Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Treasure-Trove

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From volume XXIII of the work.
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TREASURE-TROVE is defined by Blackstone to be money or coin, gold, silver, plate, or bullion found hidden in the earth or other private place, the owner thereof being unknown. This definition is simply an extension of the Roman law definition of thesaurus inventus as an ancient deposit of money (vetus depositio pecuniæ) found by accident and without actual search. The right to treasure-trove was not, however, the same in Roman and English law. The former at its latest stage divided it between the finder and the owner of the land on which it was found, except where it was found on public or imperial property, when one-half went to the fisc. If a man found treasure on his own land, he had a right to the whole. The rights of the crown, modified by those of the feudal lord, gradually became more extensive in the feudal law of Europe, so much so as to become, in the words of Grotius, "jus commune et quasi gentium." In more recent times there has been a return, at any rate in the case of France, to the division made by the Roman law. In England the common law, which at one time apparently conferred treasure-trove, wherever found, upon the finder, now gives it all to the king, in accordance with the maxim "quod nullius est fit domini regis." This is always provided that the owner cannot be known or discovered. If he can be, he and not the king is entitled to it.

A right to treasure-trove may be granted by the British crown as a Franchise (q.v.). It is the duty of one finding treasure to make it known to the coroner. By the statute De Officio Coronatoris (4 Edw. I. st. 2), the coroner is to inquire of treasure that is found, who were the finders and likewise who is suspected thereof, and that may be well perceived where one liveth riotously, haunting taverns, and hath done so of long time. Concealment of treasure-trove is a misdemeanour at common law. There can be no larceny of it until it has been found by the coroner to be the property of the crown. The Home Office has recently issued a notification modifying the existing regulations so far as to permit the finders of coins and antiquities coming under the description of treasure-trove to retain articles not actually required for national institutions, and the sum received from such institutions as the antiquarian value of any articles retained, subject to a deduction of 20 per cent, from the antiquarian value of the objects retained and 10 per cent, from the value of other objects. In the United States treasure-trove is usually vested in the State as bona vacantia. Louisiana follows the French Code Civil, and gives half to the finder and half to the landowner. The importance of treasure-trove in India led to the passing of the Indian Treasure-Trove Act (Act vi. of 1878). It provides that treasure is to be delivered to the finder if no owner appears. If the owner can be found, three-fourths go to the finder and one-fourth to the owner, power being reserved to the Government to acquire it by payment of a sum equal to one-fifth more than the value of the material.