Lately the number of thefts of artefacts from museums seems to have drastically increased in the Netherlands. What really disturbs me about these thefts is the increasing professionalism with which they are being committed. I’ll mention two incidents to illustrate my point.
The first robbery that really caught my attention occurred during the night of 26 February 2012 in a museum in Giethoorn.
The thieves managed to steal a few very valuable engraved mammoth tusks, as well as jewellery, gold and gems. The worth of the stolen goods has been valued at tens of thousands of euros. In the media the theft has been called a “perfect robbery” and the skills of the thieves have been compared to James Bond. You see, the museum is only accessible by boat or a small footbridge. The thieves gained access to the museum on a boat, then climbed to the roof on a ladder and then lowered themselves into the museum through a roof window. They then stole the artefacts (climbed back up with their loot?) and escaped in their boat. Completely unnoticed by anyone.
The second robbery that disturbed me even more than the first one occurred at 3.40 am on 21 March 2012 in a museum in Gouda. The thieves dislocated the front door of the museum with explosives, rushed in and grabbed the artefact they were after, and then rushed out again. Neighbours who heard the explosion called the police, but when the police arrived at the scene after a minute or so the thieves had already managed to disappear on a heavy motorcycle. A helicopter that at the moment of the robbery was flying above Gouda tried locating the thieves on their motorcycle by using an infrared camera (which detects heat), but was unsuccessful. In all likelihood the thieves quickly ditched their motor cycle after having escaped the scene in order to avoid detection.
The only artefact that was stolen was a gilded silver monstrance created in 1662 by Johannes Boogeart. This, combined with the fact that the thieves entered and left the museum within 40 seconds has led some to the conclusion that the thieves knew what to look for and where to find it. The monstrance, which has a value of tens of thousands of euros and is in fact a loan from a religious community in Gouda, is a unique and very well documented object. For this reason it might be impossible to sell the object. As the thieves might very well be aware of this I now wonder if the monstrance was stolen so it could be melted down and the metal could be sold (similar to all those bronze statues that keep “disappearing” from public parks throughout Europe). Let’s hope I’m wrong!
But am I wrong in thinking that museums are increasingly becoming an easy and convenient target for thieves trying to quickly earn some cash? Sometimes I also wonder if reporting these incidents in the news does more harm than good, since it might entice thieves who would otherwise perhaps not consider robbing museums to give it a go…
Image 1: Picture of one of the stolen engraved mammoth tusks. Copyright: NOS 2012.
Image 2: Pictures of the stolen silver monstrance. Copyright: Regio Hollands Midden.
Journal of the American Institute for Conservation (Vol. 56, Issue 3-4): now available online - Journal of the American Institute for Conservation, Volume 56, Issue 3-4, August – November 2017 is now available online on Taylor & Francis Online. This n...
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