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Holes in the Ground

"The careful burial of this treasure probably means the owner intended to come back, but for whatever reason was unable to do so..."

DONT KNOW about you, but market depth is pretty poor down at the end of my garden. Not least at midnight, when the gnomes are asleep, rather than quoting 10% bid-offer spreads on gold coins.

Besides the lack of liquidity and horrible fees, however, there are more strategic reasons to beware burying your gold or silver by moonlight. Someone might find it (yes, it happens, apparently). Worse still, perhaps, you might not find it yourself.

"Romans buried their stashes when fleeing Britain at the end of the empire and only a few have been discovered 2000 years later," says an email to us here at BullionVault.

"How many banks will be there in 2000 years time, or even 2 years time...?"

Good question. But then, no one buying gold today plans on waiting 20 centuries to sell. Nor did those Romano-British, of course, who fled their villas - and lost their gold forever - as Anglo-Saxon raiders crashed out of the surf onto the south coast's cold pebble beaches...

"565 of the coins are gold solidi, but the majority (14,191) are silver, of a variety of denominations," says the British Museum of the Hoxne Hoard, Roman Britain's richest treasure trove. It was buried sometime after the local legionaries declared one of their own as Emperor Constantine III, only to follow him in a hopeless bid to conquer Rome itself. Left with no one to guard it, the hoard wasn't unearthed until 1992. But instead of the one-time owner's return, it was found by a man with a metal detector, looking in a field for a hammer that his friend had just lost.

"[Some] 99% of the silver coins are siliquae," says the Museum, "the main silver piece of the Late Roman Empire...The hoard must have been buried for safekeeping sometime after AD 407, during difficult times for the Romano-British, who were left without any help from the Empire to defend themselves from the attacks of the barbarians."

Besides these silver and gold coins, the Suffolk mud hiding this treasure yielded gold jewelry, silver pepper pots, ladles and spoons, plus tiny silver padlocks from wooden caskets "into which the treasure had been carefully secreted," say the British Museum's experts. They add that:

"The careful burial of this treasure probably means the owner intended to come back and recover it later, but for whatever reason was unable to do so."

Whatever terrors drove Hoxne's elite to first bury their wealth, then flee for their lives...and then never return to reclaim it...gold bugs have long been derided for digging gold out of one hole-in-the-ground, only to bury it deep in another. "Anyone watching from Mars would be scratching their head," as Warren Buffett once said. (Either that, or they'd be taking down the co-ordinates!) But then all gold ownership, whether hung round your neck or stowed in your wallet, means burying wealth. Neither does it yield aught or grow. Gold simply stores value - now badly, now well...depending on how the better alternatives are doing...holding an economic use that is social, not industrial, but is clearly "productive" when productivity fails.

The final reason to take care stashing your gold in the garden runs beyond safe-deposit and even secure vaults inside your own borders, too. Because history shows that gold commonly becomes unusable if physically held where it's most needed, in a country where genuine crisis has struck. Just glance at the French, Russian or Cambodian revolutions...Nazi Germany...or Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Gold then exposed its owners to great risk, either through confiscation or personal safety. Because right when it should have come into its own, the sheer value of gold amid crisis made it worse-than-worthless if held in arm's reach.

Fleeing social collapse with your life would prove hard enough. Getting out with both your wealth and your life could prove impossible. No, owning gold outright elsewhere in the world wouldn't guarantee your survival. But at least it wouldn't hinder your flight. And at least you'd have someplace to flee to.

 

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