Friday, June 17, 2022

Coins stolen from the Naples museum in 1977 are still missing

On the night of 20-21 February, 1977 at least 6000 ancient coins were stolen from the National Archaeological Museum in Naples, Italy.

Not all of the coins had been photographed, but the best 10% were. The International Association of Professional Numismatists (IAPN) published these in a special bulletin. That publication, Coins Stolen from the National Archaeological Museum, by Jean-Paul Divo (1937-2014), is rare.

A brief UPI story (no byline) from December 1980 says that authorities recovered US$40,000,000 of “ancient Roman coins, jewelry and artifacts” including a rare coin of Augustus worth $1.3 million alone.

It's unclear how many coins were recovered. The recovery included the Naples museum coins as well as coins stolen from the Antiquarium Museum at Pompeii in 1975. The UPI brief mentions 71 recovered coins.

Although the UPI claimed a single recovered coin of Augustus was worth US$1,300,000, I am uncertain what that coin could be. Only one Roman Imperial coin has sold for over a million dollars. The coin was a sestertius of Hadrian engraved by the Alphaeus Master that sold for $2.5 millionin 2008. A million-dollar Roman coin value in 1980 seems unlikely.

(A brief AP story on the Pompeii robbery (also no byline) says that robbery included “a large number of gold and silver jewels and coins”.)

UPI said in 1980 that five men had been arrested, including one who once worked as a watchman in the museum. The accused were not named and I could not find a follow-up story on any conviction or sentencing.

Jean-Paul Divo's catalog of the stolen coins is very rare today. I've only seen it offered twice; once in a group lot in Rick Witschonke's library sale, and another copy was sold on VCoins by ANE for $75.

If anyone knows what happened to the five suspects please let me know.

I hope that one day Divo's catalog will be reprinted, or that the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli, IAPN, or Divo estate make a list of the missing coins available online. A single coin that matched one of the stolen pieces could provide valuable clues as to where the rest of the loot ended up.

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