Cool museum thieves captured on film stealing valuable antique
Date: 23 May 2009
By Mark Branagan
THIEVES kept their cool to steal a 17th century barometer from a Yorkshire museum – walking past unsuspecting security guards with the 3ft antique hidden under a coat.
Staff at Fairfax House in York realised something was wrong when they spotted a gap in the displays where the antique – worth tens of thousands of pounds – had been unscrewed from the wall.
But it was only when security camera footage was studied ADVERTISEMENTthat museum chiefs were able to track the audacious theft frame by frame.
The barometer dates from 1695 and is by celebrated craftsman Daniel Quare, whose customers included the Royal Family and whose work can still be seen in Windsor Castle, the Science Museum and other high-profile venues.
The thieves are believed to have posed as visitors a number of times to plan the raid before striking around 2.45pm on Monday.
The closed circuit TV shots showed a man wearing an overcoat and a woman unscrewing the ivory and brass-plated barometer from the wall of an empty corridor of the 1762 former Georgian town house.
The man then slides the artefact, part of the renowned Noel Terry collection of English furniture and clocks, underneath the blue overcoat.
It is believed the couple were only on the premises for 15 minutes before they strolled out of the museum, their noses in a magazine.
Museum director Peter Brown said: “It was an audacious theft. The sad thing is they are preventing hundreds of people the chance to see an extremely important part of the city’s history.
“It is probably unique and a fundamental part of the Noel Terry collection, so it is a huge regret for us that it is gone. It is an irreplaceable piece dating back to 1695. We are just trying to remain calm and hope we get it back.”
York Civic Trust, which runs the museum, has refused to confirm the exact value of the piece but it is known to be worth several tens of thousands of pounds.
But they have admitted although stewards guard artefacts in each of the home’s individual rooms, no one was minding the corridor where the barometer was.
A reward had already been offered by Fairfax House’s insurers for information leading to the return of the stolen property and conviction of the thieves.
London insurers Axa Art, which deals with specialist arts collections around the UK, is working with the museum in an attempt to trace the artefact.
The closed circuit TV footage shows a tall, white male, in his late 20s to early 30s, with dark brown hair, wearing the coat and dark-coloured trousers.
The woman was white with light brown hair, wearing a tan-coloured coat, blue jeans and carrying a satchel.
Appealing for witnesses, a North Yorkshire Police spokesman, said: “This is an extremely valuable barometer, worth a lot of money.”
The barometer is in four parts divided by brass collars. A cast brass housing at the top has register plates – “Serene and Dry” to “Rain and Stormy” and adjustable pointers to record the level “yesterday” and “today”.
The water-gilt brass housing is engraved with masks and foliage. The ivory column is in two parts, the upper carved with vertical fluting and reeding, and the lower spirally twisted. The cistern stand has an unusual brass base with bracket feet.
Anyone with information is asked to contact police on 0845 6060247, or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.