Museum counts losses as squirrel thief strikes
Published Date: 12 May 2009
By Andrew Picken
IT sounds like a rather antiquated list of items from the conveyor belt of the Generation Game. Stuffed squirrels, a Military Cross medal and an embroidered satin picture of an angel in silk threads are among the items which have been lost or stolen in recent years from the National Museum of Scotland.
Documents released to the Evening News under freedom of information laws show a total of 22 items have gone missing from the Chambers Street museum since 1999.
Items include rare textiles and chunks of lava, one with a 19th century coin imbedded in it.
A dozen badges and medals have also disappeared, including a Military Cross and the Kabul to Kandahar Star, issued to soldiers in one of the UK’s first forays into Afghanistan in the 19th century.
A total of six of the 22 items were recorded as stolen. This includes both grey and red stuffed squirrels, two lead weights and a pair of spurs.
The squirrel specimens, which were on display, cost £100 each to replace, but museum bosses say they do not have individual valuations for the other items, though the haul is thought to be worth thousands of pounds.
The museum documents also revealed a stuffed specimen of a black grouse and capercaillie hybrid was stolen in June 1999.
Museum bosses today said the items missing or stolen represented a fraction of the four million objects currently in the national collections, adding that they carried out “exhaustive searches” before listing them as missing.
Some critics today called on museums bosses to look at improving security.
Councillor Gordon Buchan, the city’s Tory culture spokesman, said: “I certainly hope the museums have learned from the items that have gone missing in terms of what can be done to improve its security and cataloguing of items.
“You would have thought the medals would have been kept behind glass cases. Let’s hope that the two stuffed squirrels come out of hiding soon. That is an odd one.”
Some of London’s leading museums last month revealed they had lost nearly 200 items since 2000.
Details obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show that top attractions including the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum and the Imperial War Museum had lost around £500,000 worth of artefacts, including a Victoria Cross medal, a painting worth £200,000 and a collection of 14 microscopes worth £157,000.
A spokeswoman for the National Museums Scotland said: “(We] care for over four million objects and achieve an excellent standard of care across our huge and varied collections. Over the last decade, only a tiny number of objects have been listed as missing or stolen.”