1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Treasure Trove

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TREASURE TROVE, the legal expression for coin, bullion, gold or silver articles, found (Fr. trouvé) hidden in the earth, for which no owner can be discovered. In Roman law it was called thesaurus, and defined as an ancient deposit of money (vetus depositio pecuniae) found accidentally. Under the emperors half went to the finder and half to the owner of the land, who might be the emperor, the public treasury (fiscus), or some other proprietor. Property found in the sea or on the earth has at no time been looked on as treasure trove. If the owner cannot be ascertained it becomes the property of the finder (see Lost Property). As the feudal system spread over Europe and the prince was looked on as the ultimate owner of all lands, his right to the treasure trove became, according to Grotius, jus commune et quasi gentium, in England, Germany, France, Spain and Denmark. In England for centuries the right to treasure trove has been in the Crown, who may grant it out as franchise. It is the duty of the finder, and indeed of any one who acquires knowledge, to report the matter to the coroner, who must forthwith hold an inquest to find whether the discovery be treasure trove or no. Although the taking of the find is not larceny until this be done, the concealment is an indictable offence still punishable in practice, and formerly was held “akin. both to treason and to larceny.” In the statute De officio coronatoris 1276 (4 Edw. I. c. 2) the coroner is enjoined to inquire as to treasure trove both as to finders and suspected finders, “and that may be well perceived where one liveth riotously and have done so of long time.” The Coroners Act of 1887 continues this power as heretofore. In Scotland the law is the same, but the concealment is not a criminal offence; it is there the duty of the king’s and lord treasurer’s remembrance, With the aid of the local procurator fiscal, to secure any find for the Crown, whose rights in this respect have been pushed to some length. Thus in 1888 a prehistoric jet necklace and some other articles found in Forfarshire were claimed by the authorities, though they were neither gold nor silver. The matter was finally compromised by the deposit of the find in the National Museum. By a treasury order of 1886 provision is made for the preservation of suitable articles so found in the various national museums and payment to the finders of sums in respect of the same. Also if the things are not required for this purpose they are to be returned to the finder. In India the Treasure Trove Act (16 of 1878) makes elaborate provision on the subject. It defines treasure as “anything of value hidden in the soil.” When treasure over Rs. 10 is discovered, the finder must inform the collector and deposit the treasure or give security for its custody. Concealment is a criminal offence. An inquiry is held upon notice; if declared owner less the finder has three-fourths and the owner of the ground one-fourth. The government, however, has the right of pre-emption.

In the United States the common law, following English precedent, would seem to give treasure trove to the public treasury, but in practice the finder has been allowed to keep it. In Louisiana French codes have been followed, so that one-half goes to finder and one-half to owner of land. Modern French law is the same as this, as it is also in Germany, in Italy and in Spain. In the latter country formerly the state had three quarters, whilst a quarter was given to the finder. In Austria a third goes to the finder, a third to the owner of the land, and a third to the state, and provision is made for the possible purchase of valuable antiquities by the state. In Denmark treasure trove is known as “treasure of Denmark,” and is the property of the king alone. In Russia the usage varies. In one or two of the governments, in Poland and the Baltic provinces, the treasure is divided between the owner of the land and the finder, but throughout the rest of Russia it belongs exclusively to the owner of the land. This was also the law amongst the ancient Hebrews, or so Grotius infers from the parable of the treasure hid in a field (Matt. xiii. 44).

See Blackstone’s Commentaries; Chitty’s Prerogatives of the Crown; R. Henslowe Wellington, The King’s Coroner (1905–1906); Rankine on Landownership; Murray, Archaeological Survey of the United Kingdom (1896), containing copious references to the literature of the subject.  (F. Wa.)