British Museum to put stolen items on public display

The British Museum has announced that some of the items stolen from it last year are to go on public display.

Chair of the trustees, George Osborne, said the Rediscovering Gems exhibition was “another example of culture change” under way at the museum.

Last August, the museum disclosed that around 2,000 items had gone missing or been damaged, before hundreds were safely returned.

The museum said it will continue to work with the Metropolitan Police and an international group of experts to locate and return the outstanding missing artefacts.

Ten of the recovered items will form a part of the new exhibition beginning this month. These include a first-century Roman profile bust of the goddess Minerva/Athena in black glass with a white band, and a glass cameo with a bust of the god Cupid/Eros in layers of brown, white and purple glass.

All of the previously stolen items will be in their own showcase and clearly labelled. An additional 500 objects that were not among those stolen will also be displayed.

Mr Osborne, who was formerly Chancellor of the Exchequer, said: “We promised we’d show the world the gems that were stolen and recovered, rather than hide them away.

“It’s another example of culture change under way at the British Museum, as we open up and take ownership of our own story.”


Mr Osborne told the Culture, Media and Sport Committee in October that the stolen items would be displayed, adding that the whole saga had the “makings of a good exhibition”.

Tom Harrison, keeper of the British Museum’s department of Greece and Rome, said: ‘We are delighted to be able to put on this exhibition and showcase some of the stunning recovered gems which are now safely back in the museum’s collection.

“It’s also an interesting opportunity to cast some light on an underappreciated and very beautiful art form,” he added.


The ancient Mediterranean objects were used as seals, jewellery or collected and sought after by royalty, aristocrats, artists, and antiquarians. They will be displayed in a gem cabinet reflective of the 18th century, when they were popular.

The recovery team, dealers and members of the public have helped return the items that were announced as missing in August 2023. The following month, the museum launched a webpage which gave details of the losses and information about how to report them.

When the thefts were disclosed, the museum said an unnamed member of staff was sacked and it was taking legal action.

In the wake of the controversy, German art historian and British Museum director Hartwig Fischer resigned and former Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum director Sir Mark Jones was appointed in the interim.

Fischer said the museum did not respond “comprehensively” when it was warned of the thefts in 2021 and Sir Mark has since pledged to restore its reputation.

Rediscovering Gems will run from 15 February to 15 June.