World

Save
Print

Cruel twist of fate for couple who donated piano with treasure hidden inside

London: It is the biggest gold coin hoard ever discovered in Britain - £500,000 ($850,000) worth of 19th century sovereigns found concealed inside an antiquated school piano.

For the tuner who chanced upon it during a routine inspection at a local school, it is a life-changing find that could see him pocket tens of thousands of pounds as a reward.

Up Next

Student's death resonates across the Philippines

null
Video duration
01:05

More World News Videos

Treasure of gold found in antique piano

A British piano tuner finds $850,000 worth of gold coins inside an antique piano he was inspecting at an English country high school.

Such is the scale of the bounty, that 50 potential claimants stepped forward desperate to lay claim to its riches, only for their stories to be dismissed by experts.

But for the couple who, having failed to discover the treasure inside, donated the instrument after owning it for 32 years, a cruel twist of fate now means they will not receive a penny.

However, despite the unfortunate turn of events, former owners Megan and Graham Hemmings said they were just happy to see the proceeds go to a "good cause".

"I don't regret not finding the coins," Mr Hemmings said yesterday, as the four-month inquest to determine the treasure's true owners drew to a close. "I think that's moved on. We've got to celebrate that it's going to be used for a good cause, and that's how we view it - positively."

Advertisement

His comments follow an exhaustive search by the British Museum to find the original owners of the haul, which, after several months and numerous leads, ended in failure at Shropshire Coroner's court yesterday morning.

Unconvinced by the numerous stories put forward by sources eager to claim the gold for themselves, experts told coroner John Ellery that they had been unable to trace the whereabouts of the hoard's genuine owners.

"I have been amazed at the stories that people have shared about their families - we are a nation which loves history and adores mysteries - and this is one that rivals the best detective fiction out there," said Peter Reavill, the British Museum finds liaison officer  who led the investigation.

"But nothing has been put forward to make me believe that we've found the person who is an heir to the person who stashed these coins away."

He added that the true origin of the coins remain steeped in mystery, leaving Mr Ellery with no choice but to declare the one-tonne collection as treasure.

Under the provisions of the Treasure Act 1996, only the finder of a treasure hoard and the existing owner of the property are entitled to share the proceeds, the majority of which will be returned to the Crown.

It means that a share of the fortune will be awarded to Martin Backhouse, 61, the tuner who discovered them, and the piano's current owners, Bishop's Castle Community College, Shropshire.

But for Mr and Mrs Hemmings, who purchased the piano and its hidden contents in 1983 to teach their four children music, the saddest part of the tale is not knowing where or when it all began.

"The sadness is that it's not a complete story," said Mrs Hemmings, now a retired nursery teacher. "[But] I am delighted for that the college will benefit from the find. It's an incomplete story, but it's still an exciting one."

The haul of 913 sovereigns, minted during the reigns of Queen Victoria, Edward VII and George V, will now be offered to the British Museum and others. The final proceeds will then shared among the three parties concerned.

Martin Backhouse, the tuning technician who first mistook the carefully-wrapped coins as moth repellent, said the unexpected bonus would allow to retire early as he suffers from tinnitus, with the remaining money going to his children.

Asked if he had considered keeping his discovery a secret, he said: "No - I could have quite happily swapped them a brand-new piano for that one. But that would not have been right or proper.

"As it was gold, I thought that the school needs it just as much as I do."

The piano, which was bought by the Hemmings second-hand, is one of thousands produced by Broadwood and Sons of London during the 1900s, and was bought by a local instrument seller in Saffron Waldon, Essex, in 1906.

Experts from the British museum believe the hoard was probably hidden during the Great Depression, between 1926-46, after remnants of an old Shredded Wheat advertising card were found inside one of the packages.

The Telegraph, London