Magazine article The Spectator

Banned Wagon

Magazine article The Spectator

Banned Wagon

Article excerpt

THE government, it is asserted, has long since turned its back on the confiscation of private property. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport's latest wheeze would suggest otherwise. It proposes to continue by stealth a process begun with the 1996 Treasure Act: the nationalisation of lost property. Until the mid-1990s, a straightforward principle governed the discovery of long-lost artefacts: finders keepers. Whether you were Long John Silver or an amateur archaeologist armed with a metal detector, if you found, on your own land, a coin or precious object which had been lost several hundred years ago, you were entitled to keep it. The only circumstances in which the state had a claim upon your find was if the treasure had been deliberately hidden - say, in the case of the Knights Templar concealing a hoard of gold. In that case, your find was classified as treasure trove, and you were bound to offer it to the government in return for compensation.

Under pressure from the worthies of the heritage world, in 1996 the then Conservative government extended the definition of treasure to encompass any coin more than 300 years old, and any other artefact of the same antiquity with a precious-metal content of more than 10 per cent. …

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