Mystery piano revealed to contain cache of gold sovereigns

A stash of gold hidden inside an old piano has been revealed as a hoard of sovereign coins.

The news was revealed when Shropshire coroner John Ellery resumed a Treasure Trove inquest into the find.

The coins, the exact amount has not been disclosed, were discovered shortly before Christmas when the owners of the piano took it to a shop in Ludlow to be repaired.

The cache of items, described as “substantial”, is thought to have been deliberately hidden in the upright piano sometime in the last 110 years.

Inquiries revealed that the piano was made by Broadwood & Sons of London and sold to a music establishment in Essex in 1906. The business which purchased the piano has been traced to a shop or wholesaler of music / musical instruments owned by Messrs. Beavan & Mothersole of 27, West Road, Saffron Walden.

The recent history of the piano has been traced to around 1983 where it was purchased by a local family in the Saffron Walden area.

The gold was discovered by the new owners of the piano who in a display of startling honesty, immediately reported the find to the authorities – a move which earned them the praise of the coroner.

The new owners are remaining anonymous but the discovery was made somewhere in south west Shropshire.

The collection of coins includes full and half sovereigns, dating from 1847 to 1915. Each full sovereign is worth around £220.

The inquest has been adjourned until April 20 to allow more information to be gathered about the history of the piano between 1906 and 1983.

If the owners cannot be traced and the coroner concludes they were deliberately hidden then the hoard will officially become the property of the Crown.

The discovery was initially reported Peter Reavill, Finds Liaison Officer for the British Museum’s Portable Antiquities Scheme, based with Shropshire Museums.

The coins were taken to the Ludlow Museum Resource Centre before Christmas so inquiries could begin.

If the original owner, or his or her heirs, are able to establish their title to the find, this will override the Crown’s claim.

Under the Treasure Act 1996, finders have a legal obligation to report all finds of potential Treasure to the local coroner in the district in which the find was made. The success of the Act is only possible through the work of the Portable Antiquities Scheme, which advises finders of their legal obligations, providing advice on the process and writing reports for coroners on Treasure finds.

The Act allows a national or local museum to acquire Treasure finds for public benefit. If this happens a reward is paid, which is (normally) shared equally between the finder and landowner.

Interested parties may wish to waive their right to a reward, enabling museums to acquire finds at reduced or no cost. Rewards are fixed at the full market value of the finds, determined by the Secretary of State upon the advice of an independent panel of experts, known as the Treasure Valuation Committee.

The administration of the Treasure process is undertaken at the British Museum. This work involves the preparation of Treasure cases for coroners’ inquests, providing the secretariat for the Treasure Valuation Committee, and handling disclaimed cases and the payment of rewards.

For a hoard less than 300 years old to be classed Treasure, it must be:
o    Substantially made of gold or silver
o    Deliberately concealed by the owner with a view to later recovery
o    The owner, or his or her present heirs or successors, must be unknown

The coroner has appealed for anyone with any information about the original owners of the piano and/or of the potential treasure, its heirs or successors, to write to him at the Coroner’s Office for Shropshire, Telford and Wrekin at the Shirehall, Abbey Foregate Shrewsbury SY2 6ND.

The coroner will require evidence about:
•    the nature of the find (i.e. what it comprises);
•    how, when, where and why the find was concealed
•    evidence upon which the court can be sure of the ownership by any potential claimant.

All other enquiries regarding the case are being made in the first instance to Peter Reavill, Finds Liaison Officer for Shropshire and Herefordshire, British Museum’s Portable Antiquities Scheme. c/o Ludlow Museum Resource Centre, 7-9 Parkway, Ludlow Shropshire SY8 2PG Tel: 01743 254748 Email: peter.reavill@shrophire.gov.uk

There is no penalty for mistaken claims made in good faith but any false claims may be reported to the police for consideration of any offences disclosed.