The museum home
May 14, 2013 1:54 AM   Subscribe

"When a leather and tortoiseshell handbag (later found to be the rare 19th-century Italian work) was shown to Mrs Nevin, she said: "That's my shopping bag. I bought it in a shop."" The museum curator who stole thousands of artifacts to decorate his home.
posted by mippy (13 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Curiously enough a similar case has just come to light at Lambeth Palace Library, where a lot of rare books were stolen by a member of the library staff, apparently not for financial gain but just for the pleasure of possessing them. The thief was clever enough to remove the catalogue cards as well, so it was difficult to reconstruct exactly what had been stolen. The theft was only revealed some 35 years later when the culprit died, leaving a full confession. The Library thought they had lost about 60 items and were stunned to discover that they had actually lost around 1400 volumes, many of them dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries.
posted by verstegan at 4:53 AM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's practically the defination of 'gall' for him to have gone back to the museum, after serving his prison time, and ask for a pension, especially considering he didn't steal one or two things: it was thousands of items.

I work in a museum myself; I never have anything to do with anything in the exhibits..... but considering people like this? Yeah, I know why I had to go through a full FBI background check, including getting fingerprinted, just so I can run the IMAX movies.
posted by easily confused at 5:21 AM on May 14, 2013

When police raided the property, they found his bathroom curtains had been fashioned from a length of stolen rare cloth and his wife had been carrying her groceries in a 19th-century Italian leather and tortoiseshell handbag.

Oh man. I hope they took pictures-- They should document this fully and have a dedicated hall for this "exhibit."

But as the officers began recovering objects from increasingly unusual hiding places – a gilt figure of a knight secreted behind a hot water tank, musical instruments found in floor joists, a silver ink pot hidden in a chimney and several carved jade figures found in a vacuum cleaner dust bag – the couple's united façade of innocence began to fall away.

I'm assuming they hid the stuff when it became clear there was going to be an investigation, otherwise why steal something beautiful if you are just going to hide it in the vacuum cleaner bag?

A devastated Nevin, who made an "ineffectual gesture at suicide" by drinking half a glass of cough mixture shortly after his arrest, was sentenced to three years' imprisonment at West London magistrates' court in June 1954.

That part actually made me laugh out loud. What a sad little man he was.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 5:47 AM on May 14, 2013

I love people who steal from museums and archives.

Okay, love isn't the right word. Perhaps I mean to say I hope they have a special place in hell for them? The only thing worse in this case would be if he simply sold everything he stole.
posted by Atreides at 6:53 AM on May 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Gotta hand it to him. Most people just take post-its.
posted by Mchelly at 7:00 AM on May 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Atreides: I love people who steal from museums and archives.

Okay, love isn't the right word. Perhaps I mean to say I hope they have a special place in hell for them? The only thing worse in this case would be if he simply sold everything he stole.

I don't know; I have a soft spot for someone who steals out of love. And there is something to be said for objects meant to be used actually being used. (Though: bathroom curtains?)

However, intellectually I agree with you.
posted by tavegyl at 7:01 AM on May 14, 2013

Considering the dubious provenance of a lot of museum pieces this is very difficult for me to get into a righteous lather about.
posted by srboisvert at 7:57 AM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

There's some sort of caricature - archetype - stereotype confirmation in there what with Mr. Nevins, the kleptomaniac museum curator, trying to kill himself with half a glass of cough syrup.
posted by mibo at 10:03 AM on May 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

To offer a little insight into the wild fever of antagonism that plagues me when I read about such things is that when you're taking from a museum or an archive, you're not just taking something from an institution or a building, you are taking something from the people those institutions and buildings served (and generally, endangering it more than it would otherwise be in its original home). I find that extremely disrespectful to one's fellow human, that an individual's desire trumps the collective good access by many to one object creates. As a would be historian, it further bothers me on the grounds that the loss of history can be something irreplaceable. 1984 strikes fears in my heart with regard to the destruction of history to allow for the hardening of lies, for example. We have understandings of things of the past that rely entirely on the interpretation of singular or rare objects, and to lose such things would be terrible.
posted by Atreides at 11:34 AM on May 14, 2013 [4 favorites]

And there is something to be said for objects meant to be used actually being used. (Though: bathroom curtains?)

Using objects? They put the fabric in the bathroom, where it was exposed to dirt and possible water damage. She used an object of art to carry possible leaking containers and packages, exposing it to sun, insect damage, and general wear and tear--obviously she's as guilty as he is, despite her whinging about telling him not to take stuff.

But the worst of it was the jade. I love jade, and it needs to be loved back to be happy. Putting it in a vacuum cleaner bag? Beyond a crime--a sin.

They don't love art, they're selfish gits.They think they're special and expensive deserve things others don't have access to--if they did care, they would have treated what they stole with consideration.
posted by BlueHorse at 12:13 PM on May 14, 2013 [5 favorites]

This happens with surprising frequency. The museum where I worked as a young person had things stolen by insiders all the time, and not only the actual museum artifacts. Just recently I saw one of their (specially designed and huge) showcases in a clothes boutique. The neighboring museum had 2 million dollars wrth of antiques stolen by an employee.
It's depressing
posted by mumimor at 1:09 PM on May 14, 2013

I am frequently asked, when the subject of my job comes around in the conversation, whether or not I have thwarted any art theives, or how one would go about stealing from a museum. People imagine sleek black clad cat burglars rapelling from skylights, deftly dodging through mazes of visible laser beams so as not to set off the loudly audible alarm that surely guards The Great Masterpiece.

Truth is, most of the time, this is what art theft looks like. Kind of weird and sad. The vast, vast majority of cultural artifacts are small objects taken by museum or private collection employees who have access to them. The objects will then languish in secret places, never to be displayed, likely irreparably damaged.
posted by louche mustachio at 4:33 PM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

What annoys me most about such thieves is the damage they do to books. This man tore out pages from some books and stole others, according to the article. I can't tell you how many times, when doing research, I've found that the books I've asked to see from the restricted rare books sections are missing, or have had all the engravings, drawings, and other "pretty pictures" cut or torn out, making the work more-or-less useless most of the time.
posted by Blackanvil at 7:02 PM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

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