View Full Version : Buried treasure

11-13-2011, 11:41 PM
Imagine a rich Frenchman who wants to bury treasure, perhaps because he knows the Revolution is coming. Does anyone have any ideas (or suggestions) as to:

-- what kind of container/chest he might use;
-- what condition such container would be in after about 100 years underground;
-- what sort of goodies he might collect and bury.

This might be one of those instances where I can just let my imagination go wild but in case we have any historians or, well, pirates here, I thought I'd see if I could get input. :)


11-13-2011, 11:46 PM
I would imagine a metal lined, airtight, waterproof container would be best for anything made of paper. But gold would be ok buried in anything, I think.

I'm no expert, though.

Drachen Jager
11-13-2011, 11:51 PM
If he's burying it for his own use, he'd probably just use a stout wooden chest. That would last just fine for the 5-10 years he might be able to recover it in.

Condition depends largely on what part of France and what type of soil. If he's in a hot-dry region it will be in far better shape than if he buries it in a swamp.

As to what he'd bury, gold is always good. Gemstones, set or unset. You're the author, make it up!

11-14-2011, 01:27 AM
I'm no historian, but consider your facts. If this rich guy goes out and purchases or has made a special chest designed to be extra-secure, he's announcing to all of France that he's about to hide his valuables. Times of social discord or upheaval are also times when thieves and thugs thrive because the law and order folks are otherwise engaged.

So I think he'd be likely to use the strongest and sturdiest locking box he already owns, arousing no one's suspicion. He'd probably bury it himself rather than having it ordered, too. The fewer people who know, the better.

My best guess would be that the box made in France would probably be of stout pieces of hardwood, probably oak or yew, well joined, with a brass lock and brass reinforcement of its corners and possibly its vertical edges. It would be reasonably attractive and secure until somebody with an axe got hold of it.

However, by the time of the French Revolution, German money chests were no longer new. Does your wealthy guy have reason to own one, or might his father or grandfather have used one when they started the family fortune? They're stout little chests, some lovely and some utilitarian, of wrought iron or cast iron. Here's one: http://www.christies.com/LotFinder/lot_details.aspx?intObjectID=4934763

Okay, on to what shape the chests would be in. The wooden one will have rotted to nothing in normal soil, and its brass pieces would still be intact, although discolored. (We've buried pets in wooden boxes which were nonexistent except for nails and clasps in ten years. No skeletons remained, either.) It might survive if it was hidden away rather than buried. Is there a family mausoleum?

The German iron chest will be pretty rusted but might still be a chest depending on how often it got wet and how much of the air necessary for rust got to it.

What would he put in it? For the reasons he'd be unwise to buy a box, he'd be unwise to invest in easily-transported items of value. If he's smart, he'll consider how the item would fare if buried for, what, ten years? That's a long war. I'm thinking the entire family's jewelry, gold items like tableware and candlesticks, gold and silver coins, small objets d'art of metal or ivory. If he's not so smart, he'd bury papers (i.e., deeds to land and houses), small paintings removed from their frames, paper money, etc. (Did they have paper money then?)

Smart or not, he might include anything really precious as a family heirloom, regardless of its value, as a means to safeguard it.

Maryn, thinking what she'd put in her little iron chest

11-14-2011, 02:10 AM
Wrap it tightly in an oil cloth and the chest should hold up pretty well.

11-14-2011, 02:25 AM
I wouldn't use a wooden chest of because of the amount of soil disturbance that burying it would entail. Nor would I place all the valuables in one container. I might use a pottery jug or ewer to put some jewellery in and gold coins in another pottery container, maybe a coffee pot or something of a similar shape - but I would also be very careful what I used in case some one in the house was on the side of the Revolutionaries and was keeping eyes on. I'd also make it a rustic pottery container rather than a nice bit of Sevres. Where I'd bury it - hmm, maybe the stables because the soil/floor there would be very horsey and people might be reluctant to dig there - or I would lower the container/s into the septic tank on a chain that was well concealed. Or, and this is the one I like best! - have a secret cellar in which some of the family treasure is already securely hidden.

I agree with Maryn that he would not so smart to bury papers and deeds - they may have been worthless after the Revolution. The first paper money in France was in 1701 - but it was worthless after a couple of decades. There was other paper money, but it was also worthless after varying intervals.

11-14-2011, 02:45 AM
Why does it have to be a chest. Ceramic or metal jars/pots/urns could be easily obtained and sealed with wax, then wrapped in oil cloth to keep out the crawlies. Small valuables like jewelry would do okay inside wine bottles.

Put the bottles / urns / whatever into a wine cask/barrel and bury that.

11-14-2011, 02:21 PM
A number of Roman period hoards have been found buried in the UK buried in pottery vessels.

Friendly Frog
11-14-2011, 03:05 PM
If it's a haste job (since he knows the Revolution is coming and he needs to hide his valuables now) he'll probably take some sturdy container he already has in his house, rather than have something made specifically. I've heard of hoards buried in metal cooking pots, earthware, leather bags, some were even buried in sack-cloth. Much depends on whether the owner expects to come back and dig up his valuables soon or only after years.

I wouldn't look at chests since that's a big surface to bury (a lot of work digging!), and they'd have to have a sizeable treasure to fill the chest. No one's going to bother to bury a chest that's half empty. Although, if one was to include the silver candlesticks and plates, that has some volume.

11-15-2011, 06:26 AM
I wouldn't look at chests since that's a big surface to bury (a lot of work digging!), and they'd have to have a sizeable treasure to fill the chest. No one's going to bother to bury a chest that's half empty. Although, if one was to include the silver candlesticks and plates, that has some volume.
If it's big stuff like candlesticks and plates, something big like a chest is going to be heavy - if it requires a second person to help bury the treasure, how do you guarantee the stuff will be there later? The helper may not intend to steal, but, in a time of turmoil, they may get desperate themselves.
And, how can you be sure that you'll have someone strong to help you pull the chest out of the ground later?
Better to hide smaller quantities of small objects like coins and jewellery in various places, so if some is found, it's not all lost.
That might be the best use of the chest: as a decoy. Throw the big stuff into it, bury it someplace not-too-obvious and hope that any thieves find it first and think they've hit the hoard. If it doesn't get looted, that's a plus.
In the meantime, while the scavengers are digging up the chest in the stupid aristo's flower-bed, your MC is hiding his pots of coins under the wood-pile by the old abandoned outbuilding.