Thursday, 21 June 2012

Polish Museum of America Gets Stolen Artefacts Back : No Charges Brought

It is a rare occasion I have to write of the positive role of a US ancient coin dealer, and especially that it is archaeologist-hating Harlan Berk for his part in getting stolen artefacts back to a museum:
The FBI announced Wednesday that they have returned more than 120 important historical artifacts and documents that were stolen decades ago from the Polish Museum of America (PMA). [...] At some point during the 1970s or 1980s, important objects began to disappear. It was done sneakily enough and the collection is large enough that nobody even guessed they were gone until years later. 
Ahem...  what's that American collectors keep saying about foreign museums?
In later summer of 2011, unnamed youths came to [Berk's] store bearing documents filled with Polish names and the signatures of Founding Fathers. They claimed they had found the items in the basement of the house they were renting and that they had many more items to sell. Berk purchased the letters and the sellers came back several times with more impressive artifacts. In a break from the see-no-evil way so many antiquities dealers operate, Berk did his own research to figure out what these documents were and where they came from. 
Jolly good, eh? Of course if they'd just been untraceable coins or Greek pots, there would not be such a need as before you try to sell items in your stock which are "documents bearing the signatures of the founding fathers" brought in by unnamed boys. But... he actually BOUGHT the first batch of documents which somebody admitted were taken from among the things in the basement of somebody else's property? Eh? That's stealing. If my tenants were selling the copper pipes from the bathroom and sold the new washing machine and the bedroom carpet (Persian handmade) from the house I rent them, they'd find themselves up before a magistrate pretty damn quick. As would the person who'd bought them knowing where they came from. Obviously things don't work like that in Chicago. Eventually however the FBI "stepped in", they then:
discovered that the house [the sellers] were renting was owned by the mother of a former curator at the PMA. The identities of the curator and his or her mother have not been released. 
No criminal charges will be filed, neither for the former curator for continued possession (Cf National Stolen Property Act) of stolen goods, nor the thieving tenants, not even for transportation, sale or possession of stolen goods, or failing to report a crime. Nor the Polish Museum of America for not looking after the items that presumably for the most part were the result of donations for people who trusted it to look after them properly.

Source: The History Blog, 'Polish Museum of America gets stolen artifacts back', June 21st, 2012.

UPDATE Friday 22ndJune 2012:
Meanwhile over here in Poland, people are asking just what Polish material this "museum" had and lost without even knowing it, and how and when it left Poland (vesting legislation going back to 1928). The case is linked with the retention by the US of the Auschwitz barrack loan.

Vignette: "Polak mądry po szkodzie" - perhaps time to update the catalogues and monitoring systems over there? 

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