French officials perplexed by gold bars and coins found stashed in old house

By Angelique Chrisafis

The surprise discovery of three jam jars filled with gold bars and hundreds of gold coins in an old building marked for renovation has left a mountain community in eastern France perplexed and celebrating.

The mayor of Morez, a small industrial town in a picturesque valley in the Jura, said the value of the find was more than €600,000 (£520,700). Town hall staff first found three jam jars of gold bars and coins worth €500,000 at the back of a dusty shelf, then opened a safe hidden behind boxes in a wardrobe to find up to €150,000 in gold coins.

The mayor, Laurent Petit, tsaid that the three-storey building in the town centre had been lived in by four brothers and sisters without children. When the last died in his 90s last year a relative offered to sell the building to the town hall for €130,000. Morez, like many other towns in France, was seeking to buy up and renovate old buildings to attract families back to its emptying centre.

“The house was packed with objects and furniture,” Petit said. “There had been several generations who didn’t throw anything away, kept everything and lived really frugally. I agreed we’d buy the property as it was and we’d gradually empty its contents ourselves.”

When Covid-19 struck last spring and France was locked down, the east of France was heavily hit and plans for workmen to tidy the building were put on hold. But Morez, near the Swiss border, had a glorious past as a historic manufacturing centre for clocks and spectacles and officials wanted to check if any items were of historic interest. Senior staff, including the mayor, the head of services and the local museum head went in themselves. They followed social distancing rules, taking one floor each, and carefully sorted through boxes and cupboards.

“Three jars full of gold bars were sitting behind lots of other objects on a shelf,” the mayor said. “There was surprise and stupefaction. None of us had ever held a piece of gold. I’d only ever seen gold bars in photos, and thought they must be huge. But these were small, weighing 1kg and the size of a cigarette packet.”

The five gold bars and more than 1,000 gold coins were estimated to be worth €500,000.

The second find, which Petit announced to a surprised municipal council meeting this week, came recently when a safe found at the back of a cupboard behind cardboard boxes was broken open to find hundreds more gold coins worth up to €150,000. He said it was impossible to know who exactly in the family – involved in Morez’s clock and glasses industry – had first come into the fortune.

Petit said the elderly relative who sold the house was stoical about the find, which now belongs to the town hall. The seller had heard family rumours of hidden treasure but didn’t think it was still there. “He was very philosophical – he had heard about a stash of gold but thought it had been given away.”

The find is small compared with the town’s annual budget of €6m, but it will be spent on a special public project yet to be decided.

Petit said: “I can’t say it has turned us into the Las Vegas of the Jura, but it has made us smile.”