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Hoard of gold Sovereigns found in piano continues to mystify

Piano tuner Martin Backhouse got quite a shock when he discovered what he thought was some bags of moth repellent inside the instrument he was fine tuning, when it turned out to be, not camphor balls, but 633 Sovereigns and 280 half Sovereigns dating from 1847 to 1915.

The Sovereign is nominally worth £1.00 as legal tender, at the time when the coins may have been hidden the face value would have been£773, but as they are 91.7% gold, the value is considerably higher even as scrap, but more as collector’s item, hundreds of thousands of pounds in fact, although it still has to be formally valued. How the coins came to be in the piano is a mystery, the school Bishop’s Castle Community College in Shropshire have absolutely no idea, as it was a gift to them in 2015. The donors of the piano Graham and Meg Hemmings, from Saffron Walden in Essex, are no wiser, even though they had owned it for 33 years and although they had extensively searched for the previous owners, they are no nearer finding them.

The coins must have been put into the instrument possibly during, or at the time of the First World War, could they have been casualties of that conflict when so many men lost their lives? Some other evidence has come to light as some “Shredded Wheat” advertising packaging was found with the coins. This cereal came to prominence in the UK in 1926 when the American owner opened a factory at Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire in 1926, which probably means that the items were repacked at that time, which was when the great depression hit the UK. We have to assume that the original owners must have had a good standard of living; a property in the south of England around the time of the depression would have been around £600 which they could have bought cash with money to spare!

In cases such as these, an inquest into the find has to be convened and coroner John Ellery ruled that the gold coins were treasure but said: “We simply do not know how they came to be concealed.” An international media appeal as well as local research failed to shed any light on who put the 6kg hoard into the piano.

Both Mr Backhouse the piano tuner and the school could be in line for a windfall when the hoard is finally sold. Mr and Mrs Hemmings said they did not regret donating the piano to the school, but we imagine that they probably wished they had checked the piano over before passing it on.

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