A private investigation has determined that former British Museum curator, Peter Higgs, allegedly stole over 1,500 artifacts from the institution’s collection. The news comes off the heels of last week’s Daily Telegraph report, which first named Higgs as the prime suspect in the case, stating that the 30-year curator had been looting precious gems and gold jewelry and selling them under a pseudonym on eBay — many times for far less than the actual value. For example, one of the Roman antiques resold dates back over 2,000 years and carries a value of up to $64,000 USD. A buyer on the e-commerce site claimed it for a mere $51 USD.
Christos Tsirogiannis, a UNESCO-affiliated expert who deals with antiques trafficking, calls the heist “probably the worst case so far…No one expects that to happen in a museum.” Dating back over 3,500 years, the value for all the artifacts stolen is estimated in the the tens of millions of dollars. Of course, this event comes at a rather ironic time, when the British Museum has been dealing with a series of repatriation debates. Namely, the Parthenon Marbles and the Benin Bronzes are amongst the artworks housed in the museum’s collection, which have sparked outrage in the cultural community, such as Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who demanded the artworks be returned to its home.
First reported by The Daily Telegraph, Higgs, who had been employed for over 30 years and was known internally as one of the museum’s “monuments men” for his expertise in antiquity, is suspected to have looted uncategorized objects, such as gold jewelry, gemstones, and relics that date as far back as ancient Rome. Higgs would proceed to selling these items under a pseudonym on eBay dating back to 2016, some of which are worth millions. The report goes on to state that an unnamed expert had informed the institution back in 2020, but the museum only made the decision to let Higgs go earlier this year.
Alternatively, and in a bit of irony, the British Museum is one of many global institutions that have been under scrutiny for carrying artworks and antiques that have been allegedly looted, such as the hotly contested Parthenon Marbles. Law firm Art Recovery International took to X (formerly Twitter) to state: “Perhaps the Parthenon Marbles are not safe in the UK after all. They should be moved to a museum in Athens where they can be well cared for…”
While no arrests have been made yet, the museum plans to launch a full investigation into how the curator was able to initially steal these items unnoticed and will push for legal action against Higgs.