A family of music lovers from Shropshire were in for a huge surprise when they had their piano retuned and repaired. Hidden inside, the craftsmen found a 'hoard' of gold, which has stunned experts from the British Museum.
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Peter Reville, of the British Museum's Portable Antiquities Scheme, says the family arrived with the 'hoard' and laid it out on a table in front of him. He said he was shocked because: "I'm an archaeologist and I'm used to dealing with treasure, but I'm more used to medieval broaches." He described the hoard as usual, but no more details of it will be released yet.
The experts think that the gold items were hidden in the piano some time in the last 110 years, by an owner, who subsequently died before they had a chance to retrieve their valuables - or tell anyone where they were.
An inquest has been opened at Shrewsbury Coroner's Court, to discover whether an heir to the owner of the find can be traced - in which case they may be able to make a claim. All they know so far is that the upright piano was made by Broadwood & Sons in London, and sold to a music shop in Saffron Walden in Essex in 1906.
Anyone with any information about the original owners of the piano will need to contact the Coroner's Office for Shropshire, Telford and Wrekin. They need to do so in writing, and include information about the nature of the find (i.e. what it is); how, when, where and why the find was concealed; and evidence proving the potential claimant is the rightful owner.
If no heir is found, then the experts will decide whether the hoard should be classed as Treasure. For a hoard less than 300 years old to be 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 heirs) must be unknown.
If it isn't Treasure, it will be returned to the family who own the piano. If it is, it will belong to the Crown, and the piano owners will technically have no claim to it. In fact, what tends to happen is that the experts will decide what it is worth, and museums have the chance to bid on the Treasure. Whatever they pay tends to be awarded as a reward to the person who found it.
This is certainly an unusual find, but it's not as uncommon as you might think to find valuables hidden in items that are subsequently given away before they have a chance to retrieve it.
In one striking case in 2014, three students in New York picked up a sofa from a charity shop, and were disappointed to find it was lumpy and uncomfortable. They unzipped the cushions to see if they could plump them up, and found $41,000 stashed in the cushions. Fortunately, the charity shop managed to track down the rightful owner. It had belonged to an elderly woman, who was taken into hospital, and her family decided to surprise her with a new sofa when she got out.
In 2011, an 80-year-old man left his life savings of $13,000 in a suit pocket, then forgot about it and donated the suit to charity. The shop workers in Illinois hunted in vain for the suit, but it had already been sold.
And in 2010, a bride-to-be in San Diego donated a stack of books to a Salvation Army trailer. It was only later she realised the stack included a hollowed-out book she used to hide jewellery. In it was her wedding jewellery, a family heirloom, and $7,000 in cash. Fortunately, she called, and volunteers were able to track down her valuables before they were sold.