Scandal as hundreds of historic treasures go missing

An audit of the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission has revealed that more than 1,800 historic artifacts can’t be found. Officials aren’t sure what happened to them but assume many have been stolen and others misfiled.

Missing treasures include a Kentucky rifle like those pictured above, an Ottoman ring that’s almost 800 years old, one-of-a-kind paintings and photographs, and other irreplaceable objects.

Officials hope most are simply lost in the system, which has been added to for almost a century with various filing systems being in vogue at different times, making for much confusion and sometimes leaving an artifact with more than one accession number, or the same number being used for more than one object. Anyone who has worked with historic archives will be familiar with this annoying phenomenon. Archives and museums rarely have enough funding to do a complete overhaul of the system and therefore problems get compounded over the years. The Pennsylvania commission has been especially hard hit by budget cuts, seeing its funding reduced from $58 million to $26 million in the past four years.

Another problem is theft. Artifacts such as Civil War memorabilia or an image of Daniel Boone (another MIA) can attract big money in the illegal antiquities trade. This encourages thefts from Paris to Baghdad. I conduct research at Madrid’s Biblioteca Nacional and security there was upped a couple of years ago after they caught a guy cutting out 17th century maps from old atlases and selling them on the black market. This sort of selfishness is great for private collectors who don’t mind breaking the law, but bad for the general public who have their nation’s legacy taken from them.

[Photo courtesy Antique Military Rifles]