In the Ellerby area of North Yorkshire in the United Kingdom, one couple engaged in renovations on their 18th-century home struck the jackpot in 2019, finding a literal trove of gold coins buried beneath floorboards and concrete. As if that wasn’t lucky enough, the coins date from 1610 to 1727, and being found in 2019, they squeak just under the cutoff for “treasure” under the terms of the 1996 Treasure Act. That means that rather than the coins reverting to possession by the Crown as “an archaeological hoard,” the couple gets to keep them. Or more accurately, they get to take them to auction.
The money constitutes approximately £100,000 (~$115,000) worth of spending power if taken straight to the bank, but due to their historic value, they are anticipated to command at least £250,000 ($288,000) when they go under the hammer at Spink in London on October 7. That’s one home renovation that really paid for itself.
“It is a wonderful and truly unexpected discovery from so unassuming a find location,” Spink auctioneer Gregory Edmund said in a statement.
The stash is comprised of some 260 gold coins, dating from the reign of James I to King George I and held in a Staffordshire-ware cup the approximate size of a soft drink can. The source of the savings hoard has been attributed to Joseph and Sarah Fernley-Maister, an influential mercantile couple who married in 1694. The Fernley-Maisters were import-exporters in Hull from the late 16th to 18th centuries, trading in iron ore, timber, and coal from the Baltic. Members of the family served in Parliament in the early 1700s. Clearly business was good, enabling the couple to secretly amass a considerable stash of gold, but following Joseph’s death in 1725 and Sarah’s in 1745, the family line trickled to a halt. This explains why the stash was left previously undiscovered.
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, only eight of which are known to still exist. That coin sold for £540,000 (~$620,000) in January of this year, inspiring the finders of the Fernley-Maister hoard to reach out to Edmund and seek more information about its history and potential value. Edmund characterizes the find remarkable, and “unlike any find in British archaeology or like any coin auction in living memory.”
Collectors will certainly be interested to participate when the gavel drops next month, especially due to the unique quality of some of the items up for sale, including a 1720 George I guinea with a minting error that left it with two “tails” sides — which could be the most valuable of the coins because of this mistake. The Crown released claim to all but one of the coins, a Brazilian gold coin that circulated in England in 1720s, wishing to retain it as an exceptionally rare find, especially in a hoard context — but Edmund speculates that the Fernley-Maisters had their own reasons for their attachment to gold.
“Joseph and Sarah clearly distrusted the newly formed Bank of England, the ‘banknote’ and even the gold coinage of their day because they choose to hold onto so many coins dating to the English Civil War and beforehand,” he said. “Why they never recovered the coins when they were really easy to find just beneath original 18th century floorboards is an even bigger mystery, but it is one hell of a piggy bank!”
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