Friday, December 03, 2010

Crime: Tracking Stolen Art

One of the missing Caddo Nation items. See the entire list.

Source: FBI

More than four years after 26 pieces of Caddo Indian pottery were stolen from Southern Arkansas University there is still no trace of the rare bottles, pots, or bowls. But now there is a new tool that could allow the art community—and the public—to help solve the case.

With the recent redesign of, we debuted the National Stolen Art File (NSAF). This free online tool allows anyone to quickly and easily search a database of thousands of stolen artworks and contact us if they have information about the items.

“It’s impossible for the FBI to look for every piece of stolen art in the country,” said Bonnie Magness-Gardiner, who manages our art theft program. “Having this online, searchable database accessible to the public as well as local law enforcement takes advantage of our technological resources to help curb the age-old problem of art theft.”

Currently, the database contains about 7,000 images. Some were already online, but not in an easy-to-use format. Now, anyone can search a variety of categories—from books and bowls to stamps and stained glass—or enter keywords such as an artist’s name, period date, or artwork title.

Search for “Monet,” for example, and several stolen works are returned. Click on an image and it enlarges. In many cases, details are provided about the artwork, including the work’s dimensions and other identifying information.

For those considering buying and selling works of art—gallery owners, brokers, and private collectors—the database is one way to make sure their potential purchases are legitimately for sale. “If a collector or gallery owner checks our site and sees that a piece of art is stolen, that’s an immediate red flag, and they can contact us,” Magness-Gardiner said.

For law enforcement, particularly local agencies that investigate burglaries and other thefts, the database will eventually be accessible through the Law Enforcement Online (LEO) website, so local police departments can add to the list. “As the database grows,” Magness-Gardiner said, “the number of cases that can be solved—and artworks recovered—will increase. And as a result, we will help keep stolen art out of the marketplace.”

Items in the database such as the Caddo Indian pottery contain images of the original works—not copies or duplicates—and they all have uniquely identifiable characteristics, such as an artist’s signature, damage marks, or other one-of-a-kind traits. Any object stolen within the U.S. with a value of more than $2,000 can be listed. There are some international pieces in the file, but this is primarily a resource for reporting the theft of artwork within the United States.

“We want to solicit any and all information from the public about the stolen material,” Magness-Gardiner said. “And we in turn will provide this information to a much wider audience. This is a first step, and as we grow, we look forward to working with local law enforcement, the art community, and the public.”

If you have information about an item in the National Stolen Art File, contact your local FBI office or submit a tip at Requests to have items added to the database must come through a law enforcement agency accompanied by a physical description of the object, a photograph if available, and a copy of any police reports or other relevant information. Additionally, notification is required when works on the list have been recovered. Failure to notify NSAF may result in recovered works remaining on the list.

Search the National Stolen Art File
- Art Theft website