery thing still confuses me though. So if someone dug a chest of gold doubloons that had a note saying, “Apr 4, 1732 Leave thif in place until Ye End of Tyme,” then it wouldn’t be treasure?

        1. I guess not. I’m thinking that particular circumstance doesn’t arise often. I really have no idea what the point of the intent clause is, though. Historical intent is not an easy thing to ascertain.

        2. As I understand it (and I’m not a lawyer), it’s always been that way, that for something to be treasure trove somebody must have buried it with the intention of coming back for it and then not come back.

          Basically if your purse of gold falls in the river and gets pulled out 100 years later or if you decide you want to be buried with your coin collection which is then found a couple of centuries later then it’s finders keepers, but if you buried it for safety and then got killed by marauding Vikings it belongs to the Crown.

          And it’s that way because it’s always been that way.

  2. Double Eagles are worthy of museum display? Or is it the weird nature of the find?

    And really WTF UK? Can’t even dig a garden without finding gold!

    1. Yeah, I think it’s the uniqueness of the find that makes it worth displaying. There’s the mere fact that someone buried 80 Double Eagles in a Hackney back yard. Then there are the Double Eagles themselves, which are very heavy, large, shiny and just generally enticing to museum visitors. Also the variety of mintings makes for a nice overview of Double Eagle history, which is quite interesting given how intertwined it is with the gold standard.

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