The theft of Impressionist paintings in Switzerland has made news lately. In fact, it has caused the insurance on art exhibitions to go up for museums around the world (like the museum where I work).
But Mexico still holds the distinction for one of the most spectacular art heists. In 1985 thieves made off with 140 objects from the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. To my knowledge, this is the largest number of objects ever stolen from a museum.
The theft occurred on Christmas day. There were eight guards on duty, but they don’t seem to have been very vigilant. And the museum’s alarm system had been broken for the past three years.
The objects — Maya, Aztec, Zapotec, and Miztec ceramics mainly — were small, but extremely valuable. One of them alone (a monkey-shaped vase) was valued at $20 million.
I never heard whether any of the objects was recovered.