Citation. 93 ER 664, Volume 93
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Brief Fact Summary.
Plaintiff, a chimney sweep’s boy, found a jewel and took it to defendant’s jewel shop where he showed the jewel to an apprentice to find out what it was worth and upon hearing that the jewel was worth three halfpence, decided that he wanted the jewel back, which Defendant refused to return.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
A finder of an object has a property interest which is not absolute, but is sufficient to allow the finder to keep the object against all claims but those made by the rightful owner.
Plaintiff found a jewel and did not know its value. Plaintiff then took the jewel to Defendant goldsmith’s shop to determine the value of the jewel. The apprentice of Defendant goldsmith’s shop took the jewel and acted as if he were going to weigh the stones to determine the value. The master told the apprentice to relay to the boy that the stones were worth three halfpence. Upon hearing this news the Plaintiff requested the stones be returned. The master offered the boy the money, but the boy refused the money, insisting to have the jewel returned. The apprentice then returned the socket, without the stones, to the boy. The boy sued in trover demanding compensation for the loss.
Does a finder of an object have a right of ownership that the court will recognize against someone other that the rightful owner?
Yes. The Plaintiff has a right of ownership that is cognizable, yet falls short of absolute.
The Plaintiff who found the jewel has a right of ownership which is sufficient to enable the finder to keep the jewel against any claim save that of the rightful owner. The trover action is proper.
The action is proper against the master, insofar as the master gave the directions to the apprentice. This is a form of respondeat superior.
The Court instructed the jury as to damages to award a sum which, in the absence of the actual jewel, was to equal the worth of what a similar jewel of the finest type would be worth. The burden of proving that the worth of the jewel was other than that of the finest type was shifted to the Defendant, who was afforded the opportunity to produce the jewel.
It is useful to consider the equities present in this case. The Court’s judgment has the practical effect of protecting the chimney sweep’s boy and his find.