July 22, 2009

The Elgin Coins?

Posted at 12:39 pm in Similar cases

An interesting story only because of its location in Elgin (yes – I know that Lord Elgin’s house was not actually in Elgin). A local museum wants artefacts returned, or compensation for artefacts that are being held onto by a national museum that they were sent to for research purposes.


Museums Squabble Over Treasure Coins
By Richard Giedroyc, World Coin News
July 20, 2009

Usually the British treasure trove laws work favorably to protect the amateur finder, professional archaeologists and museums that may become involved in any find. I said, “Usually.”

In recent years, all sorts of artifacts have been found in a field at Clarkly Hill in Burghead, Scotland, by people with metal detectors. Among the many artifacts are some Roman coins, two gold finger rings believed to date from the fifth and the 12th centuries, a gold earring believed to be Roman, and some odd and curious or primitive gold ring money understood to date from the Bronze Age.

The items are by law to be submitted to a museum for study and evaluation. Depending on the significance of a find and the circumstances under which it was lost or intentionally buried, the finder may eventually either receive the artifacts or their value. The Clarkly Hill finds have been sent to the Elgin Museum in Moray, the Elgin Museum in turn sending the coins and other artifacts to the National Museums of Scotland in Edinburgh for additional examination. Unfortunately, this is where something has gone amiss.

Elgin Museum Curator David Addison is quoted in the May 25 issue of The Press and Journal newspaper as saying he will “kick up a stink” if the NMS doesn’t start returning the artifacts, most of which at the time this article is being written had not been returned.

Under the rules of engagement, museums can bid on artifacts and coins once the artifacts and coins have been evaluated. Exceptionally rare coins and artifacts can be kept by the NMS to complete its collection. This appears to be the position of the NMS regarding the Clarkly Hill finds.

Addison is not taking the news lying down. He told the newspaper, “The way I see it we’re trying to tell a story here and if pieces of Moray don’t end up in Moray there’s no way we can do that.”

Although The Press and Journal story doesn’t indicate if the NMS is listening to Addison or not, the Elgin Museum has established a fund-raising campaign to raise funds to buy back the coins and artifacts. The Elgin Museum plans to form a collection the museum will title Burghead. So far the Elgin Museum has received £2,100 in donations from museum members, as well as an additional £60 in public donations.

It is possible that by “kicking up a stink” the national museum may have begun to listen. According to the newspaper, a group of nine ancient Roman coins found in the area were recently returned. The coins had been found in the 1960s and had only recently been turned over to the Elgin Museum.

While things have been turbulent in Scotland, in England it has been a different story. About 30 years ago, a hoard of 59 gold unite or “jacobus” coins of King James VI of Scotland were found by a builder digging foundations for a block of houses in Chipping Norton. The coins were struck following the king’s becoming the first Stuart king of England in 1603.

The builder failed to disclose the find, giving them instead to his grandson who is now 39, married, and anxious to sell them. The grandson has jumped through all the appropriate hoops, including having the British Museum examine the coins, resulting in permission to sell them at auction June 9 through Morton and Eden in London. The two rarest coins were purchased by the British Museum, which plans to display them.

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