Federal officials say 15 historical artifacts stolen nearly half a century ago from a number of museums in Pennsylvania have been returned to institutions.
The FBI’s artistic crime team and other law enforcement agencies repatriated 18th and 19th century rifles and pistols as well as a Native American silver concho belt in a ceremony Friday at the Museum of the American Revolution.
FBI agents and detectives from the Upper Merion Township Police Department recovered the artifacts as part of an investigation into the 1971 theft and 2018 sale of a rare 1775 rifle made by the master gunsmith of Pennsylvania Christian Oerter, officials said.
The repatriated objects were received by the American Swedish Historical Museum, the Hershey Story Museum (formerly Hershey Museum), the Landis Valley Museum (formerly the Pennsylvania Farm Museum), the Mercer Museum, the Museum of the American Revolution and the York County History Center. .
âWe are incredibly grateful,â Valerie Seiber, senior director of historic collections and exhibits at The Hershey Story, told PennLive.com. âIt’s quite astonishing that after 50 years, these objects have been collected and returned. We are very happy to find them in our collection. She said the items will be evaluated, cataloged and stored but will not be on display at this time.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Thomas Gavin admitted to taking the artifacts during the 1960s and 1970s and keeping them in a barn for decades. Partly because of the statute of limitations, he could not be charged with any of the thefts, the newspaper reported.
In the end, Gavin, 78, only pleaded guilty to one count of disposing of a stolen cultural heritage object from a museum. He was sentenced to one day in prison and one year of house arrest and ordered to pay $ 23,485 in restitution and $ 25,000 in fines, the judge citing his advanced age and rapidly declining health.
“I’m sorry for all of these problems,” Gavin said during his sentencing last month, the Inquirer reported. âI never really thought about it then, and now it’s all out. I didn’t think it would make a big difference.
âTom is a collector of all kinds of old stuff,â defense attorney Harvey Sernovitz said in court documents, the newspaper reported. âEvery square inch of his barn is chock-full of a lifetime of items he bought at barn sales and flea marketsâ¦ old typewriters, sewing machines, clocks, steam engines and scales to old cars. â¦ Whether he was seen as a collector or a hoarder, profit was not his motivation.
Historians have described the 1775 5-foot Oerter rifle as a first-rate specimen of the “Kentucky long flintlock rifle,” popularized by pioneers like Daniel Boone. During the War of Independence, they allowed colonial soldiers to shoot more accurately and from farther than their British counterparts, who carried smoothbore muskets.