MORTON & Eden are to auction a hoard of American gold coins discovered in the garden of an East London home where they were buried in fear of a Nazi invasion.
The 'Hackney hoard' of $20 double eagle coins, expected to sell
for a total of around £80,000 on November 29-30, first hit the
headlines in 2007 when a resident and his friends uncovered them
while digging out a pond in his front garden. The 80 glistening
coins, wrapped in greaseproof paper and packed tightly inside a
glass preserving jar, were the subject of a "treasure" inquiry and,
most unusually, one of the sons of the original owner was
This meant that the treasure was returned to him rather than
becoming, technically, Crown property.
The Treasure Act 1996 was intended to deal mainly with older
coin hoards, often dating back to Roman or Celtic times. It is
believed this is the first time since the Act came into force that
an original owner or descendant has been found.
One specimen has been presented to the Hackney Museum, where it
is to be displayed together with the jar and wrappings in which the
hoard was found. A further two coins are being retained and the
remaining 77 coins are being offered for sale. Ten examples will be
sold individually, each with an estimate of around £1000, and the
remaining 67 coins as a single lot, estimated at
The story is straight from a Boy's Own adventure, with
tragic circumstances turning to amazing good fortune.
In his own words, Max Sulzbacher, son of the original owner,
explained that his family was one of some 60,000 Jews who had fled
to England to escape persecution after Hitler and the Nazis first
came to power in 1933. His father Martin, a banker living in
Frankfurt, mother, three young siblings and their half-Jewish maid
moved into a double-fronted house in Bethune Road, Hackney in
January 1939. Martin's brother, with his wife and their two
children, had already emigrated to London in 1934 and took up
British nationality five years later. In November 1938, their
sister's husband was sent to Dachau, never to be heard of
"My father was therefore responsible for bringing his sister as
well as her three children to London. He was also able to bring
over his aged parents - my grandparents. When war broke out, my
brother and I were evacuated with our school to Bedfordshire," Max
"My father and mother, together with my small brother and
sister, were interned as 'enemy aliens'. My father was first sent
to a camp in Devon, then the Arandora Star on the way to
Canada. However, this ship was torpedoed by a U-boat off the coast
of Ireland and many people were drowned. My father was a strong
swimmer and, after some hours in the water, was rescued by a
Canadian destroyer. After being landed in Scotland, he was sent a
few days later to Australia on the HMT Dunera. My mother
and two siblings were sent to the Isle of Man and, later that year,
my brother and I joined my mother from Bedfordshire. My
grandparents were not interned as they were too old, nor was my
widowed aunt. My uncle and aunt were, of course, British
Until then the gold coins had been deposited in a bank in the
City of London, but fearing that England would be invaded, "... my
uncle thought it wise to transfer the gold coins from the safe and
bury them in two jars in our garden. It was common knowledge that
the Nazis would go to the banks and break open the safes and empty
"When the Blitz started in September 1940, my uncle drove out of
London to Chesham to rent a flat where he and the five members of
the family were going the next day. Unfortunately that same night a
bomb dropped on our house killing them all."
Martin Sulzbacher returned from Australia in 1942 on release
from internment, and the family rented a house in Golders Green.
"One of the first things my father did was to go to the safe in the
City of London to retrieve the gold coins. To his utter
astonishment the safe was empty. Subsequently he met a friend of
the family who told him of a conversation with his late brother
that the coins were buried in the garden of the ruined house. My
father then engaged a labourer with a metal detector to search the
garden but without success."
One of the jars was found as the site was being cleared in 1952.
A coroner's inquest confirmed it was Mr Sulzbacher's property but
he was required to sell the coins through the government broker at
the official gold price, receiving just over £1000.
The second jar was unearthed 55 years later, lying about two
feet beneath the garden of a new property on the site. "He [the
finder] joked at first he thought of taking the next plane to Rio,
but in the end he handed the jar of gold coins to the London Museum
who tried to find its origin." After a number of blind alleys, the
breakthrough came when a member of staff remembered the publicity
around the find and subsequent recovery of the first jar of coins
"Of course my father had died long ago in 1981. Then they
Googled up the name Sulzbacher which revealed that a Max Sulzbacher
was a correspondent of the Association of Jewish Refugees who then
traced me in Jerusalem.
"From the proceeds of the auction we will give a sum to the
finders and to the person who made the connection from the previous
find. Then we will renovate the graves of our relatives who were
killed in the Blitz. We will then have a service of dedication of
the graves on the 71st anniversary of the tragedy. The balance will
be split between myself and my three siblings."
In a statement at the time of the inquest, Dr Roger Bland, head
of the Department of Portable Antiquities and Treasure at the
British Museum, said: "The case of the Hackney gold coins is one of
the most unique and compelling stories that we have been involved
with. There is an incredibly human element to this story that is
absent from many archaeological finds and we are pleased to see the
coins reunited with their original owners after so many years. The
finders are to be congratulated for acting responsibly and helping
to add further vital information to the corpus of material about
the Second World War, Jewish immigration, and the history of
The $20 gold coins, also known as double eagles, were the
largest regular issue gold coins made by the United States. Each
coin contains slightly less than one troy ounce of gold (.9675
oz.). The 80 coins in the find date from the 1850s to 1913 and are
typical of pieces which would have been current up to, and to a
lesser extent following, the First World War.
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