When you think of gardening, you probably don’t think about finding a coin that is 700 years old. This is, however, exactly what happened to 9-year-old Kate Harding, a British girl who was helping her mother do some garden work. Kate was always excited to help out in the garden, it was never a drudgery to her. She was often tasked with pulling weeds or making small holes for the little plants that her mother had so carefully cultivated. But she’d often look for new seedlings under the leaves and find bugs and other creepy-crawlies to keep herself occupied while her mother raked and tilled the rocky soil. Unlike other children her age, she had never quite outgrown her love for mud and dirt and she loved to have an excuse to get her hands dirty. On a seemingly normal day after school, Kate’s mother called her to come and help with the new vegetable patch she was planting. Young Kate was digging shallow holes with her miniature spade for the pumpkin seeds her mother had saved from the kitchen when she hit upon something hard, not far beneath the surface.
Excited, she uncovered it with her fingers, brushing the soil aside to reveal something shiny underneath the dirt. She was surprised to see that it was an old silver coin. She showed her mother, who exclaimed that she was very lucky indeed! Turning back to her work, Kate put it in her pocket for safekeeping. Every now and then, she’d take it out and rub its shiny surface. Maybe it was a lucky coin — but she decided to keep it a secret from her friends. Only her mother knew she had it.
Only, this find wasn’t so lucky. In fact, it would be the cause of her misery for a significant part of her adult life. Kate stowed it in a box under her bed and kept it safe — a memento of those days working in the garden with her mother — and never gave it too much thought after that. She had no idea that those carefree days were about to come to an end. Years passed, and she had a family and a garden of her own, but she still treasured the coin she’d found that day. Only, it wasn’t a coin. And she could never have known that, many years later, that same lucky find would bring the police right to her door.
Being only 9 years old, Kate didn’t really think much of her discovery. She kept it and never talked about it to anyone. She thought that it would somehow lose some of its magic if she didn’t keep it a secret. Besides, she wanted to keep it all to herself. Sadly, a few months later, her life was thrown into chaos when her mother passed away. Kate still had the coin and always kept it as a reminder of the fond moments she had spent in the garden with her mother. 14 years later, however, Kate started to become curious about the old silver coin.
Growing up, Kate had been unable to find any information about the coin and almost forgot about it, but it had moved from house to house with her, safe in its box. It was only when she was 23 years old and had a family of her own that she decided to finally discover the history and origins of the coin she’d found all those years ago. She decided that experts from the local museum would be the best place to start so she approached them about the coin. What she didn’t realize was that her actions were about to get her into serious trouble.
After keeping it for a few weeks and sending it for various tests, Kate got a call. She was then informed by the experts at the museum that her keepsake wasn’t a coin at all. But if it wasn’t a coin, then what was it? The experts explained to her that not only had it never actually been used as currency, but it was also one of only four such “coins” ever found in the UK! Kate was excited to hear that her piece was so rare. But while this might sound like great news, it was, in fact, not good news at all.
While it looked like a coin, Kate’s precious find was actually what’s known as a piedfort. Piedforts are usually twice as thick and twice as heavy as a normal coin and had never been in circulation. It was also made out of pure silver — which she had suspected, but had never confirmed. The more information she received about her childhood discovery, the more it dawned on her just how rare her “lucky coin” actually was. Kate was understandably excited and happy to discover that her treasured item was indeed a valuable treasure, but her excitement wouldn’t last long.
Although no one really knows what piedforts were originally used for, it is believed by historians that they were used as a guide by mint workers when they pressed new currency, or to help officials as reckoning counters as their weight was universal and designed to be very precise. This specific piedfort that Kate had found was representative of the Charles IV’s 1322 ascension to the throne of France. This meant that it was more than 700 years old and incredibly rare. The news was so surprising that Kate didn’t pay enough attention to what she was told next.
Because it was so rare, the piedfort was worth approximately $3,000. Even though it was so valuable, Kate knew that she would not sell the coin for any price, no matter what. It was her “lucky coin,” and she had carried it for most of her life. While the coin was worth a lot of money — enough for a downpayment on a brand new car or school fees for her daughter — the sentimental value it held was worth so much more to Kate. She remembered her childhood vividly and felt closer to her mother whenever she looked at it. The police, however, would not be as sentimental.
But, investigating the coin had come with a huge catch. Kate was told that she needs to inform the local coroner about the coin so that the coin could be examined more closely and so that the museum, who wanted to buy the coin, could begin their negotiations. Kate, however, had no intention of selling the piedfort and intended to keep it. The thought of her “lucky coin” sitting in a museum to gather dust pained her — and after all, it was hers. So she ignored the request. But she didn’t know that the museum wasn’t about to leave it at that.
Soon, the museum was sending her letters daily. And when she ignored those, she started to get daily calls from the museum staff. It wasn’t long before they were hounding her at all hours. But since she wasn’t going to part with the piedfort, Kate ignored the calls and letters, though she knew that she couldn’t do so indefinitely. She was beginning to realize what a mistake she had made. She wished they would leave her alone! But Kate had no idea of the trouble that was about to descend on her when the South Shropshire coroner, Anthony Sibcy, was informed of the situation.
One day Kate opened her door to find the police on her doorstep. In their hands was a letter of demand — issuing her with a summons to appear in court. She tried to explain, but they were having none of it. She didn’t understand what she could have done wrong. In her mind, the piedfort was hers because she had found it — and that had been over 14 years ago! What she didn’t know, however, was that the law didn’t agree with her. She was to be the very first person to ever be prosecuted under the laws of the 1996 Treasure Act.
The 1996 Treasure Act states that if any item that isn’t a coin, is more than 300 years old, and contains 10% of any precious metals, must be reported within 14 days to the local coroner. But Kate did not do this. And how could she have? She was only 9 years old at the time. She never suspected that what she’d found would land her in so much hot water. According to the act, Kate had now committed a criminal offense simply because she wanted to keep the item that held so much sentimental value. Was Kate right? Or was the law?
Kate was in deep trouble. Not only was she arrested and prosecuted, but she was also facing up to three months in jail. Luckily, her lawyer, Brendan Reedy, was determined to not let that happen. But he’d never seen a case quite like this before. He agreed with Kate, and he wasn’t going to go down without a fight. The defense that Brendan Reedy used was that the coin had immense sentimental value to Kate and that she didn’t report it due to disorganization on her part. However, it remained to be seen if this would be enough to sway the court in her favor.
when asked if Kate would negotiate the price of the item with the museum, Kate still had no intention of giving up the piedfort, though she admitted that she was in the wrong and did not contact the coroner. As far as Kate was concerned, the fact that the piedfort was a valuable and rare item was of no consequence. To her, it was a memento of her late mother and all she had left of her. In Kate’s eyes, that made it absolutely priceless. Even so, Kate knew that even if she won the case, she may need to give up the piedfort.
After quite a lengthy legal battle, Kate was eventually free. She received a conditional discharge and was ordered to pay roughly $30 in legal fees. But the good news ended there. She hadn’t managed to win the right to keep the coin that she treasured so deeply. And in Kate’s mind, the piedfort was still hers — even if she was being told otherwise. So she agreed to do what she was supposed to do months before. What other choice did she have? Kate decided to contact the coroner, but not without having an ace up her sleeve.
The museum had offered Kate $3,000 for the piedfort, however, when she spoke to the coroner she claimed that she had lost it. This also meant that the museum wouldn’t receive the 700-year-old piedfort for their collection. But what could they do about it? They couldn’t buy something that was no longer in Kate’s possession. Of course, the public became aware of the entire story and they were very upset. Many people were on Kate’s side. One person, for example, wrote: “Since when did museums become law enforcers? I too would ignore threatening letters from a bunch of ‘collectors.’”
Internet users and people following the story in the newspapers were astounded that such an unnecessary and frivolous lawsuit even took place. One internet user expressed outrage and wrote of the museum: “They took this woman to court over a coin! This is ridiculous! I’m all for preserving English heritage, but quite rightly this is her property, what happened to possession is 9/10ths of the law?” Others cite the common “finders keepers” adage as justification for Kate being allowed to keep her find: “That is crazy! She found it fair and square, why does she have to give it up?” another user posted.
Alan, an internet user from Coventry, had his own questions about the case and raises a good point about the date of the find. “I can’t understand how she could be found guilty. If the find was in 1996, did it occur before or after the Treasure Act came into force? And can the prosecution prove the date of the find?” Whatever the case, it was clear that someone desperately wanted to get their hands on the piedfort — even if it meant causing an enormous amount of financial strain and emotional distress to its owner, Kate.
Alan had even more questions about the case, pointing out the flaws in the act and prosecution: “Secondly, if it took place 14 years ago she was only 9 years old. What was the age of criminal responsibility at the time? For juveniles under the age of 15, the prosecution would still have to prove that she knew that the act was seriously wrong.” Obviously, they couldn’t prove such a thing. “As the magistrates’ appalling ignorance of the law has given her a criminal record, I think she should appeal before a real judge,” he stated, clearly incensed.
For Kate, who kept it safe for 14 years, to have lost the piedfort seems unlikely. It was clear that she would have done anything, including lying, to keep it safe. We are almost sure that her “lucky coin” is exactly where it always has been — in its box under her bed, safe and sound. If it were you in her position, what would you have done? Would you have done the same thing? Would you be able to give away an item that, to you, is priceless and reminded you of your mother who had passed away?
After Kate had lost the piedfort, she got her wish — the authorities no longer bothered her. Sadly, the whereabouts of the coin remains a mystery, meaning that it can’t be examined ever again. Even though she was offered $3,000 for it, we are fairly certain that the coin is still in Kate’s possession. Hopefully, it will be passed down through her family, to her children and her grandchildren after her. This would mean that the coin will be seen by others in the future — even if that means never being on display in a museum.