This Woman Dug Up A Rare Coin As A Child, And Years Later It Got Her In Big Trouble With The Law

It’s 1996 and young Kate Harding is spending time in the yard with her mom. But as the pair are working around the lawn, she uncovers something rather odd. The nine-year-old stumbles across an old coin in the ground. And instead of throwing it away, the pair decide to keep hold of it – unaware of the bad luck that would befall the family more than a decade later.

Fast forward to 2010 and that day in the backyard had become a distant, nostalgic memory for Harding. She was now in her early 20s, living alongside her partner in Ludlow, England. And the young woman had already completed her studies at Tenbury High School and Bewdley High School and Sixth Form Center.

Then it happened. Harding was investigated and charged by the authorities. So what did she do? Had she committed a serious crime? Well, this episode actually went back to the coin that she uncovered all those years before. We can sense your shock from here. No one – especially Harding – could’ve seen that coming!

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So why did this happen? Surely it isn’t a crime to find something buried in your own garden? Well, something else occurred not long after that fateful day in 1996. And Harding’s nostalgic memory now had a legal shadow looming overhead.

We know that Harding and her mom opted to keep the old coin in their house in 1996. Why chuck something like that away? It was a pretty cool find from an unexpected place. But a little while later, tragedy struck. Unfortunately for the Ludlow resident, her mother passed away.

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Losing your mom or dad is never easy, especially if you’re around the age Harding was at that time. It’s a difficult situation to deal with. Yet the youngster found some small comfort in the coin because it generated memories of her loved one. So she decided to hold on to it for sentimental value.

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Thus the coin remained in Harding’s possession for the next 13 years. And it became a permanent fixture in her house as she grew up, with that day in 1996 retaining its special meaning. But while the object was clearly important to her, the young woman had no idea what it actually was.

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Did the coin hold any financial value? Was it even legal tender? Harding just didn’t know. In fairness, though, unless you’re an expert of mint coins, you’d probably be in the same position too! Anyway, the object itself sported a worn silver color and weighed roughly 1.4 grams.

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And come 2009 Harding finally decided to do some research into the coin’s identity and origin. Better late than never, right? Yet she couldn’t do it by herself. Because this isn’t the easiest thing to investigate if it’s not your area of expertise. So, naturally, she reached out for help.

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Yes, Harding took her coin to the one place where she was sure to get some information – the local museum. She met with workers at Ludlow Museum in January 2009, but even they couldn’t give her a definitive answer about the object’s past. Yet that didn’t mean all was lost.

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Because specialists at the British Museum caught sight of the coin as well. And following an examination, they had the info that Harding had been craving. The workers revealed that the object was a piedfort, dating back nearly seven centuries. No, that’s not a typo – it really was that old.

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What are piedforts, then? Aren’t they just normal coins? Not quite. These items got their start in France during the 1100s, and they were much broader than standard currency. That goes some way to explaining their name, which is derived from the words “heavy measure.” Before long, the designs made their way over to England.

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Now here’s where it gets really interesting. Piedforts weren’t as widespread in England as they were across the Channel. Sure, King Edward I did sanction the creation of broad silver pennies that bore a resemblance, but the French coins didn’t get recognized as currency on British shores. Instead, they had a unique purpose.

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According to historical specialists, piedforts were essentially utilized as models – or say visual guides – for coin makers in the past. How so? Well, manufacturing coins was done through the use of metallic plates – known as “dies” – that were struck on a coin to give them their design. But the specialists believe ancient makers modeled the dies on the piedforts themselves. Fascinating stuff, wouldn’t you say?

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And this practice continued in England and the United Kingdom as a whole until the late 1500s. By then piedforts were quietly retired as guides. It meant that the final coins to bear their designs – that we know of anyway – were sixpence pieces from 1588. France wouldn’t give up on them for another century-and-a-half, though, so piedforts didn’t disappear.

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So you’re no doubt wondering what happened to the piedforts from there. The coins eventually became “prestige pieces” in royal courts around Europe, fulfilling that purpose until the 1650s. Then coin connoisseurs from the public were given the chance to own a piedfort at the back-end of the 19th century.

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Yes, France’s Monnaie de Paris began to manufacture these new collectable piedforts. But the United Kingdom didn’t follow suit for some time – until the 1980s to be exact. That’s quite a journey, right? Then again, as we mentioned a little earlier, the coin from Kate Harding’s garden didn’t come from a later collection.

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Because Harding’s piedfort could be traced all the way back to 1322. The coin’s design was a commemoration of King Charles IV’s crowning in France. Imagine finding something like that in your yard? So what happened after Harding got her answers from the British Museum?

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Well, that’s when things started to get a little hairy. Because Harding was informed that she needed to get in touch with a local coroner. Yep, the person who examines bodies following questionable deaths. Why’s that? To shed a bit more light on the situation, a specialist spoke to the Atlas Obscura website in December 2019.

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The specialist’s name is Matthew Lockwood, and he worked at the University of Alabama as a historian. Plus British history is his area of expertise, with a specific interest in the country’s coroners. As it turns out, they have to assess potential state “treasures,” in addition to working on other matters.

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Lockwood told Atlas Obscura, “The modern role is almost entirely focused on the investigation of deaths. [But] the responsibility for investigating treasure and wreck of the sea goes sort of hand-in-hand with the investigation of death. Some of the early broader roles are sort of swept away, so we’re left with treasure trove and investigating untimely deaths.”

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“It’s very obscure,” Lockwood added. “It’s a bizarre holdover from a previous age that doesn’t seem like it should exist in the modern age, but it does.” So that brings us back to Harding – did she contact the coroner as advised? No, she didn’t in the end, yet no one could’ve foreseen what transpired as a result.

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Because when Harding failed to adhere to the museum’s request, it reached out to Anthony Sibcy. He worked as a coroner for South Shropshire. And Sibcy spoke to the West Mercia police force, which started investigating the Ludlow resident. That’s some chain of events, wouldn’t you agree?

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But what crime had Harding potentially committed by not speaking to the coroner? It all ties back to an obscure piece of legislation that was passed in 1996 by U.K. officials. It’s referred to as the “Treasure Act.” And incredibly, she was the first person to get prosecuted for breaching it.

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The Treasure Act notes that uncovered items which are over three centuries old and contain ten percent metal or more have to be documented. If you find such a piece in the United Kingdom, you’ve got two weeks to contact a nearby coroner. But failure to do so violates the law.

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And the legislation was introduced to stop people from stealing buried historical treasures. Some of these thieves were referred to as “night hawkers” at the time. Yet in her case, Harding still found herself on the wrong end of this law, and she wasn’t helped during her interview with the authorities.

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According to the Daily Express newspaper, Harding first told the cops that she’d misplaced the piedfort and couldn’t find it. That ultimately led to the court hearing in February 2010. The landmark prosecution was held at Ludlow Magistrates’ Court, with the U.K. publication recording both the defense and prosecution’s case.

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The prosecutor, who was named Mr. Edwards, detailed what Harding had apparently said prior to her court appearance. He noted, “When asked why she had not reported the find, she said, ‘I don’t know. I just had enough going on at the time.’” Then her lawyer spoke up in her defense.

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Touching on the piedfort itself, Brendan Reedy argued to the court, “We are not talking about something here that is worth anything that is quite important. I don’t think there are going to be queues around the block of people to see it.” It was an interesting angle to take, but did it work in Harding’s favor?

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Ultimately Harding professed her guilt at the hearing. And she could’ve been hit with a financial penalty or something far more severe as a result. Yes, there was a potential three-month prison sentence waiting for her. Thankfully for the Ludlow resident, though, she avoided those particular punishments. We can only imagine her relief!

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Instead, Harding was handed a conditional discharge, which spanned three months, and she had to cover a fraction of the case’s outlay. Specifically, just under $35. It could’ve been much worse. Once the case had concluded, a British Museum representative named Michael Lewis released a statement to the press.

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Lewis said, “This is a landmark case, and it sends a clear message to those who fail to report treasure. However, we are delighted that the artifact, which has great historical significance, has now been handed over under the instruction of the magistrates.” So yes, Harding needed to relinquish her control of the piedfort.

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But what happened when her punishment was over? Did Harding have to do anything else? Well, after the case concluded in February 2010, her legal team lodged an appeal to the court. And their argument was that the piedfort had been uncovered prior to the Treasure Act’s arrival in 1996.

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Eventually prosecutors decided to drop their case against Harding. It meant she was now in the clear and could get on with her life. Following that call, a member of the District Crown Prosecutor for Shropshire and Herefordshire Magistrates’ Courts team spoke to BBC News. And a question hung in the air: why did they prosecute Harding in the first place?

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Marguerite Elcock said, “This case was an unusual one and required careful re-consideration. Ms. Harding has now handed the object she found to the local coroner who will now complete a treasure inquest. We took the view that having considered all of the circumstances of this case, it was no longer appropriate to proceed with a prosecution against Ms. Harding.”

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But that didn’t signal the complete end to this unusual story. As Elcock noted to the BBC, Harding had to go through another legal case to get the piedfort back into her possession. So that brings us forward to June 2011. The aforementioned treasure inquest was held at the Stourport-on Severn Coroner’s Court.

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Yet here’s where things took a real strange turn. Prior to the inquest, it was largely reported that Harding’s discovery came in 1996 when she was nine. She altered the timeline inside the courtroom, though, claiming that she and her mom found the coin in 1993 instead. So did that impact the case?

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Well, the jury considered Harding’s testimony and came to the verdict that neither year – 1993 or 1996 – lined up. In fact, they believed that the piedfort had been uncovered in 2000 by the Ludlow resident’s clan. Therefore the jurors decreed that it fell into the category of “treasure” through the Treasure Act.

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As per the Shropshire Star newspaper, the jury came to that conclusion in less than 60 minutes. So Harding’s chances of reclaiming the piedfort were dashed, as the ruling allowed the British Museum to take it away. She was, understandably, pretty emotional as she left the building, sharing her reaction with the press.

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Harding said, “I’m so disappointed as I don’t have many of my mom’s things and [the piedfort] meant so much to me. It’s something I remember playing with alongside my mom, and it just reminds me of her. In some ways I’m glad this is all over, but just incredibly disappointed at the way it’s gone.” Sadly for her, the memory of that day in the garden is all that remains.

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