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HMRC internal manual

Capital Gains Manual

HM Revenue & Customs
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Found objects and treasure: ownership: treasure

The Treasure Act 1996 came into effect on 24 September 1997 and replaces the common law doctrine of treasure trove in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Any treasure found in these countries on or after that date, wherever found and whatever the circumstances in which it was left, becomes the property of the Crown, subject to any prior interests and rights. Thus the true owner can claim ownership. In most cases, however, the true owner of the treasure will be unknown or unfound.

Objects which would not have been treasure trove under common law may well be treasure if found on or after 24 September 1997. For an outline of the law of treasure trove and of the position in Scotland see CG77530.

‘Treasure’ is defined by the Treasure Act:

  1. any object at least 300 years old when found which:
* is not a coin but has metallic content of which at least 10 per cent by weight is precious metal (ie gold or silver);
* when found, is one of at least two coins in the same find which are at least 300 years old at that time and have that percentage of precious metal; or
* when found, is one of at least ten coins in the same find which are at least 300 years old at that time;
  1. any object at least 200 years old when found which belongs to a class designated by the Secretary of State. At the time of writing, a prehistoric object (other than a coin) any part of which is of precious metal and prehistoric objects (other than coins) any part of which is of other metal provided there are two or more in the same find have been designated treasure;
  2. any object which would have been treasure trove if found before 24 September 1997. In practice the only recent finds which would have fallen within this category but not within 1 above have been hoards of gold and silver coin less than 300 years old;
  3. any object which, when found, is part of the same find as:
* an object within head (1), (2) or (3) above found at the same time or earlier; or
* an object found earlier which would be within head (1) or (2) above if it had been found at the same time.

Treasure does not include objects which are unworked natural objects, eg a fossil; or are minerals as extracted from a natural deposit. Nor is an object treasure if it is wreck (broadly material from a vessel found on the seashore including flotsam and jetsam.)