Museum Theft Alert

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    • #132433
      Mark Ross

      Hi  All,
      Just thought I would let everyone know that on July 25, 2013 the Cape Fear Museum in Wilmington, North Carolina was a victim of theft.
      There were 5 Civil War-era objects that were taken from a display case, which reports say it had a broken lock. 
      The theft occurred during open hours and the on the morning of July 26 , museum officials discovered the following items missing: a U.S. Army oval brass belt buckle with “US” stamped on the face, a Confederate infantry brass button stamped with “I” on the face, a Confederate artillery brass button stamped with “A” on the face and two Confederate North Carolina brass buttons stamped with “NC” and a seven-point star-burst pattern.
      Link to article:
      These types of thefts have been increasing in the last two years. I have included below an excerpt from a “Tip of the Month” that I sent out to our region parks so they could be proactive in protecting their museum collections from these types of thefts.
      Collection items and artifacts that are housed in exhibit cases are vulnerable to theft by a thief in a number of different ways. One way is to remove the screws while no one is watching and remove the contents of the display case. Another method in which a thief will carry out a display case theft is to visit the museum several times and remove one screw at a time, and on the final trip the theft is carried out with ease.
       If no one is checking the cases each night and looking for missing screws, the thief will be successful on his final trip to the exhibit. Below I have included several articles where museum objects were taken from their display cases by removal of the screws that hold the case together. This type of theft is quite common; I was able to find 15 articles related to theft where the screws were removed from display cases. I have included below the links to 4 of the articles.–year-crime-spree/article_2579cbf1-9377-56d3-b48a-309033695f1f.html
      Tip of the Month: It is recommended that both the Park Physical Security Coordinator and Chief Curator get together and perform an audit of their exhibit cases and possibly institute additional protective measures such as changing the regular standard screws to security screws.
      Also if you have exhibit cases that have doors with hinges, you should ensure that they are hinged from the inside to prevent external access to the hinge screws or hinge pins. In 1995 an article appeared in a NPS Conserve O Gram (See Link: about display case security and the use of specialized security screws, this is a low cost easy obtainable security measure that will lower the risk of theft of collection items via removal of screws. Additionally, adding a daily check that involves: looking for signs of tampering of display cases, examining locking devices to ensure they are in working order to your opening and closing procedures is an additional protective measure that can be implemented. 

      Just thought I pass on this information.
      Mark Ross
      Regional Physical Security Specialist
      National Park Service
      Northeast Regional Office
      Office of LE and Emergency Services

    • #132442

      Good tips Mark.  I’m preparing a webinar on security for archives. Do you have any other recent sources of information pertaining to security in archives and libraries that you would recommend?

    • #132441
      Mark Ross

      As you know there are many different threats to archives, the top three are Fire, Theft and vandalism.  
      Firstly let me share with you two videos that are extremely helpful in helping people understand the types of thefts that occur as it relates to theft of archives.
      The first video titled. “Protecting Our National Treasures: The Impact and Prevention of Archival Theft” . A group of Panelists discussed the methods and processes used to prevent the theft of archival materials from institutions like the National Archives, the Library of Congress, and the Smithsonian. 
      They examined the balance between providing access to researchers and visitors while maintaining security. The information contained in this video is outstanding, and would be valuable tool in educating your attendees on Archival Theft. The video is 1 hour long and every minute of it is excellent.
      Here is the link:
      The second video is from 60 minutes, it is titled “National Archives Treasures Targeted by Thieves” it covers the story about Barry Landau who committed the largest archival thefts in the U.S. This is good for your attendees because it highlights the cons that this man used to steal many archive documents and objects etc.
      Here is the link:
      I have also added some additional resources below, I have many more than what is listed, to include what I have seen while performing security assessments, I did not want to overload you with information so I did not include those.
      Other Resources:
      Also a very good manual on Library Security:

      Northeast Document Conservation Center: 
      3.11 Collections Security: Planning and Prevention for Libraries and Archives:

    • #132440

      Water damage is also a major threat.  With the exception of floods, most water incidents don’t get any publicity, so no one realized how common water damage is and how many it can happen.

    • #132439

      Our small community museum, open twice a week and attended by volunteers, was targeted over a period of time and when we checked our processes we discovered that they were not only taking objects, but also removing the donation forms to go with those objects, (thereby getting the provenance as well as the object) so it was quite a sophisticated job. We sought and received grant funding for security cameras in the museum space and both storage areas, and the problem seems to have stopped. We got the funding from the local community bank and publicised it heavily in the local press. Christine, Australia

    • #132438

      Thank you Mark for sharing these very useful resources.  Guess I’ll be watching videos this weekend.  And thanks also Barbaraa nd Christine  for sharing your thoughts.

    • #132437

      Sorry I’m a little late to the conversation.

      To all and Mark,

      I actually had the privilege of attending the first panel that Mark posted when I was an intern at the Smithsonian. It was fascinating and informative. At the time I was relatively new to the archives world, and like most of the public, tended to think of these types of thefts being perpetrated by outsiders. It was surprising to me how many of these thefts were actually perpetrated by academics, scholars, and even museum and archives professionals.

      I would definitely recommend watching this video, even if you think your institution has nothing to worry about. And for those who are looking for some solutions and preventative  measures, some of the practices described can be put in place at a smaller scale at any institution.



    • #132436
      Mark Ross

      A good read to compliment what you saw in the video can be seen by going here:
      Also thing that I see a lot of when doing security assessments in archive storage areas, are cabinets like the ones I have attached to this post. On many occasions I have noted keys in the locks of the cabinets, or just lying on top of the cabinets.
      A common misconception is that since archive storage is in a locked room with alarms it’s okay to leave cabinets unlocked, or keys left in the locks.  Having locking devices on cabinets containing archival/collection items is one way we protect these items. However when we leave the keys out, like in the example pictures that I attached, it increases the chance of theft. 
      We want it to make it harder for a thief to steal, whether it is from an insider or an outsider, so good key control policies, procedures and practices are a crucial part of the process.

    • #132435

      Thanks for the additional tips and comments.  The key in the lock photo is great and oh so common.  Along with  my personal fav – propping door leading from research room into vault open so staff can more conveniently come and go into stacks for retrievals.

    • #132434

      A local tech museum lost an irreplaceable prototype due to poor exhibit design. The exhibit had floor to ceiling “walls” of clear plexiglass (or possibly tempered glass) panels with gaps between the 3′-4- wide panels.  Unfortunately, the gaps were wide enough to allow a small hand to pass through and remove small objects from the display.  Scrutinize designs fro this kind of vulnerability before they’re built – unless everything you display is the size of a locomotive!

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