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A hoard of gold coins that was stashed in a piano in Shropshire has been declared treasure after its original owner failed to come forward. The collection of more than 900 gold sovereigns and half sovereigns from 1847 to 1915 was discovered by piano tuner Martin Backhouse when he came to tune a Broadwood & Sons piano at the Bishop’s Castle Community College. The coins had been concealed under the keyboard of the upright piano, stitched into seven cloth packets and a leather purse.
The hoard has been declared treasure under the Treasure Act (1996) by Shrewsbury coroner John Ellery after a three-month appeal for its original owners yielded no viable claimants – though 50 people came forward to lay claim to the coins. For a hoard less than 300 years old to be classified as Treasure, it must be substantially made of gold or silver, deliberately concealed by the owner with a view to later recovery and the owner, or his or her present heirs. As treasure, ownership of the hoard now lies with the crown and a committee from the British Museum will now value the coins, which add up to an equivalent of more than 6kg of gold bullion.
Backhouse discovered the coins while tuning the piano that had been donated to the Bishop’s Castle Community College by a couple who were downsizing their home. “I found the keys were a bit sluggish, so, as a technician, what I do is take all the keys out,” he said in a report by The Guardian. “When I started taking the keys out at the top treble, I thought ‘what’s that packaging underneath? That’s old. That’s white corduroy.’ Then I noticed it was very nicely stitched. I thought ‘well, that can’t be moth balls’.”
“I lifted one out. It was very nicely wrapped, very stiff, all neatly designed specifically to fit in the piano,” he said. “Very carefully done and very heavy. I cut off the end with my penknife and it was gold coins.”
While the full history of the piano, which was made in 1906, isn’t clear, one of the coin-filled packages was packed in cardboard advertising the breakfast cereal Shredded Wheat, dating the hiding – or repackaging – of the coins to between 1926 and 1946.
Saffron Walden Museum has already expressed an interest in a small portion of the hoard, which may be the largest of its type found to date. “The British Museum will now organise for the coins to be valued, first by an independent expert from the trade and then by the Treasure Valuation Committee,” a blog post on the British Museum’s website explained. “Saffron Walden Museum will have to pay that value to acquire the coins, with the money going to Mr Backhouse and the community college as a reward, should they wish to claim it (some rewards are waived by the finders and owners). The rest of the coins will be returned to them to do with what they will.”