A rare gold coin, from a hoard of 82 found in Hackney in an ‘unprecedented’ UK discovery, has been donated to the borough by the son of the original owner.
The ‘Double-Eagle’ $20 coin is thought to have been buried in the 1940s, alongside the 81 others, made in the USA between 1854 and 1913 and will now go on display in the Hackney Museum. It was part of a hoard unearthed in 2007 in the garden of a Hackney house and reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme.
It was expected the coins would be categorised as ‘Treasure’, and would be the property of the Crown. However the heir of the original owner has been traced, making this the only case since the Treasure Act of 1997 came into force where a descendent has successfully claimed to a would-be ‘Treasure’ item.
The coins originally belonged to a Martin Sulzbacher who lived in the Hackney property. Sulzbacher was a German Jew who had fled his country to escape the Nazi regime. He was then interned as an ‘enemy alien refugee’ on the Isle of Man, during which time his London home was bombed in the blitz and members of his family were killed. After his release Sulzbacher was unable to find the buried coins, and went to Australia. He died in 1981.
Dr Roger Bland, head of the department of Portable Antiquities and Treasure at the British Museum, said: “The case of the Hackney gold coins is one of the most unique and compelling stories that we have been involved with. There is an incredibly human element to this story that is absent from many archaeological finds. The finders are to be congratulated for helping to add further vital information to the corpus of material about the Second World War, Jewish immigration, and the history of Hackney borough.”
The coroner’s office, the British Museum and the Museum of London worked together to trace Sulzbacher’s son Max Sulzbacher, who has agreed that the hoard of coins can remain on display at the British Museum until the end of this week. After this, it is expected that the coins will be sold at auction for an estimated £80,000 – with the exception of the permanent donation to Hackney Museum.
Max Sulzbacher, 81, said: “I am surprised but delighted by the recent discovery, which has come to light almost 70 years after the coins were buried.” A retired accountant living in Jerusalem, he plans to use the proceeds from the auction sale to restore his family’s gravestones at Enfield cemeter and to reward the finders of the coins.
On the donation to Hackney Museum, which was announced this Monday, local councillor Jonathan McShane said: “This is an incredible story spanning over 70 years. Hackney has such a colourful history and this personal account gives an insight into how war affected families who had settled in the borough. Mr. Sulzbacher’s generous donation means the council can display it in Hackney Museum and keep the story alive for generations to come.”