The Important Human story of the Hackney Hoard

The coins were minted between 1854 and 1913. © Portable Antiquities Scheme from British Museum website

There is something fantastic about the word ‘treasure’, it conjures up romantic images of pirates and large wooden chests, but it also brings to mind beautiful Anglo-Saxon ornaments buried in long forgotten moor or farm land. These images have been fueled in recent years by a number of high-profile discoveries of treasure, including the Staffordshire hoard, the largest UK discovery of Anglo-Saxon gold found in 2009. According to a Guardian article 2010 saw 859 treasure discoveries, an increase in 10% on 2009, and I wonder how many people received a metal detector for Christmas this year with the hope of making their own discovery.

However treasure isn’t always hundreds of years old and their story isn’t always unexplained, it can be far more interesting than that. In 2007 a hoard of 80 gold coins known as ‘Double Eagle‘ were dug up in a Hackney garden, possibly the last place anyone would expect to find treasure. The owners of the garden approached the Portable Antiquities Scheme which identified and catalogued the find. The coins were American and dated between 1854 and 1913, suggesting that unlike Anglo-Saxon treasure an owner may be traceable.

By spring last year (2011) a Coroner’s Inquest concluded that the hoard wasn’t treasure in the sense of the 1997 Act; even though they were made of gold and had been deliberately concealed with clear intent of being retrieved, the owner (or successor) could be found. It is believed that the owner of the coins was Mr Martin Sulzbacher, a German Jew who had fled Nazi persecution and taken residency in Hackney with his family. Having come to England Sulzbacher, along with his wife and children, were detained as an ‘enemy alien refugee’. In 1940 the gold coins were kept in a safe in the City of London, however another Sulzbacher family member, fearing a German invasion, took the precaution of withdrawing the coins and burying them in the garden of the Hackney property.

Martin Sulzbacher from Hackney Museum

The location was not written down, as the burial location was witnessed by five Sulzbacher family members, according to a family friend. However on 24 September 1940 their Hackney residence suffered a direct hit during the blitz and tragically all five family members were killed. Consequently upon Martin Sulzbacher’s release and return to Hackney the location of the coins remained unknown. Some of the coins were first found in 1952 when building work took place on Mr Sulzbacher’s property, but there were no clues as to the location of the rest of the coins, until 2007.

Thanks to research conducted by the British Museum, Museum of London, and Portable Antique Scheme Max Sulzbacher, the son of Martin, was traced abroad, and the Coroner decided he had the superior claim to the hoard. A coin from the hoard is now on display at Hackney Museum along with the glass jar and wrapping it was found in, an item donated to the museum by Max Sulzbacher. Being such a small item it can be difficult to image the awe at finding  80 of these in the ground. Though they do act as a reminder of the loss experienced during the Second World War. This financial loss is trivialised by the human story; the loss of Sulzbacher and his family’s liberty in the country of their refuge and the tragic loss of so many family members during the blitz. It’s easy to forget the upheaval of the time.

Our knowledge of the story surrounding of this discovery of treasure, (which according to the definition of the Treasure Act is not treasure), may also hold a significance for the discoveries of the Anglo-Saxon and other older hoards of treasure, as it could help us contextualise reasons why people bury treasure and attempt to understand the mix of emotions and fears that led to the act of burying valuable property.

In any case this is a fascinating story and I encourage you to go to Hackney Museum to see the tiny object. If you’d be interested in delving further into the story of the Hackney Hoard, here are a few useful links:

Hackney Museum online collection listing of the coin: http://museum.hackney.gov.uk/object9691

‘Hoards’ website article on ‘Hackney Double Eagles’: http://hoard.org.uk/hoards/hackney-double-eagles.htm

British Museum press release ‘The Hackney Hoard’: http://www.britishmuseum.org/the_museum/news_and_press/press_releases/2011/hackney_hoard.aspx

British Museum blog ‘Unearthing the Story of the Hackney Hoard’ by Ian Richardson: http://blog.britishmuseum.org/2011/04/18/unearthing-the-story-of-the-hackney-hoard/

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2 Responses to The Important Human story of the Hackney Hoard

  1. i have that coin.my father give that to me.coin with the women picture.it’s same.

  2. Martin was a ‘Dunera Boy’ interned first in Hay Camp 7 in New South Wales and then Tatura in Victoria until 1941 when he returned to the UK having been released by the British Government who had acknowledged that a ‘Terrible Mistake’ had been made in deporting more than 2000 men who were genuine refugees. I would recommend that you follow up and read about the incredible resilience of the Dunera Boys.

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