British Museum Will Display Glass Gems Stolen from Its Collection

The British Museum will display a small grouping of items it has recently recovered in a new exhibition. Those objects represent just 10 of the 351 that have been recovered amid ongoing investigations into a vast array of that were damaged or stolen, or went missing.

The majority of those 2,000 items were classical gems and gold jewelry. None of the objects had been on public display recently.

An unnamed staff member, later revealed to be senior curator Peter Higgs, was fired in connection with the stolen items. He had listed some of those items on eBay for as little as $51, and is thought to have conducted the thefts over a period of around 25 years. In the wake of Higgs’s firing, director Hartwig Fischer and deputy director Jonathan Williams resigned.

The museum has been working to rebuild after destructive reports in the British press about how it handled the missing items. After the British Museum was urged to strengthen its records for its collection to prevent future thefts, board chair George Osborne promised a £10 million digitization project.

The British Museum said the incident “sparked a renewed public interest in these objects,” and prompted a display exploring the significance of classical gems and their impression left throughout history. In addition to being worn as jewelry, classical gems were used as seals or simply collected as beauty objects, especially by royalty, aristocrats and artists.

The exhibition “Rediscovering gems” will include two Roman glass items from the late 1st century BCE to early 1st century CE: an intaglio which features a profile bust of Minerva and a cameo with a bust of Cupid.

“We promised we’d show the world the gems that were stolen and recovered – rather than hide them away. It’s another example of culture change underway at the British Museum, as we open up and take ownership of our own story,” Osborne said in a statement.

Viewers will be able to see the items at the institution beginning on February 15.

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