In the Ellerby area of North Yorkshire, UK, a couple engaged in renovations to their 18th century home hit the jackpot in 2019, finding a veritable treasure trove of gold coins buried under the floorboards and the concrete. As if that weren’t lucky enough, the coins date from 1610 to 1727, and being found in 2019, they squeak just below the “treasure” threshold under the terms of the Treasury Act 1996. This means that instead of the pieces reverting to the possession of the Crown as “archaeological treasure”, the couple can keep them. Or more precisely, they can auction them off.
The silver represents around £100,000 (~$115,000) in purchasing power if deposited directly in the bank, but due to their historical value they should command at least £250,000 ($288,000) when they go under the hammer at Spink in London. October 7. It’s a home renovation that really paid for itself.
“This is a wonderful and truly unexpected find from such a modest find,” Spink auctioneer Gregory Edmund said in a statement.
The stash is made up of some 260 gold coins, dating from the reign of James I to King George I and kept in a cup approximately the size of a pop can. The source of the savings hoard has been attributed to Joseph and Sarah Fernley-Maister, an influential trading couple who married in 1694. The Fernley-Maisters were importer-exporters in Hull from the late 16th to 18th centuries , trading iron ore, timber, and Baltic coal. Members of the family served in Parliament in the early 1700s. Business was obviously good, enabling the couple to secretly amass a considerable amount of gold, but after the deaths of Joseph in 1725 and Sarah in 1745, the family line stopped. This explains why the hiding place has not been discovered before.
The couple contacted Spink following the high-profile sale of the Henry III Gold Penny earlier this year – an extremely rare coin minted around 1257, of which only eight are still extant. This coin sold for £540,000 (~$620,000) in January this year, prompting discoverers of the Fernley-Maister treasure to contact Edmund and seek more information about its history and potential value. Edmund calls the find remarkable and “unlike any find in British archeology or any coin auction in living memory”.
Collectors will certainly be interested in participating when the hammer falls next month, not least because of the unique quality of some of the items up for sale, including a 1720 George I guinea with a typing error that left it with two sides “tails” – which could be the most valuable of the pieces because of this error. The Crown has claimed all but one of the coins, a Brazilian gold coin which circulated in England in the 1720s, wishing to keep it as an exceptionally rare find, particularly in a hoard context – but Edmund assumes that the Fernleys- Maisters had their own reasons for their attachment to gold.
“Joseph and Sarah were clearly wary of the new Bank of England, the ‘bank note’ and even the gold coinage of their time, as they chose to keep so many coins dating from the English Civil War and ‘before,’ he said. “Why they never salvaged the parts when they were really easy to find just under the original 18th century floors is an even bigger mystery, but it’s a hell of a piggy bank!”