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Coroner rules hoard of gold sovereigns found in a piano is treasure

The old piano Credit: ITV News

Mystery still surrounds the identity of the rightful heirs to a treasure trove of gold coins worth enough to buy a house, found hidden under an old piano's keyboard.

The 913 coins were found neatly stacked in dusty hand-stitched packages and pouches, carefully secreted beneath the instrument's keyboard base while it was being re-tuned.

Ruling the hoard to be treasure at an inquest on Thursday, Shropshire coroner John Ellery said, 'we simply do not know how they came to be concealed'.

For 33 years, the piano was previously owned by Graham and Meg Hemmings, formerly of Saffron Walden, Essex, who used the instrument to teach their children music - and were entirely ignorant of its secret cargo.

The couple, who moved to Shropshire in 2015, then donated the upright Broadwood and Sons-made piano to a nearby school, Bishop's Castle Community College, last summer, which then decided to have it tuned.

The gold sovereigns Credit: ITV News

Experts from the British Museum found the coins ranged in date from 1847 to 1915, consisting of 633 full sovereigns and 280 half-sovereigns.

The coins were found to be 91.7% pure gold, with the majority dating from the reign of Queen Victoria.

The hoard itself - which is yet to be formally valued - is now being held at secure location, while the piano will be returned to its home in a local school.

The coins are thought to have been packaged up during the Great Depression era Credit: ITV News

Discovered by tuning technician, 61-year old Martin Backhouse, he said it was a 'gob-smacking' stash.

"As soon as I started lifting out the keys, I thought, uh-uh, what's this underneath the keyboard? I lifted one and thought, that can't be moth repellent, it's too heavy. Ooh, it looks like there's rather a lot of gold in htis."

– Martin Blackhouse, Tuning Technician

He and Bishop's Castle Community College could now potentially be in line for a windfall from the hoard's sale.

Any money would go to his children, he said, adding he may retire early as he now suffers from tinnitus.

Meanwhile, Mr and Mrs Hemmings felt no bitterness, praising church-going Mr Backhouse's honesty in immediately reporting the find.

Mrs Hemmings, 65, said: "The sadness is, it's not a complete story, they've looked and searched for the people and they unfortunately haven't come forward.

The hoard was probably "re-packaged" some time during the Great Depression era, because one of the packets contained an old Shredded Wheat advertising card.