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Conservation of a silver coin hoard from Appledore

This hoard of money was probably hidden by a wealthy person in time of trouble. No doubt they intended to reclaim it in safer circumstances but, as was often the case, the hoard's owner never returned. When such hoards are discovered, they provide valuable information about the past. The ownership of such precious finds used to be decided at a coroner's inquest according to the old law of Treasure Trove: finds of silver or gold, hidden with the intention of recovery, would be declared as Treasure and the property of the State. This law was replaced in 1997, when the Treasure Act, 1996 came into force in England and Wales and Northern Ireland. The new Treasure Act clarifies and widens the definition of what qualifies as treasure.

The British Museum has a statutory responsibility to assess and record finds that fall within the remit of the Treasure Act. This means that museum conservators have to remove soil and corrosion from coins to enable them to be identified. Each coin has to be treated.

With hundreds, sometimes thousands, of coins coming through the Museum each year, the conservator often has to carry out bulk treatments. The coins are immersed in a chemical appropriate for removal of the type of corrosion present. Then they are individually examined, brushed, washed and dried. If necessary they are finally consolidated or lacquered.

The Appledore hoard contained around 500 coins covered with soil and silver chloride corrosion. They appeared similar but after cleaning were identified as a group of Anglo-Saxon silver pennies of great historical importance. The coins were of different weights and came from thirty-four different mints. Important information like this can only be gained by cleaning and examining each coin.