It’s not easy to steal from The Metropolitan Museum of Art. There hasn’t been a major robbery at the museum in 40 years. Thanks to its guard force of over 500 people and its hi-tech security systems, the more than 1 million objects held within the museum are safe and sound. It was a bit of a different story before the 1990s. Since the Museum’s founding in 1870, there have been a handful of major museum robberies that made headlines. Headlines from recent years have been concerned with artifacts that were stolen before making it into the museum collection, highlighting efforts of law enforcement and museum staff to root out improperly acquired artifacts and hasten repatriation. Here, we take a look back at 10 successful and attempted art heists at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City’s world-famous art institution.
Secrets of the Met Museum Tour
Hear about more museum mishaps and behind-the-scenes tales on Untapped New York’s Secrets of the Metropolitan Musem of Art walking tour led by Patrick Bringley, a former museum guard and author of the recently released memoir All the Beauty in the World, which details his decade spent guarding the Met’s invaluable treasures.
1. Ancient Golden Bracelets – 1887
One of the earliest Metropolitan Museum of Art robberies took place in September 1887. Less than a decade earlier, the museum had moved into a new building designed by Calvert Vaux and Jacob Wrey Mould at its current site in Central Park. It was the first of many buildings and additions that would be constructed to create the sprawling museum we see today. The artifacts stolen were a pair of solid gold bracelets. The bracelets were part of the Kurium collection, an array of artifacts dug up in Cyprus by General Luigi Palma di Cesnola, the Met’s first director.
A New-York Tribune article from just a few days after the robbery describes the bracelets as “solid gold, about four inches in diameter, richly carved and studded with all manner of precious gems.” To get the bracelets, estimated to be worth $1,000 at the time, the robbers simply pried open the case. The bracelets were stolen in broad daylight while museum guards were on duty. It is believed that the robbers made away with the bracelets sometime between 10 am when the museum custodian cleaned and dusted all of the cases, and 11 am when two museum visitors reported the broken case. The bracelets were never recovered, but replicas based on museum records were created for the museum by Tiffany & Co.