Why do we say "Finders keepers, losers weepers"?

Well-Known Expressions

Finders keepers, losers weepers


He who finds a lost object can keep it, while the person who lost it is out of luck


The earliest known variant of this expression in English is "findings keepings", recorded in Country Errors in Harley (1595) by A Cooke.

The first recorded use of the modern-day variation is in the British publication: Glossary of North Country Words (1825) by J T Brockett.

It made its first known written appearance in the United States in 1874 in The Circuit Rider by E Eggleston.

But the concept dates back long before these references. Apparently at least as far back as ancient Rome, where a law stated that if a person found something, it was legally theirs unless the rightful owner came to claim it back. This law avoided legal and ethical disputes and is still used today. For example, under international maritime law, anyone who finds a shipwreck of a certain age can file a salvage claim on it, and the United States Homestead Act allowed people to claim land as their own as long as it was originally unowned and the property was subsequently developed by the claimant.

However, in everyday life, caution should be applied before assuming that what you find is legally yours to keep. For example, according to an article in The Baltimore Sun:

[U]nder Maryland statutes, if a finder knows that property he found was lost, mislaid or delivered by mistake, he could be guilty of a criminal offense for keeping it, if he knows or learns the identity of the owner or learns of a reasonable way to identify her, fails to restore the property to the owner and intends to deprive her permanently of the property .... Common law distinguish[es] among property that was lost, mislaid or abandoned.

The category an item falls into determines a finder's responsibilities:

Someone who finds lost property is entitled under common law to keep it until and unless the original owner comes to claim it. The rule is the same whether the item is found on the finder's property or in a public area.

Someone who finds a mislaid item generally must turn it over to the owner of the property where it was found. The finder of a wallet left by the store cash register must turn it over to an employee. The idea is that the wallet's owner is likely to remember he left it by the cash register. If the finder kept the item, the owner would not know how to reclaim it.

Common law allows anyone who finds an abandoned item to keep it. The finder of a chair by the side of the road can take it home.

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