Sunday, 12 July 2009

Detectorist’s Treasure is wrongly valued by BM and fails to meet minimum

There was a bit of media fuss in past weeks over the upcoming auction of a 15th century gold plaque found by a former pub cook in a field at Great Gaddesden, near Ashridge. The 57-year old housewife was for a while the talk of the metal detecting blogs (frivolous bloggers noted the alliteration Mary Hannaby, housewife from Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire and one even wrote a song about it). There is a You Tube video of her detecting in grassland, and a number of online news stories, such as this one which gives a totally odd view of the Treasure process, despite eleven years of outreach by you-know-who.

But then there is much in this story as reported which is unclear. For example, I was unable to find any mention in any of the news reports of the date when this object was actually found. It was presumably reported as Treasure and therefore valued “by the British Museum” as worth 4000 GBP. But, according to the news reports, the BM did not have that much cash in the office desk drawers which (it was said ) was the reason Mrs Hannaby took it to Sotheby’s where it was examined by a specialist (Carolyn Miner – we’ve seen her before) who pronounced it was very valuable, something like 150-250 000 GBP. So it was put up for auction on July 9th. A curiosity is that the landowner said he only wanted 30% of the proceeds instead of the more conventional 50% which treasure hunters usually agree with the owners of productive sites so they can empty them of collectable and saleable artifacts. It is interesting to note that the new valuation was based on it reputedly being one of “only three of the kind” and it was compared to that of the Middleham Jewel, which sold at auction for £1.3million in 1986 and was later resold to the Yorkshire Museum for £2.5million (actually, the Gt Gaddesden object is nothing like the Middleham one in date, function or quality of workmanship).

Two points emerge, Sotheby’s treated the object as a great treasure, but the fact that it came on the market suggests that the British Museum did not. The British Museum valuation of its market value quoted in the media is well below the estimate that Sothebys placed on it.

In the end, both were wrong, bidding opened at 30 000 pounds and closed at 38 000, the minimum having not been reached. But that is still 34 thousand pounds more than the BM is reported to have said it was worth on the market.

Obviously the more and more "metal detecting" finds come to the market the argument that “only three are known” of something wears a bit thin. A few years ago there were “only two”, next decade there might be “thirty two” known, therefore prices for this type of dugup based on (current) "rarity" are devoid of sense. Perhaps this was behind the BM's questionable valuation of the object?
In any case, who sees the Holy Trinity on this plaque? Where is the Holy Spirit?

Photo: Top, Mary Hannaby (from the Daily Mail's "the beep that made me leap"(sic);

bottom, gold plaque no collector really wants to pay 250 000 quid for (Sothebys)

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