Elizabethan Artefacts Stolen From London Science Museum

By Caroline Lewis | 10 December 2004
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photograph of a large stone museum building with classical pillars on its frontage

The Science Museum. Courtesy Science Museum.

Two valuable artefacts have been stolen from London's Science Museum.

Thieves broke into a cabinet at the museum on December 9 and took items worth up to £50,000. The pieces, on permanent loan from the Wellcome Trust, were a crystal belonging to Queen Elizabeth I's scientist John Dee and a statement concerning it, written by Nicholas Culpeper.

Jon Tucker, Head of Science Museum, said: "This is a very distressing loss to the museum as these objects are of great historical significance and irreplaceable."

Shows a photo of a dim gallery with glass cases. The cabinet in the foreground contains a sculpted head.

The Wellcome Museum of the History of Medicine, from which the items were stolen. Courtesy Science Museum.

At approximately 4.30pm on December 9, a member of the museum staff heard glass breaking. The police were informed when museum security found objects missing from the cabinet.

The crystal and the statement were part of the Wellcome Museum of the History of Medicine within the Science Museum, to where they were transferred in 1976. The crystal, used for clairvoyance and curing diseases, and the statement are unique artefacts and thus difficult to value.

John Dee (1527-1608/9) was a natural philosopher, mathematician and astrologer, infamous in his day for being imprisoned on a charge of attempting to kill Queen Mary (Bloody Mary) with sorcery. He spent the later part of his life attempting to contact spirits.

Shows a photo of a gallery with glass cases displaying artefacts.

A member of staff heard glass breaking in the gallery. Courtesy Science Museum.

Culpeper, the author of the stolen statement, is best known for his book of herbal remedies, but was also an astrologist. The stolen artefacts were just two of 125,000 objects in the collection, which spans the history and practice of medicine from ancient Greece to the present day.

“It is incredibly difficult,” explained Tucker, “striking the right balance between providing good public access to our unique collections for our millions of visitors, whilst providing enough protection against a tiny number of determined criminals.”

Dr Mark Walport, Director of the Wellcome Trust, said: “This is a very sad loss and we hope these important objects are recovered intact as quickly as possible."

Crime scene investigators have been to the museum and are liaising with police CID. The museum has also launched an internal investigation.

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