10 of the most daring collectibles heists in history
Collectors beware - there are thieves everywhere!
The world's top collectibles have a history of attracting the attention of the nefarious parts of society. So join us as we look at some of the most daring collectibles heists in history.
And if you're wondering, our collection is safely stored away at a top secret location - so don't even try it.
10. Moon rocks
When NASA’s astronauts returned from the Moon, approximately 270 lunar rocks were gifted to institutions all around the world so that the scientific community could study them – a generous gesture.
Yet today, just 180 of those are accounted for, with many suspected stolen or lost. Perhaps the most audacious theft, of which there are several, came in 2002 when two interns at the Johnson Space Centre used their intimate knowledge of security to steal a 600lb safe containing the samples.
They got away with it for a while, yet were soon tracked down when they tried to sell them on a Belgian mineralogy club’s website and were shopped by an amateur collector.
The FBI ensured the ambitious students never got to realise their dreams of becoming astronauts, and rightly so!
9. New York Public Library stamps
When collectibles go missing, it's often an opportunist looking to make a quick buck, not those in the know.
Yet that wasn’t the case when 82 of the US’ rarest postage stamps - including an “Inverted Jenny” - went missing from the New York Public Library in May 1977.
The stamps were removed from panels stored in recessed oak cabinets either side of the reception desk on a day that the library was closed. Police were clueless as to whodunit, until another Inverted Jenny was reported stolen in 1982.
With just one sheet of 100 Inverted Jennys known to exist, they are easily traceable, and it wasn’t long until police were led to dealer Lawrence W Gerber. A quick look through his past catalogues, and it was discovered that 49 of the missing stamps were sold through his business.
With several other auction houses involved, a total of 69 stamps were recovered, though the burglars were never punished – the five-year statute of limitations prevented the police from arresting them.
8. Lambeth Palace books
Image: Lambeth Palace Library
Would you notice if a portion of your collection went missing?
London's Lambeth Palace Library didn’t – at first. Then, in 1975, a librarian “noticed a troubling gap on the shelves” where some important rare books were stored. No trace of the 60 or so missing tomes was found, and the library gave up hope, despite enlisting the help of the police.
With the books thought lost forever, the library was then contacted in 2011 – 36 years later – by a solicitor dealing with the estate of the culprit. He had received a full confession in the form of a letter, as well as the location of the books.
Searching a London attic, the library found not 60, but around 1,400 titles, which had been surreptitiously stolen over a period of years.
Including rare Elizabethan texts, early Shakespeares and some of the first accounts of western contact with the Americas, the collection has now been returned to the Lambeth Palace Library.
However, the thief’s attempts to remove the provenance has left them with a mammoth restoration project that is still underway. The library has not revealed the culprit’s name, but notes that he was connected with the organisation for some years.
**7. Carlton Hotel diamonds **
When you think of daring diamond heists, it’s hard not to think of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic To Catch a Thief, in which the dashing Cary Grant helps solve a cat burglar mystery in Cannes' Carlton Hotel.
Perhaps the same romantic image was in the head of a lone gunman who, in 2011, walked into the hotel and walked out with 72 exceptional jewels with a value of over $136m.
Suspected to be a member of the infamous Pink Panthers, a group of organised criminals known for heists like these, the man got away, with the Cannes police just as clueless today.
Insurance firm Lloyd’s of London has offered a $1.3m reward for the first person with information.
6. Saddle Ridge Hoard
You’re out walking your dog on the grounds of your rural property in the Sierra Nevada when you notice an old can hanging from a tree.
Further along the path an odd-shaped rock catches your attention, and then, your foot trips on another can, this time poking out of the dirt beneath you. Digging it out, the can is incredibly heavy as you carry it home.
That’s because it contains 1,427 of the rarest US coins.
This is the story of the Saddle Ridge Hoard, discovered by a couple on their land in February 2013. The coins are now being sold to collectors around the world.
Several theories exist as to the coins' origin, with the most plausible being that they were the hidden loot from the 1901 theft of $30,000 coins from the San Francisco Mint. Others have suggested they were part of a stash hidden by Jesse James, or even Black Bart.
A murkier plot suggests the coins were hidden by the Knights of the Golden Circle, a secret society of pro-slavery wackos, who planned to use them to fund a second civil war in the US.
5. Beatles tapes
The Beatles are responsible for some of the most valuable collectibles on the market. So it’s no wonder they are also some of the biggest targets for thieves.
In 2003, police announced they had recovered over 500 lost Beatles tapes, which had been stolen from the band’s 1969 Get Back sessions shortly after recording was wrapped up.
The reels contained dozens of songs deemed priceless by experts, and which had never previously been released. They were due to be released on an album entitled Get Back, but instead just a few made it onto Let It Be.
They were finally tracked down after a British man attempted to sell them for more than £250,000, leading police to where they were stored in Amsterdam.
Police also found a key to a locked suitcase containing George Harrison’s passport!
4. Elvis’ grave
On August 29, 1977 – just over two weeks after Elvis passed away – three men showed up at the Forest Hill Cemetery in Memphis, Tennessee in the dead of night.
Leaving a driver in the car, they proceeded to climb the cemetery gates, only to be disturbed by a waiting police car - forcing them to scarper off into the night. The police had been tipped off by a local reporter and Elvis’ body remained safe.
Yet, in 1992, Ronnie Tyler - formerly known as Ronnie Lee Adkins due to a witness protection name change – came forward and announced that he had been hired to stage the grave robbery by none other than Elvis’ father, Vernon Presley.
Tyler’s story, which hasn’t been confirmed, states that Vernon Presley had been desperate to have his son buried at Graceland, but Shelby County simply wouldn’t allow it.
Unable to find a solution, Vernon apparently hired Tyler to rattle the security at the cemetery and therefore ensure Elvis would return home.
Whether the story is true or not, Elvis’ 300-pound copper coffin was exhumed and reburied at Graceland on October 2.
3. Marilyn Monroe’s jewellery
If you were one of the thousands of visitors to Marilyn Monroe – Life of a Legend, the biggest exhibition devoted to the ultimate screen icon, you could be a suspect.
Two opportunistic thieves spotted their chance during the show in London in 2003, and made off with a diamond-encrusted golden ring bearing her signature “M” motif, and two gold bangles, which the star had given to her closest friends.
On loan from Cooper Owen auction house, the items were due to be sold at auction shortly afterwards, but have yet to be found. One of the thieves was apprehended on site, while the other escaped – neither had paid for their ticket.
2. James Bond DB5/Golden Gun
If you want to own the legendary Aston Martin DB5 from James Bond’s Goldfinger, you’ll have to find it first.
There were four cars produced for the film, though just one is the so-called “star car”, fully loaded with weapons and extras. This was sold to car collector Anthony Pugliese III for $250,000, having first travelled the world as part of publicity for the film.
Unable to drive the car, Pugliese stored it in the Boca Raton Airport Hangar until, in 1997, it was found to be missing. The thieves hadn’t triggered any alarms, with police concluding they had attached a chain to the axle of the car, before towing it out of the front gate.
The case has yet to be solved, with theories suggesting it was an insurance fraud valued at over $4m. The lighter stunt car was sold for $4.1m in London in 2010.
1. Mona Lisa
If you’re going to steal art, you might as well make it the world’s most famous painting.
In 1911, while walking round the Salon Carre of the Louvre, one visitor noticed the painting he had come to see, Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, had gone missing. The crime was so inconceivable that the guards hadn’t noticed for more than a day.
An international manhunt ensued, with the French desperate for the return of one of the world’s most prized possessions. Among those arrested was poet Guillaume Apollinaire, and even Picasso was implicated in the crime, yet both proved to be false leads.
It wasn’t until two years later, when an art dealer placed a small advert in the back of a newspaper that the police got their first clue. An Italian signing his name “Leonardo” had responded to the advert, stating he had the Mona Lisa in his possession.
Meeting with “Leonardo Vincenzo” in Milan, the dealer was soon assured that this was the real deal. Leonardo was revealed to be former Louvre employee Vincenzo Peruggia, who intended to return it to Italy, believing that Napoleon had stolen it from the nation.
However, other accounts suggest that an Argentine con man had in fact stolen the work and commissioned six copies from a world-renowned forger to be sold in the US while the location of the original was unknown.
Peruggia meanwhile, was sentenced to just six months in jail and was hailed as a national hero in Italy.
Special mention: Napoleon’s penis
The story of Napoleon’s “Little General” is shrouded in mystery.
Apparently, after the French leader died in 1821, his doctor cut it off and gave it to the priest who read Napoleon his last rites.
The dismembered member was passed down through the priest's family (imagine your disappointment on hearing *that *in the will reading) and then eventually bought by a US collectibles dealer.
It is currently owned by Evan Lattimer, whose father was a renowned urologist and bought it at auction for around $3,000.
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