The Smithsonian recently received restitution of a long lost letter from Charles Darwin missing from the museum archives since the 1970’s. It is believed that the letter was stolen by an intern working at the museum.
The FBI was tipped off that the letter was quite near Washington, D.C. The FBI was unable to prosecute the dealer as the statue of limitations had passed, but the letter was proven to be authentic and returned to the Smithsonian who originally owned the letter.
We don’t often hear of items being returned to a U.S. Museum, so this is quite noteworthy in the world of art crime. The letter was from Darwin to thank geologist, Dr. Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden, for sending him geology research of the what would later become Yellowstone National Park. Hayden spent many years between the 1850’s to the 1870’s exploring the American West which resulted in the discovery of many artifacts that remain in the Smithsonian today.
The FBI maintains a database online that lists stolen art and historical artifacts. Artifacts currently listed include such items as fine arts, decorative arts, antiquities, Asian art, Islamic art, Native American art, ethnographic objects, archaeological material, textiles, books and manuscripts, clocks and watches, coins, stamps, musical instruments, and scientific instruments.