The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 26, Number 35, August 27, 2023, Article 23


When this story first broke it wasn't clear whether any coins were involved, but new reports do mention coins. Apparently the British Museum had a staffer helping themselves to the collection and selling items on eBay. Leon Saryan passed along this article. Thanks. -Editor

  British Museum

Last week, the British Museum said in a news release that it had fired an unnamed staff member on suspicion of looting jewels from the collection, and had begun a review of its security practices. London's police force said it was investigating.

A museum spokeswoman declined at that time to say how many items were involved while the police investigation was ongoing, but the news release said that the stolen or damaged items included gold jewelry and gems of semiprecious stones and glass, some dating as far back as the 15th century B.C.

In the week since the news of the thefts broke, the case has been the subject of heated speculation in the British news media, with daily articles conjecturing over how many artifacts had been lost, and who was responsible.

In 2021, British Museum officials were alerted to a potential thief in their ranks.

That year, Ittai Gradel, a Denmark-based dealer in ancient gems, contacted the august London institution with evidence that he said showed that three gems from the museum's collections had been offered for sale on eBay.

Museum officials were already aware that something was up with one of those artifacts. Another dealer, Malcolm Hay, had gotten in touch to say he had bought one of the gems but was concerned it was stolen. He returned the jewel to the museum in May 2021.

The thief must have been someone inside the institution, Mr. Gradel said in an email to the British Museum that has been obtained by The New York Times. He was concerned, he added, that the three gems were only the tip of a much larger iceberg.

The British Museum opened an investigation that reached a swift conclusion, according to correspondence seen by The Times: that nothing untoward had happened.

Now that decision appears to be coming back to haunt the museum.

To read the complete articles, see:
British Museum Fires Worker Accused of Stealing Gold and Gems (
British Museum Was Warned Gems Were Being Sold on eBay, Emails Show (

Journalists used a British freedom of information request to learn more. -Editor

The Times reported on Thursday that a freedom of information (FoI) request to the museum had disclosed that a Greek silver coin, a 4th-century Roman coin and a German coin had disappeared from the museum in the year to April 2014.

An early 20th-century ring, a chain made up of round-sectioned silver wire, animal-shaped wooden opium poppy scorers and glazed leaf pendants and beads are also said to be among the items to have gone missing over the past 10 years.

To read the complete articles, see:
Hundreds of items ‘missing' from British Museum since 2013 (
Hundreds of items missing from British Museum since 2013, records show (

The scandal has already led to the museum director's resignation. -Editor

Just days after the British Museum announced that it had fired an employee who was suspected of looting its storerooms and selling items on eBay, the museum's director announced Friday that he was resigning, effective immediately.

Hartwig Fischer, a German art historian who had led the world renowned institution since 2016, said in a news release that he was leaving the post at a time of the utmost seriousness.

Mr. Fischer, 60, said that it was evident that under his leadership the museum did not adequately respond to warnings that a curator may be stealing items. The responsibility for that failure must ultimately rest with the director, Mr. Fischer said.

A few hours after Mr. Fischer's resignation, the museum announced that its deputy director, Jonathan Williams, had also agreed to voluntarily step back from his normal duties until an investigation into the thefts was complete.

Undoubtedly, many innocent buyers have been caught up in this, and the mess will take years to unravel. If anyone comes across photos or other details of the missing coins, please pass them along for our readers. -Editor

To read the complete article, see:
British Museum Director Resigns After Worker Fired for Theft (

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Wayne Homren, Editor

NBS ( Web

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