By any standards the Le Câtillon II Coin Hoard is astonishing. Found by two metal detectorists on the Crown Dependency of Jersey in 2012, the Hoard of late Iron Age coins and artefacts, weighing in at almost a ton, represents an unprecedented snap shot of the culture and tribal politics of late Prehistoric Britain and France. Now, after a protracted process brought about by Jersey’s lack of any modern legislation to administer such finds, some archaeologists fear that the £4.25 million settlement announced yesterday [23 December 2021], by the Government of Jersey, has established a dangerous precedent for what one heritage body on Jersey describes as “inflated valuations” for treasure finds. A precedent which in England could undermine the expertise of the specialists who administer the Treasure Act 1996 and lead to the public purse paying out significantly more cash to metal detectorists, and others, who make Treasure finds.
When in early 2012 two local metal detectorists, retired satellite engineer Reg Mead and fellow club member Richard Miles, targeted once again the field at Grouville, which had already delivered Le Câtillon I hoard of two and a half thousand Celtic coins in January 1957, they can hardly have expected to break records. After all, according to conservator Neil Mahrer writing in Current Archaeology, and an interview given by Mr Mead to the BBC Radio 4 series “Life changing“, the pair had been quietly detecting the site for on average one day a year for around three decades, recording nothing more than a few stray coins.
Then in June 2012 Mr Mead and Mr Miles identified something more substantial. After an initial find of coins the two men acted responsibly informing the Jersey authorities that they suspected they had found a hoard.
Amid strict secrecy, in the next few weeks what became known as Le Câtillon II hoard was finally excavated and block lifted by archaeologists from the Société Jersiaise and Jersey Heritage, who took the mass of conjoined material to a secure store for analysis and conservation.
What the detectorists had discovered, and what team of archaeologists excavated in the field and then in the laboratory, is what is currently the world’s largest hoard of coins of their type and period. Tribes represented in the collection of over seventy thousand individual coins include the Coriosolitae, Osismii, Redones and Baiocasses of the Armorica region of ancient Gaul with additional coins minted in southern Britain in around 40 BC.
This was an unprecedented snapshot of a time of political and cultural upheaval on both sides of the English Channel, with the campaigns if Julius Caesar a recent memory, and the economic and military tentacles of the Roman Empire encroaching on the hitherto independent tribes of Gaul and Britain.
However, the hoard did not just consist of coins. Mixed up in the deposit were what is Europe’s largest ever collection of torques [neck rings], and what seems to have been a cloth bag containing further gold and silver jewellery and metal ingots.
Because the hoard was removed archaeologically as a block, evidence of the environment of the site at the time the Hoard was buried, including the remains of millipedes, centipedes and other insects and arthropods was also recovered. This level of excavation of hoards is not always possible with media and social media reports that many finds of hoards are excavated by the finders, contrary to the UK Code of Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting, with a consequent loss of archaeological evidence.
Of course this level of work involving specialist personnel and equipment across a number of institutions was not cheap, with the Government of Jersey already committed up to a quarter of a million pounds simply to disassemble the mass of material and find out what exactly they were dealing with.
However, there was an even more fundamental issue.
As currently configured, the legal code of Jersey has no equivalent of the Treasure Act 1996 which operates in England to regulate the discovery of hoards of material containing precious metals which happen also to be important evidence of the past.
Officials had to rely instead on Jersey’s customary law of Treasure Trove. This is a concept which dates back to the Middle Ages and was the basis of Treasure Law on the mainland of the UK until the reforms of the Treasure Act 1996.
In England treasure Trove was reformed because it was becoming recognised that in an era where the hobby of legal metal detecting was increasingly popular the medieval law, with its requirement to prove whether a treasure find had been lost [Treasure Trove], or buried with the intention to recover it later [Not Treasure Trove], was not fit for purpose.
Perhaps the most famous example of Treasure Trove in action is the Sutton Hoo treasure excavated in Suffolk in 1939. As recounted in the recent film, “The Dig”, landowner Mrs Edith Pretty was awarded the internationally important find after the coroner’s inquest found it had been buried deliberately with no intention to recover it. It was the nation’s good fortune that Mrs Pretty chose to give the find to the British Museum rather than keep it in a box under the bed, or try to sell it.
Essentially, as practiced in the latter half of the 20th century, there was a presumption in Law that Treasure Trove belonged to the Crown and finders who reported potential Treasure Trove promptly and fully, would be rewarded with the full auction value of the items, or allowed to keep the object if no museum stepped up to claim the object and pay the commercial value to the finder.
It was a situation the finders of the Le Câtillon II Hoard, Mr Mead and Mr Miles, were well aware of from the earliest days of the discovery.
Shortly after the find was made public in June 2012 Mr Mead told the BBC,
“There are two laws, in Jersey anyone who wants to follow the law can use the English or the old French. If they don’t like the practice of trove then the old French law is finders keepers.“
Mr Mead added,
“Richard, myself and the land owner have an agreement between us, we are entitled to that hoard.”
In the absence of specific legislation applicable on Jersey, all parties involved in responding to the finding of the Hoard, the Crown, the Government of Jersey and crucially the finders [Mr Mead and Mr Miles], agreed voluntarily to use what the Government describes as “the spirit” of the process laid down in the second revision of the Code of Practice relating to the UK Treasure Act 1996 to establish the Hoard’s value. Central to that process are the independent experts of the Treasure Valuation Committee based at the British Museum in London.
By October 2017, four years after the initial find, the Treasure Valuation Committee (TVC) was ready to offer its assessment.
The TVC valued the Hoard at approximately £2 million.
However, according to the narrative in a press release from the Government of Jersey, at this point the issues of conservation and eventual display of the Hoard on Jersey became subordinated to discussions of raw cash value.
As was their right under the Treasure Act process, which of course everyone had agreed to abide by, Mr Mead and Mr Miles asked for a second valuation and subsequently submitted a report to the authorities which was eight hundred pages long, citing 19 subject experts, and which valued the Hoard at £6,094,775. Three times the valuations suggested by the TVC.
Given the discrepancy between the valuation offered by the Treasure Valuation Committee and the TVC and in accordance with the Code, the Crown, for reasons which have not been made clear, looked across the short sea passage to France and sought the opinion of a French valuer with, what the Government press release describes as, substantial experience in selling the types of coins concerned.
The new valuations by the French auctioneer set a figure of £6,094,775 as the value of the entire hoard, but for reasons which remain also unclear, this valuation was offered on the basis that the Hoard was sold in separate lots rather than as a coherent whole.
Here it should be noted that the sale by lots, probably on the advice of the auctioneer, would be a way for the finders to maximise their profit, and, incidentally, for the auction house to maximise its commission.
In that context it is not clear why the French dealer was allowed to submit a valuation on the basis of a sale by lots, when the retention of the hoard in its entirety would be the only form of valuation acceptable to academic researchers and which would almost certainly have been the basis of the TVC’s valuation.
Announcing the final settlement the Government of Jersey stated,
“The Crown and the Government of Jersey have therefore agreed to an overall valuation figure of £4,250,000 which reflects a substantial discount of over £1.8 million from the finders’ valuation, as the Hoard is being purchased as a whole and not in separate lots.“
With regard to the settlement with Mr Mead, Mr Miles, and the landowner of the field where the find was made, the Government press release added,
“In accordance with Jersey customary law the finders will receive an ex gratia payment from the Crown. The finders have also agreed with and support the establishment of a trust in relation to the Hoard.”
Subtracting the £250,000 awarded to Jersey Heritage for the research work it has done on the Hoard and the similar figure committed by the Government to set up a new educational trust to exploit the Hoard for cultural purposes, that ex gratia payment would appear to be in the region of £3.75 million.
If English practice under the Treasure Act were to be followed that would normally be split 50:50, half going to the finders and half to the land owner.
The Government of Jersey also claimed a success in that a much higher price could have been obtained by Mr Mead and Mr Miles had they taken the find to the commercial antiquities market, and that the Crown considered the most important aspect of the settlement was that the Hoard would remain on Jersey for future generations.
“The Hoard represents the most important historical collection of items remaining from
Jersey’s rich cultural history.” the Government of Jersey press release says.
However, the Government of Jersey has not explained why they chose to base their settlement on the higher valuation set out in the finders report and offered by the French coin dealer, rather than that of the experts of the TVC. A decision which doubled the cost to the public purse.
A press release from the Board of Trustees of Jersey Heritage, made public alongside that of the Government of Jersey, went some way to place the concerns of parts at least of the archaeological community into the public domain.
Noting that the acquisition of the Hoard illustrates why Jersey is in desperate need of new legislation which is fit for the purpose of administering and protecting such discoveries, the island’s principle heritage body went straight to the nub of the issue stating,
“We are fully aware of the practice for valuing similar finds in the UK and have concerns that the
ultimate price paid was so far adrift from expert advice from the UK’s highly-regarded
Treasure Valuation Committee (TVC).”
Crucially Jersey Heritage then added [our italics],
“Such a conclusion could have a detrimental impact on Jersey reputation and endanger future acquisitions by setting a precedent for inflated valuations.“
Indeed, looked at from an English perspective, the fear is that the huge disparity between what the Treasure Valuation Committee put forward as the value the hoard and the valuation offered by the two commercial valuations offered by the finders and the Crown, will provide ammunition to metal detectorists who have for years argued that the TVC undervalues their finds.
However, it is not clear if the Government of Jersey was even aware of the potentially explosive nature of its decision to override the valuation of the Treasure Valuations Committee, in the process destabilising the, already sensitive, issue of treasure valuations by the TVC.
Opponents of unregulated metal detecting will also note that the story of the valuation of the Le Câtillon II hoard seems also to have given the lie to the often stated mantra of many metal detectorists that metal detecting is not about the money, but saving the history.
Over eight hundred pages, nineteen experts and a premium of over two million pounds on top of the TVC’s valuation, and the further opinion of a French coin dealer, suggest that for some metal detectorists at least it is precisely about maximising the money.
Otherwise, why go to the trouble of extending the process by a number of years, by seeking that second opinion and submit that eight hundred page report.
In the wake of the Jersey settlement archaeologists in general, not to mention the UK Portable Antiquities Scheme which records the voluntary declaration of archaeological finds by the public, mainly metal detectorists, and the UK Government in the shape of the department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport [DCMS] which is currently reviewing the function of the Treasure Act 1996, will need also to come up with a response to the State of Jersey undermining in one day the credibility of the key committee in the Treasure process.
Put simply, the fear is that the island once infamous for facilitating the kind of “casino banking” which helped bring about the Financial Crash of 2008, may now just have invented “casino metal detecting” where the finders of Treasure can bet on finding a friendly coin or antiquities dealer to say the Government, acting on behalf of all of us in the public interest and to protect the public purse, got the price wrong by several zeros.