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Homecoming – Stolen material returns

Several months ago I posted a message from Jeanne (boss lady) about a theft that had occurred at our museum in the 2000’s. (click HERE to read that post) Long story short, our archivist, Lester F. Weber, stole material from our archives to sell on eBay, and we’re pretty sure that this was his sole purpose in applying for the job. I am happy to update that we have finally started to contact buyers of the material in a bid to get the pieces back. It is just the start of a VERY long process, but we have already had a few positive results, which is what I want to highlight in this post.

One of the biggest hits to our archival collection was the loss of Titanic pieces. These pieces are extremely rare and in high demand as it remains one of the most well known shipwrecks of all time. One of the pieces returned was an over-sized postcard showing a full view of the starboard side of the ship. The bottom gives general information about the ship. Below is a picture.

As this material returns, we’ve been scanning it for two main reasons. The first is that we sent scans of all the returned material to the buyers. We recognize that there are no winners in this situation; we are all victims. Because of this, and to show our appreciation for working with us in this situation, we want the buyers to at least have good images of the pieces so that they are not left with nothing. The second reason is that it is never a bad thing to have a digital copy of an object; it’s something we can put into our database as a quick reference for the piece. Our archival collection is tremendously large and any attempt at trying to digitize it is very overwhelming, so it simplifies it to scan pieces as they come back to us in small groups.

Below are some more pieces that have come back.

Guion Line sailing card for steamers Oregon, Alaska and Arizona, from the 1880’s.

Fall River Line, between New York and Boston, ad card.

Starin’s Excursions brochure, 1880’s. (I love the images on the front!)

The first image is a Cabin passenger list from the Red Star Line ship Westernland, 1891 (beautiful imagery on the front). The second is an interior photograph from the Citizen’s Evening Line ship Saratoga, 1890’s. Usually there aren’t people in shots like these, but maybe that one gentleman wouldn’t move.

The first is a ticket from the Steam Yacht C.R. Pultz, early 1800’s. The other is a Hudson River Day Line pass from 1870.

Cunard Line Saloon passenger list from the ship Scythia, 1875. This piece is extremely fragile.

Last, but definitely not least, we have a trade card from the People’s Line, 1880’s. I love the imagery on the front, it’s very eye-catching and a little odd.

This is just a small sample of the things that have been returned and I have enjoyed scanning them all as it allows me to see pieces I ordinarily wouldn’t. There has been a lot of frustration though as I see the invoices and eBay listing sheets that Weber and his wife made up, and I can only imagine how difficult it must have been for my boss when she realized what Weber had done and to what extent. It’s very heart-breaking. What’s even more heart-breaking are the folks that know they have material stolen from us and refuse to return it. When you steal (or hold onto stolen material) from a museum, you aren’t just stealing from that institution, but from the public at large. These items belong to us because the public entrusts us to care for them and use them for educational purposes. We know that it is unlikely we will recoup all of our losses, but we are certainly going to try and recover as much as possible.

We truly thank those who have worked with us in the process, whether it has been to return items or just offer support. I will continue to keep everyone updated as we go forward in this effort.

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