Pete Smith writes:
"In response to your question last week, I put together a list of coin thefts. It is hard to compare values adjusted for inflation along with reports that don't mention a value. I don't claim that this is a "top 25" list. I only claim that the list is interesting."
25 Large Numismatic Thefts
Pete's list is below, and it's certainly interesting. Agreed, it's hard to rank these by any objective measure. The complete inventories are rarely published, and valuation is difficult. Thanks for compiling this!
This report does not include the theft of current coins, currency or bullion and does not include
looting during time of war. It also does not include robberies where the owner was murdered.
1. In 2019, three coins were stolen from a collection in Durango, Colorado. They included
an 1894-S barber dime, one of nine known, a 1652 Willow tree silver sixpence and a
1794 flowing hair dollar. Value of the three coins was estimated at $2.1 million.
2. March 27, 2017, three thieves stole a single gold coin from the Bode Museum in Berlin.
It was a one million dollar gold Canadian Maple Leaf weighing 221 pounds and valued at
$4.3 million. Suspects were apprehended and three received prison sentences.
3. In 2012 thieves took five coin cases out of Julian Leidman's minivan when he stopped
for dinner in Pine Brook, New Jersey. The loss was around $4 million in value.
4. In 2011, William Gray admitted stealing presidential coins that were missing edge
lettering from the Philadelphia Mint. Estimated value was $2.4 million.
5. In 2007 an employee at the ANA Museum admitted stealing a million dollars worth of
coins. Collections manager Wyatt Yeager was convicted and received a sentence of 27
months in prison. Investigation of this theft revealed that other coins were also missing
but were not taken by Yeager.
6. In 2007 thieves took a bag of coins from a car at the valet stand of the Peabody Hotel
during the FUN show. Three thieves with knives were captured on surveillance camera
but were not caught. At last report the car they were driving has also not been found.
7. Also in 2007, a thousand coin collection was stolen from the home of Lord and Lady
Stewartby in Broughton, Scotland. Value was estimated at a half million pounds. The
remaining collection was donated to a museum.
8. In 1999 thieves followed Tom Reynolds home to Omaha after the Central States show
and took coins out of his unlocked car. Loss was estimated at a million dollars. An arrest
was made in July. Some coins later showed up that had been consigned to an auction by
9. In December 1976, the reference collection for The Organization of International
Numismatists was stolen from a The Americana Hotel in New York City.
10. On December 1, 1973, a visitor used a ruse to gain entrance to the Harvard's Fogg Art
Museum after hours. He produced a gun and restrained the guard while four men
ransacked the coin collection. Perhaps 5000 coins valued at $5 million were taken. At the
time this was described as the largest coin theft in history.
11. In 1967 thieves broke into the home of Willis Dupont in Coconut Grove, Florida and
stole a collection of 7000 coins. Some have been recovered over a period of time.
12. Coins were stolen from Yale University on May 29, 1965. A Brasher Doubloon
recovered after the theft was later sold to raise funds for a new library.
13. In November 1962, the coin collection was stolen from the Harry S. Truman Library in
Independence, Missouri. It had been donated by John W. Snyder, Secretary of the
Treasury under Truman.
14. The Nevada State Museum was robbed on August 2, 1952. Two thieves snuck in during
the night and smashed a glass display case and stole rare coins struck at the Carson City
15. In 1930 a collection of ancient silver and gold coins was stolen from the Russian
Museum in Leningrad.
16. On January 2, 1930, an attempt was made to break into the Omaha Public Library to steal
from the Byron Reed collection. A suspect was apprehended before the theft could be
17. In 1929 a collection was stolen in France that belonged to Ernest Gregoire. It was stolen
from the home of his cousin after his death.
18. The Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington was robbed of a priceless
collection of gold coins on July 29, 1926. Some of these were returned after being sold to
a faultless buyer.
19. In 1920 a group of more than a hundred gold coins was stolen from the Lisbon National
20. The Etruscan Museum of Corneto, Italy, lost its collection of Ancient coins, cameos and
jewels to thieves in 1916.
21. In 1914, The Numismatist reported that the entire numismatic collection of the Museum
of Lubeck had been stolen in Berlin.
22. Coins were stolen from the collection of Waldo Newcomer in 1913. Value of the loss was
$30,000. An electrician who had recently installed a burglar alarm was charged with the
theft. When he was unable to sell all of the stolen coins, he dumped some in the Hudson
23. In 1913, The Numismatist reported on the theft of 5000 coins worth $250,000 from the
Glen Island Realty and Development Company in New York.
24. In the 1880's a thief stole a collection of Greek coins from the local museum. He sold
them to Dealers Rollin & Fenardent of Paris. Having gotten a good look at the
establishment, he returned later and stole the collection again from the dealers.
25. On September 18, 1858. two visitors used a fake key to open a cabinet at the Philadelphia
Mint. About $200 in gold coins were taken that would have a high collector value today.
The thieves tried to sell them to Philadelphia dealers S. H. & H. Chapman but they
recognized that these were unusual coins and the thieves were apprehended. A unique
1849 Templeton Reid $25 gold coin was never recovered.
26. On April 10, 1796, coins were stolen from the Gardner Baker collection at the Tammany
Museum. Someone wrote an article about this for The Numismatist.
Yes, that adds up to 26. But Pete notes that #16 was not a theft because it was thwarted.
What notable thefts are missing? What stories can be shared?
One I can think of (but don't have any documentation for) was mentioned by John J. Ford - a brazen broad-daylight
theft of rare early American medals from the New-York
Historical Society. If I recall the story correctly, the thieves posed as workmen and carried the entire exhibit case out the front door while someone held it open for them. It probably doesn't qualify as "large", but it's certainly notable.
To read earlier E-Sylum articles, see:
LOOSE CHANGE: FEBRUARY 14, 2021 : The 25 Greatest Art Heists of All Time
JOHN FORD TAPE AND CHARLESTON SLAVE TAGS
Wayne Homren, Editor
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