INSIGHTS: Manx Gold - Agatha Christie's 1930 Treasure Hunt
The poem below, written by Agatha Christie, served as the opening salvo in a most unusual short story that was essentially a series of clues for a real-world treasure hunt around the Isle of Man in 1930. This article explores the story, its publication history, the locations where the treasure was hidden, and its ongoing legacy through other media, such as stamps.
Old Mylecharane liv'd up on the broo,
Where Jurby slopes down to the wold.
His croft was all golden with cushag and furze,
His daughter was fair to behold.
"Oh Father, they say you've plenty of store,
But hidden all out of the way.
No gold can I see, but its glint on the gorse;
Then what have you done with it, pray?"
"My gold is locked up in a coffer of oak,
Which I dropped in the tide and it sank.
And there it lies fixed like an anchor of hope,
All bright and as safe as the bank."
Before we delve into these areas, here are a few translations to help interpret the poem:
Manx – island.
broo – brow of a hill.
Jurby - a Manx parish in the northwest of the Isle of Man.
wold – forest.
croft - enclosed field.
cushag – common ragwort & the national flower of the Isle of Man.
furze / gorse - a thorny bush with yellow flowers.
coffer – a strongbox or safe.
tide – here, the ocean.
The Story’s Genesis:
The Isle of Man (IOM) was a popular holiday destination in the summer, with its famous ‘TT’ or ‘Tourist Trophy’ races around the island drawing many spectators. While the races began in 1907 and were typically held in May or June, the island offered many other attractions. Promoting the Isle of Man as a holiday destination took a unique turn in 1930 when Agatha Christie was commissioned to create a treasure hunt exclusively for visitors to the island. The treasure hunt was designed to get people out and around the island, visiting some of its scenic highlights. Framed within a short-story, Christie blended both written and visual clues that would guide people to locate one of four snuff boxes that could be exchanged for £100 at the tourism office (2021 equivalency: £6,800 per clue, or £27,500 in total).
Promotion & Publication:
Advertisements promoting the Agatha Christie treasure hunt began appearing in newspapers, mostly in the greater Manchester area, in England from the 9th May 1930. The notices stated that £400 would be hidden around the Isle in June and that interested individuals could write to obtain a guide and free road map. The full story, Manx Gold, was then published in the Daily Dispatch, a Manchester newspaper, in five instalments from the 23rd-28th May 1930 (excluding Sunday 25th). More detailed clues were published later to provide a more level playing field after building anticipation.
On the IOM, the summer tourism promotional pamphlet, June in Douglas, was distributed throughout the island and also contained the story.
This pamphlet was the one available by post as promoted, but was also readily found at hotels and tourist spots. Some sources have claimed a print run of approximately 250,000. Since almost none are extant – likely less than a handful – this print run number may be questionable. While residents of the IOM could not win the prizes, they were offered a token award if one of their guest lodgers found a snuff box.
Juan and Fenella are first cousins, who are on and off again engaged, and inherit the estate of their Uncle Myles. Included in this estate are a series of clues that will lead them to their Great Grandfather’s fortune made off smuggling. With a competing relative and a murder thrown in, the lead characters essential narrate the treasure quest to the readers. There are no unusual twists or turns found in most Christie stories as this was clearly a conduit for the treasure hunt first and foremost.
Between the clues the protagonists receive in the story, their own vague commentary, and the separately published clues readers were believed to have been given enough information to locate the hidden snuff boxes on the island. The newer UK editions of the short story collection While the Light Lasts include an afterword written by Tony Medawar providing insights on how to solve the clues. At the bottom of this article we provide more details on the hiding places of the snuff boxes, along with images of three of the locations, while the fourth is arguably lost to redevelopment.
Collecting the Publications:
Aside from the newspaper printing, the first edition would be the 1930 pamphlet June in Douglas, printed and distributed in May. If you ever find one to acquire, pay what you will as it is of legendary scarcity – a unicorn - and arguably one of the rarest original printings of a Christie story.
It was not until 1990 that the story was discussed again in print – this time in a very limited private press fanzine – Crime and Detective Stories (CADS). Published by Geoff Bradley in the UK, issue 13 (February 1990) included Manx Gold as ‘unearthed by Harry Medawar’. It marked the first discussion of the story since its original printing in 1930. Copies periodically show for sale and are usually sold for £30.
The full story was first published in traditional book form in the USA on 14 April 1997 by G.P. Putnam in their collection The Harlequin Tea Set and Other Stories (value: $40). The first UK publication was on 4 August 1997 by HarperCollins in their collection While the Light Lasts and Other Stories (value: £30).
The first paperback edition was published by HarperCollins (UK) on 20 July 1998. The first US paperback was published by Berkeley Books on 1 December 1998.
To further commemorate Agatha Christie’s connection with the IOM, several stamps have been issued by the Isle of Man Post Office.
2003: July 9. The Isle of Man Post Office issued a series of stamps in their “Writers World” collection. Six authors were profiled, the first of which was Agatha Christie. Issued in full sheets of twenty 23p stamps. The stamp shows arguably shows Juan and Fernella searching for treasure near a cottage. The sheet of stamps is surrounded by images of Christie. A full sheet is worth £40. Scott #994. Each stamp in the set includes an extract from the featured publication in microtext, which can be read with a strong magnifying glass. On the Agatha Christie stamp the full text of her poem “Manx Gold” is reproduced.
2006: August 25. The Isle of Man Post Office issued a set of eight stamps in conjunction with London’s National Portrait Gallery as part of their 150th anniversary. One of the stamps was of Agatha Christie, valued at 31p, and utilized the photographic portrait by John Gay. The decision to include Christie in this set clearly was influenced by her story “Manx Gold”. Sheets of 25 stamps were available. A full sheet is worth £50. Scott #1164.
The Locations of the Treasure:
The images below show the working notes from Christie's notebook and the final printed clue as published. For the full textual clues please read the story.
Solution: Derby Fort on St. Michael’s Isle. The fort had six historic cannons and the snuff box was hidden between the middle two, pointing north-east. The cross represent the chapel ruins.
Clue #2: The image below shows the photograph provided as a clue. For the textual clues please read the story.
Solution: A bench overlooking Peel Castle on St. Patrick’s Isle. The photograph looked through the arm of the bench towards the castle tower. The original bench is now gone.
Clue #3: The original clues involved a map that brought you close to the area and a cryptic written clue.
Solution: A gully 85 paces north-east of Meayll Circle on Mull Hill, near Spanish Head.
Clue #4: The textual clues are provided below.
Solution: (never solved): In an ivy covered wall near a kiosk within Ramsay city’s park. We do not know of the exact location but doubt it still exists. Perhaps this vintage photo shows the kiosk as it is in a park in Ramsay. Any of our readers have more insight on this one?
Unrelated, but still of interest! Agatha Christie has had one book translated into Gaelg (Manx Gaelic) – Traen-Tappee Yn Niar (The Murder on the Orient Express). Potentially it is the rarest version of this book as its print run is likely smaller than any other version!
As always, happy hunting for your collection!