Stolen Revolutionary War artifacts returned to Mercer Museum in PA centers


The long stolen and priceless Nicholson bayonet pistol from the American Revolutionary era is finally returning to the Mercer Museum in Doylestown.

At the time of its disappearance, the pistol was on display in a display case on the third floor of the South Pine Street Museum. In the 1990s, when examining a complete inventory of the Mercer Museum’s collection, the pistol could not be located and was officially recorded as “missing.”

The pistol, along with several other stolen items, are returned to area museums as part of a rare item repatriation program led by the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia.

“We are delighted that this object is coming back to us. As with many local historical institutions and societies like ours, there are often a number of historical objects that we cannot fully explain, and this was one of the ‘between them, “said Mercer Museum. Vice President Cory Amsler, noting that the museum was first contacted by the Upper Merion Police Department about the object.

“I have been at the museum for about 33 years, and during that time there have been a number of items that have been publicly auctioned or offered for sale by a dealer that we have been able to trace, if not a theft, then certainly to the fact that he disappeared without explanation. “

The century-old Smithsonian-affiliated Mercer Museum is housed in a six-story reinforced concrete castle designed by Henry Mercer.

Originally acquired by the Bucks County Historical Society in 1906, the pistol was among items donated to the museum as belonging to General Augustine Willet by his great-granddaughter, Mrs. Allburger. Willet served as a militia captain at the start of the American Revolution, before being promoted to major and lieutenant colonel.

The Nicholson bayonet pistol was made in Corn Hill, London, in the 19th century.

Thomas Gavin, who was convicted of stealing the artifacts in the 1960s and 1970s, was recently sentenced to one day in jail and various fines.

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Before returning to the Mercer Museum, Amsler said, the pistol will require some conservation and an appraisal by a conservator. Amsler said that this pistol will eventually be shown in a War of Independence exhibit at the museum.

This pistol is one of many items the Mercer Museum has been able to recover over the years, Amsler said.

“We have been able, over the past decades, to return a few items to the museum’s collection, ranging from a decorated manuscript in Pennsylvania German to a pair of epaulettes that belonged to a particular officer,” Amsler said. “So to find out that this particular item had been stolen and that this particular investigation had been ongoing was no surprise. It was a delightful and fortuitous discovery.”

The rare artifact is among several artifacts that are now returned to area museums after a multi-jurisdictional search involving the FBI’s Art Crime Division, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, and the Township Police Department. ‘Upper Merion.

The research spanned several decades and included many dead ends.

Jacqueline Maguire, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI's Philadelphia Division, speaking at a stolen artifact repatriation event at the Museum of the American Revolution.
Stolen Civil War era Nicholson / Cornhill London pistol, now returned to the Mercer Museum as part of the repatriation program.

In addition to the Mercer Museum, the American Swedish Historical Museum, the Hershey Story Museum, the Landis Valley Museum in Lancaster County, the Museum of the American Revolution, and the York County History Center all received a total of 15 items.

The York County History Center will receive three items: a five-foot Kentucky rifle with a Golcher bolt from the 1830s, a .58 caliber flintlock pistol that belonged to John Joseph Henry, and a European .70 caliber flintlock pistol.

York County History Center Collections Director Rachel Warner said the return and preservation of these artefacts was of paramount importance to the centre’s cause.

“We are very happy that these items have been returned,” Warner said. “We serve as custodians to preserve this history for future generations.”

All three objects were stolen from the center in 1978.

R. Scott Stephenson, President and CEO of the Museum of the American Revolution, said it was “incredibly important and exciting for us to be joined by all of these local institutions today and to see them come together” with objects that have been missing since halfway. a century.

“Our collections are used as tools to engage our audiences in an appreciation of history and to reinvigorate their civic engagement – this is the foundation of all of our missions,” said Stephenson. “We are incredibly grateful to the FBI and law enforcement for their tireless work to bring these items home.

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Through repatriation, the Museum of the American Revolution received a French Gendarmerie flintlock pistol and a pair of Ward & Steele Queen Anne flintlock pistols, which were stolen in 1970, and a French Model 1777 Charleville pistol, which was was stolen in 1972.

The objects were stolen from the Valley Forge Historical Society, which transferred its distinguished collection to the museum in 2003.

Mercer Museum Vice President Cory Amsler, 4th from left, and Mercer Museum Executive Director Kyle McCoy, 3rd right, with members of the Philadelphia FBI office and Museum of the American Revolution staff.

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“In law enforcement, as in any profession, there are good days and bad days. Today, being here with our partners is one of those good days, ”said Jacqueline Maguire, special agent in charge of the Philadelphia Division of the FBI. “The absence of the objects from these museums represented not only a physical or financial loss, but a loss for every visitor, every student and every researcher who has not been able to see the objects over the years and missed important pieces of our nation’s heritage.

“The absence of these items has been, for so long, a loss for the all-time record,” added Maquire. “The FBI is honored to have helped correct this loss and return these artifacts to the institutions from which they were stolen so long ago.”


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