Lynn Fogarty, Director, Oakland Museum of California (Getty Images)
At a press conference yesterday, the Oakland Museum of California announced the theft of a historical quartz and gold-encrusted jewel box from its Gallery of California History.
The burglary, which occurred early Monday, is the second in less than two months. Last November (between November 12 and 13), gold nuggets were stolen from the same collection.
This marks the third theft of gold from a California museum. Three men were recently arrested in connection with the other, at Mariposa’s California State Mining and Mineral Museum.
The box, which is shaped like a small shoe box, depicts images of early California history and was originally a wedding anniversary gift from a San Francisco pioneer to his wife, museum director Lori Fogarty said.
According to Fogarty, the jewel box was created by a San Francisco goldsmith and was made with quartz that has not been mined in California since the 1800s.
She added that its value has not been appraised for at least 30 years and museum officials will not disclose its current price. "It's very difficult to assign value to something like this," she said. "But I can say it's a treasure of our collection and a critical piece in our holdings."
Fogarty said the high price of gold, which was selling Wednesday at about $1,657 an ounce, might have prompted the break-ins.
A $12,000 reward is being offered by the museum and its insurance carrier for its recovery, provided that the claimant is not involved with the theft. The reward also includes the return of the gold nuggets, but the museum is currently focusing on recovering the box, Fogarty said.
There are now three empty spaces where display cases in the Gold Rush section of the California history exhibit were burglarized. In front of one of the empty spaces there is a sign that reads, “Artifact temporarily removed.”
Both the Oakland Police Department and the museum will not release a picture of the stolen box until additional investigative leads have been pursued. According to Oakland police Lt. Oliver Cunningham, the first five business days after the theft are the most crucial for investigators to pursue any leads—for reasons that he could not disclose.
Cunningham said surveillance footage captured one suspect, whom he described as man between 5’ 9” and 6’ tall, African American with a medium complexion and short black hair.
The man is believed to have entered the museum forcefully through an exit located near the display and to have fled without being apprehended. Cunningham said the OPD believes only one person is responsible for the crime.
Museum officials are concerned that the box could be melted down and sold for its gold.
The museum has installed additional security guards but the guards on duty during the break-ins arrived too late to stop the thieves.
The museum, as well as the Gallery of California History collection, remain open as usual to the public.
Anyone will information regarding either burglary can contact the Oakland Police Department’s Major Crimes Section at (510) 238-3951 or visit museumca.org/reward.