Page last updated at 18:26 GMT, Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Controversy over Shropshire woman not declaring find

By Daniel Thomas
BBC News, Shropshire

Found item
The double thickness silver artefact is French and dated to 1322-28

On 25 February a Ludlow woman became the first person in the UK to face the full wrath of the Treasure Act for failing to report an ancient artefact find.

Kate Harding, 23, pleaded guilty to breaching the act, was given a three month conditional discharge and ordered to hand over an artefact almost 700 years old.

The artefact was a silver, round, stamped, 14th Century, 2cm (0.8in) circle resembling a coin in all normal respects, except - crucially - it was double the normal thickness.

The court's decision did not please those online readers of the Shropshire Star newspaper which, like the BBC, reported the court's ruling.

"This case merely looks like a vindictive cash trawl," wrote one commenter.

"Strikes me another case of our police having too much time on their hands chasing soft targets," said another.

Other web commentators have been harsher, describing museum authorities as "jobsworths" and "heartless authoritarians" amongst other epithets. Some of them much worse.

PROGRESS OF TREASURE FINDS
Found item
You have 14 days to report your find to the coroner
If a coroner decides the find is treasure and a museum wishes to buy it, it goes before the independent Treasure Valuation Committee, who sit in the British Museum, London
The committee recommends a market value, then refers it to museums who may be interested in buying
If no museum is able to buy, it goes back to the finder who is then free to sell it on the open market

But coin experts have hit back.

Philip Mussell is director of Coin News magazine, written from his offices in Honiton, Devon.

He said of Ms Harding: "She was bloody stupid, basically, to take a coin into a museum and not expect any comeback. It's entirely her own fault.

"If she were a numismatist (student of coins), and wanted it for her own collection I could understand it. But I would bet you a million she didn't."

The 1996 Treasure Act, said Mr Mussell, was not a means for the state to take away your ancient finds with just a cheerful "thank you".

"You're going to get paid for it," he said.

"It's for the good of the country, history and archaeology. You may lose your find, but you're not going to lose your cash."

And this is why it becomes important to establish whether Ms Harding's find is a "coin" or not, because coins are exempt from the Treasure Act, unless they are part of a hoard.

'Not currency'

Ms Harding's artefact is a piedfort - double a coin's normal thickness - and probably struck for ceremonial presentation in the French court of Charles IV.

So, not for buying the shopping with.

Experts say it is probably not a coin at all, rather an object over 300 years old which contains at least 10% precious metal. And that does fall under the Act.

Ms Harding's piedfort is one of only four ever to be found in the UK which is why it was classed as possible treasure, and why she should have reported it to the coroner, says Ian Richardson, treasure registrar at the British Museum.

He added: "We realise it looked like a coin. But it wasn't treated as currency, and didn't swap hands in the same way as normal coinage.

"The object is so rare that there is a high probability it's going to be significant, so it's got to be turned in."

In Scotland, all discovered historic items are considered treasure and must be reported.



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SEE ALSO
Woman first to face Treasure Act
26 Feb 10 |  Shropshire

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