Worth their weight in gold: Portable Antiquities Scheme launches the Treasure Annual Report

By Ben Miller | 03 December 2010
A photo of coins
The Frome Hoard contains the largest number of Roman coins ever found in a single container in the UK© Portable Antiquities Scheme
The Portable Antiquities Scheme has unearthed enough finds to make Time Team seethe with jealousy since being set up in 1997.

Just in case proof were needed, at one end of a table at the British Museum sits a box containing some of the 52,503 coins found in the Somerset town of Frome in April. Comprising the largest Roman coin hoard ever found in a single container in Britain, their nicks, mottled depictions of Emperors and silver edges are illuminated under an arc of spotlights.

A photo of a man holding an artefact
Andy Johanessen and his ancient coach© Portable Antiquities Scheme
At the other end, a lead alloy toy coach looks too spindly to have survived 400 years hidden off the Thames foreshore. “A lump of gold is a lump of gold, but this is really something,” chirps Andy Johanessen, its relentlessly cheery finder, neatly summarising the appeal of the Scheme.

Gloved bystanders are also toying with a 17th century silverware hoard from Somerset, a set of gold coins chanced upon in Hackney and a Bronze Age bracelet from County Tyrone in Northern Ireland.

A photo of a woman in blue
Caroline Barton, of the British Museum, with Culture Minister Ed Vaizey© Portable Antiquities Scheme
Moments beforehand, the Minister for Culture, Ed Vaizey, had interrupted a mass round of tea and gawping to launch the Treasure Annual Report, a round-up documenting all the artefacts accounted for since 2008, although the real news to emerge was that the British Museum was about to take stewardship of the Scheme.

Still, the occasion results in the improbable sight of Vaizey, who had earlier compared Frome finder Dave Crisp to a lottery winner, being introduced to the Tyrone bracelet by the Museum’s Caroline Barton, whose shock of blue hair could also be considered worth its weight in gold.

Roman Empire Commander Carausius in profile on the Frome coins© Portable Antiquities Scheme
As cameras flash and whirr over this snapshot of the PAS’s forays, the range of views proffered from behind the table also testify to the breadth of the Scheme.

Curators from the Museum champion the necessity of raising the £320,000 required to return the Frome coins to Somerset Museum, while Johanessen is chuffed that his coach has been properly recorded for future positioning among the British Museum’s own collection, rather than left to the confines of his attic.

Vaizey expresses his “disappointment” at having to reduce the Scheme’s funding by 15%, and it’s hard not to feel that these stories from history should be invested in rather than cut back, particularly when more recent finds include the Vale of York Viking Hoard and the £3.3 million Staffordshire Hoard.

The British Museum’s Department of Portable Antiquities and Treasure had already taken on the central unit of the Scheme, so it makes sense for the institution to oversee its continuing adventures. In the hands of such enthusiastic experts and contributors, its production line of incredible discoveries is unlikely to slow.

Watch Andy Johanessen introduce his lead-alloy coach and British Museum experts discuss the Frome Hoard:

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