British Museum blog

Unearthing the story of the Hackney Hoard

Ian Richardson, Portable Antiquities and Treasure, British Museum

Ian Richardson holds up one of the gold coins. © Portable Antiquities Scheme

Ian Richardson holds up one of the gold coins. © Portable Antiquities Scheme

On 18 April 2011, the Coroner for Inner St Pancras (London) concluded an inquest into the ‘Hackney Hoard‘ of 80 gold American double eagle coins.

The coins had been found buried in a residential back garden and it was for the coroner to decide if they qualified as ‘Treasure‘ and were the property of the Crown.

As a group of precious metal objects deliberately hidden with the intention of being recovered at a later date, the coins met most of the criteria for Treasure, but in a surprise twist, the family of the original owner of the coins came forward to claim them successfully.

The coins were minted between 1854 and 1913. © Portable Antiquities Scheme

The coins were minted between 1854 and 1913. © Portable Antiquities Scheme

The court heard how Mr Martin Sulzbacher, a German Jew, had fled Nazi Germany with his wealth and settled in London in 1938.

When Mr Sulzbacher was interned as an ‘enemy alien’ in 1940 and sent to Australia, his family, fearing an imminent German invasion of Britain, buried his coins in the back garden of their Hackney property. Tragically, they perished in the Blitz and the property was destroyed.

When Mr Sulzbacher was allowed to return home, he was unable to locate the coins amid the rubble and destruction. 70 years later, they were found by accident as the residents dug a frog pond for their garden.

The coins were found wrapped in greaseproof paper, in a jar. © Portable Antiquities Scheme

The coins were found wrapped in greaseproof paper, in a jar. © Portable Antiquities Scheme

Mr Sulzbacher passed away in 1981 but his surviving relations were made aware of this recent discovery, and came forward to claim the coins. The coroner determined that the coins were not Treasure because the Sulzbacher family had sufficiently supported their claim. The Sulzbachers graciously gave permission for the coins to be displayed at the British Museum for a week following the inquest.

But how did the British Museum become involved in this historical mystery in the first place?

The answer lies with one of the newest and smallest departments in the Museum, Portable Antiquities and Treasure. The coins of the Hackney Hoard had been discovered by residents who reported them to an archaeologist working for the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS).

The entire hoard. © Portable Antiquities Scheme

The entire hoard. © Portable Antiquities Scheme

The PAS is a network of specialists called Finds Liaison Officers (FLOs) based at museums and universities throughout England and Wales who record finds of archaeological objects made by individuals in those countries.

The Department of Portable Antiquities and Treasure coordinates the PAS and runs the online database where this information is stored and made accessible to researchers, students, and the general public. The department also performs much of the administration of the Treasure Act 1996 by keeping a registry of all the finds of potential Treasure made every year, and helping to ensure that the most important of those finds are acquired by public museums.

Each coin is a $20, known as a 'Double-Eagle'. © Portable Antiquities Scheme

Each coin is a $20, known as a 'Double-Eagle'. © Portable Antiquities Scheme

In the case of the Hackney Hoard, the Finds Liaison Officer to whom the discovery was reported worked with the Department of Coins and Medals to write a report on the coins for the coroner, and produced the information for the database record.

The hoard is a totally fascinating find. Most of the finds recorded by the PAS (over 90,000 last year) and reported as potential Treasure (850 last year) are older than 300 years old, and represent a vast array of object types and coins from prehistoric times through the period of Romano-British settlement and into the middle ages.

If you would like to leave a comment click on the title

Filed under: Archaeology, Portable Antiquities and Treasure, , , ,

4 Responses - Comments are closed.

  1. David Williams says:

    What a wonderful story !

    Like

  2. Martin says:

    Saying the $20 coins are ‘of the type known as “double eagle”‘ is misleading. “Double eagle” isn’t a type, it’s another name for the denomination of gold coin: $10 = eagle, $20 = double eagle, regardless of the actual type. To provide an English analogy, it would be similar to referring to “quarter pennies of the type known as farthings”.

    Like

    • Thank you for the comment. You are quite correct about the application of the term ‘double eagle’ to these coins. It serves me right for being imprecise in my use of the word ‘type’, which of course has numismatic connotations! I employed ‘type’ colloquially in this instance but I can see that it is misleading, and I’ll change it. Thanks again. Ian Richardson

      Like

  3. Braid Hair says:

    That’s a fascinating article beautifully explaining the historical relation of the find. Indeed Sulzbacher family is very lucky to have a hold on the coins.

    Like

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 11,508 other followers

Categories

Follow @britishmuseum on Twitter

British Museum on Instagram

Robert Burns was born #onthisday in 1759. Will you be addressing a haggis this #BurnsNight? Born #onthisday in AD 76: Roman emperor Hadrian. This marble bust was found near Tivoli, outside Rome
#history #sculpture Edouard Manet, sometimes called the first Modernist and last Old Master, was born #onthisday in 1832. 
This print, Les Courses ('The Races'), shows Manet's drawing at its most vigorous. The viewpoint is dramatic; the observer is placed in the centre of the racetrack awaiting the horses' imminent stampede. The railing slopes away at an unnerving angle. The lower right-hand corner dissolves into furious scribbling, with the lithographic crayon used on its side as well as its point.

Manet was a keen racegoer, often attending with his fellow artist Degas, whom he met while Degas was copying Velazquez' Infanta Maria Margarita in the @museelouvre 
#artist #Manet #history The exhibition #IndigenousAustralia will celebrate the cultural strength and resilience of both Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders, exploring the remarkable story of how an ancient civilisation has endured and whose story is still unfolding today. This spectacular turtle-shell mask is from the Torres Strait Islands and is used in ceremonies. 
Tickets are now on sale for #IndigenousAustralia – our new major exhibition opening 23 April britishmuseum.org/indigenousaustralia We're delighted to announce a new special exhibition: #IndigenousAustralia. Opening 23 April, this will be the first major exhibition in the UK to present a history of Indigenous Australia, drawing on remarkable objects to highlight 60,000 years of continuous culture
#exhibition This object will feature in our next major exhibition, to be announced tomorrow! Can you guess where it is from?
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 11,508 other followers

%d bloggers like this: