Over the course of one’s life, very few things actually manage to increase in value as the years go bye, as modern day cars, most non-antique furniture, and a variety of electronics and other relatively cheap products usually depreciate in value the longer you own them. In most cases, a person’s home is usually the one thing that will definitely increase in value year after year, but some people are also fortunate enough to own some kind of memorabilia or some sort of antique, whether it be a piece of furniture, jewelry, a weapon, artwork, or some kind of object made out of silver or gold. Depending on what the item actually is, it is possible for a person, or institution, to be in possession of something truly rare and valuable, and when something is both rare and valuable, some people want to take it.
Money makes people do things that our society deems to be illegal, and one of the most common illegal acts a person can do is theft. It is true, that most thefts involve stealing straight-up cash, but history is filled with examples of a single person or a group of individuals, who prepared for and pulled off a robbery that saw them steal one or more objects that can sometimes be worth a small fortune. There are examples of some of these stolen items disappearing for a short time before being recovered, but in many of these cases, the things that are stolen are never recovered or returned to their rightful owners, and remain missing to this day. Here is a list of 15 of the most expensive items that were ever stolen.
15. Fabergé Eggs
In the past 100 years, Russia has undergone two major political changes, with the most recent being the transition from the Soviet Union to modern-day Russia; but before the country was a communist superpower, it was known as the Russian Empire, which was ruled over by its own monarchy and royal family. In 1917, the people of Russia overthrew the monarchy in what is known as the Bolshevik Revolution, a revolution that basically saw the entirety of the royal family killed, and the palace ransacked. Some of the things which were ultimately stolen, included a collection of Faberge eggs, which at the time were valued at about 1 million dollars each. This collection, which was created by Peter Carl Faberge, consisted of 52 eggs, of which 8 have still not resurfaced since the Revolution; but all the other eggs however, have either been bought by wealthy art collectors, or reside within the Kremlin.
14. T-Rex Bones
Over 65 million years ago, the tyrannosaurus was one of our world’s apex predators, and thanks primarily to blockbuster movies like Jurassic Park, many of us have grown up with some form of genuine interest in this extinct animal. Like every species that has ever existed, there were also sub-species of the Tyrannosaurus, one of which roamed the terrain of what is now Asia, and which scientists have named the Tyrannosaurus bataar (Tarbosaurus). This dinosaur was first discovered during an expedition in Mongolia in 1945, and during subsequent expeditions, a nearly complete skeleton was found, and its remains stayed relatively intact until 2012, when a Florida man managed to steal some of the bones. Eric Prokopi, was somehow able to smuggle some of the bones out of their Mongolian home and into the U.S. thanks to some forged documents; and he went on to sell these bones to a Manhattan buyer for 1.1 million dollars. The FBI caught wind of this sale however, and looked into Prokopi, where they discovered that he had a history of illegally smuggling fossils. Prokopi ended up getting arrested and sentenced for the crime, while the bones were returned to their rightful place.
13. The Scream
The world is filled with art, with some of the oldest known examples actually dating back all the way to the time of cavemen, in the form of cave drawings. Over the centuries though, the human race learned to use different surfaces to create art on, like the canvas, but we also learned and improved upon new art forms like painting. One of the world’s most well known and iconic paintings is known as ‘The Scream’, which depicts a turbulent landscape with an orange sky, and a figure with an agonized expression. This work was created by Edvard Munch, using both paint and pastels, but what many are unaware of, is the fact that he created four versions of the painting, including the tempura-on-cardboard version. In 1994, this version of ‘The Scream’ was in Norway’s National Gallery, before being stolen by armed robbers who then attempted to ransom the painting off for 1 million dollars. Officially, the ransom was never met, but through “unknown” methods, the gallery recovered the piece two years later.
12. Ruby Slippers
In 1939, Hollywood released The Wizard of Oz, and to this day, it is still considered to be one of the most commercially successful and iconic movies ever made. This film is filled with iconic characters like the Tin-man, and the Cowardly Lion, but it is also filled with iconic props and imagery like the yellow brick road, the city of Oz, and even Dorothy’s ruby red slippers. In total, there were four pairs of these slippers used throughout filming, each of which were slightly different from one another, and one of these pairs can be found in the National Museum of American History, while another had been located in the Judy Garland Museum in Minnesota, until 2005. Someone stole the slippers from the museum, and to this day, they have not reemerged, but wherever they are, the person who has them is sitting on a goldmine as they are worth somewhere between 2 and 3 million dollars.
11. A Stradivarius
For thousands of years, music has been listened to and enjoyed by millions upon millions of people, and it has evolved greatly over the centuries, from the time it was produced by simply banging two rocks together, to animal skin drums, to classical instruments, and finally the electronic instruments used today. The classical era of music though, led to the creation of string instruments like cellos and violins, and of all the manufacturers of string instruments, Stradivarius is renowned for making the best and most expensive known to man. In 1727, Stradivarius made a violin that eventually went on to be used by a famous violinist named Erica Morini, but one day, someone broke into her New York apartment and stole it. Morini has since passed away, but her violin has still not been recovered, and it is worth a pretty penny too, because its estimated value is between 3 and 3.5 million dollars.
10. Gold Bullion
We have all probably watched at least one heist movie in our lives, and there are quite a few to pick from, because of our fascination with wanting to see how a criminal will be able to outsmart their target, the police, and/or their fellow criminals. In 1986, London experienced a heist of its own, which was like something out of a movie, as it involved a gang, an airport, and gold. As the story goes, a gang broke into one of Heathrow Airport’s Brink’s-MAT warehouses, which are used to store highly valuable objects. Apparently, the gang’s reason for breaking into the warehouse was to steal 3 million dollars in British Pounds, but while inside, they also happened to find about three tons of gold bullion, which at the time had an estimated value of 26 million pounds (over 34 million US). Many of the gang members who were involved in the heist were caught, but some managed to escape conviction, and as for the gold, it was never recovered.
9. Van Gogh Paintings
There have been thousands of painters throughout history, but only a select handful of individuals have gone on to be considered a legendary painter. One such legend is Vincent Van Gogh, a Dutch Post-impressionist painter who produced over 800 oil-paintings which included landscapes, still lifes, and self-portraits that were all marked by his signature colorful, impulsive and very expressive brushwork. He is so iconic, that just a single one of his paintings can be worth a small fortune, which is why two thieves went out of their way to steal two of his paintings from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. The paintings are known as “View of the Sea at Scheveningen” and “Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuenen”, and their combined value is estimated to be 30 million dollars; and even though neither one was ever returned to the museum, the thieves were eventually caught and sent to jail.
8. Madonna of the Yarnwinder
Leonardo Da Vinci is considered to be one of the greatest minds to ever live, as he was an accomplished inventor, scientist, historian, engineer, architect, sculptor, and painter who has given and helped to provide the world with knowledge and artistic masterpieces. One such masterpiece, is the painting called “Madonna of the Yarnwinder” which prior to its theft in 2003, was located in Scotland in Drumlanrig Castle. That year, four men entered the castle posing as tourists, and when the opportunity finally arose, they made their way to the painting and each used an axe to remove it from its frame. Fortunately, the thieves were eventually caught thanks to a sting operation conducted by police, resulting in the painting’s rescue; but instead of displaying it again in the castle, the painting was lent to the Scottish National Gallery where it continues to remain on display.
7. The Cellini Salt Cellar
Whether it is at home or at a restaurant, or whether it is lunch or dinner, there is almost always at least one of two things present at every table: salt and pepper. Regardless of how good or bad someone’s cooking is, everyone’s tastebuds are different, which is why we sometimes need to add some salt or pepper to give food more flavour; and they are usually placed into very easily distinguishable and non-expensive shakers. In the past though, some wealthy individuals thought it was a good idea to spend a lot of money in order to create a very expensive place to hold their salt and pepper, which is why the Cellini Salt Cellar exists. This gold sculpture, which stands at 10-inches high, was created for the king of France by Benvenuto Cellini sometime during the 1500s, and in 2003 someone stole this expensive salt and pepper holder from a museum in Vienna. This object has an estimated value of somewhere between 57 and 65 million dollars, which is why it was insured for a lot of money; and it is thanks to the robber trying to claim the ransom offered up by the insurance company, that the authorities were able to successfully recover it.
Earlier on this list, it was mentioned that most of us have seen a heist movie, but something that is even more common in the entertainment industry, is depicting a jewelry store being robbed in a movie or on television. In 1994, France experienced its own high-scale jewelry robbery when a group of men entered the Carlton Hotel in Cannes, and proceeded to rob the Carlton jewelry store as the employees were getting ready to close for the day. The robbers had used blank firing machine guns to force the employees into cooperating, and left with jewelry that at the time was valued at 60 million dollars. This was not the only time this hotel was robbed of precious jewelry though, as it happened again in 2013 during a temporary exhibition which saw another thief steal up to 137 million dollars worth of goods. The moral of this story is simple, this hotel really needs better security.
5. Uncut Diamonds
There is a reason why diamonds have been considered to be a woman’s best friend for decades now, and the reason for that is quite simple: they can shine brightly, and they look very, very good when worn by a woman. Diamonds can be very expensive though, which is why there have been numerous diamond heists performed in real life, including one that took place in 2005 which is still considered to be the biggest diamond heist in history. This heist involved two men dressing up as KLM airline employees who drove a stolen KLM truck onto the tarmac of Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, where they went on to hijack another truck which was carrying up to 118 million dollars worth of uncut diamonds that were awaiting to be transported onto a plane heading for Antwerp (a city in Belgium). The robbers drove off with the diamonds, and even though police found the truck, not a single stone was ever retrieved.
4. Picasso Paintings
The Twentieth century gave the world some of the greatest and most influential artists ever known, and Pablo Picasso is highly regarded above most others, as it was he who helped start the Cubist movement, and he who created things like collage and constructive sculpture. Picasso was known for incorporating a wide array of styles into his work, which is part of the reason why some of his paintings are some of the most expensive in the entire world, making them very sought after items for collectors and thieves. In 2010, a man broke into the Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, and managed to steal five Picasso paintings that were on display there, including the piece known as “The pigeon with green peas”. The estimated value of these combined paintings is over 123 million dollars, and even though four were eventually recovered and the thief was arrested, “The pigeon with green peas” was never found.
3. The Concert
Johannes Vermeer was a Dutch painter who lived during the Seventeenth century whose specialty was depicting and capturing the middle-class lifestyle within a home. He is known for being a slow and careful painter, who used expensive colors, and who was a master at using lighting is his work. Vermeer may have not been that successful of an artist, and he may have only produced a relatively small number of paintings, but that did not stop him from creating one of the most highly valued paintings in the world. He created “The Concert” in 1664, and it depicts one woman playing a harp, a man playing a flute, and another woman singing, and after being found in 1892, it was given to and displayed inside Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum from 1903 all the way to 1990 when it was stolen. Robbers, who were posing as policemen, broke into the museum and stole up to 13 paintings including several Rembrandts, Degas and Vermeer’s “The Concert’, which is now estimated to be worth around 300 million dollars. All pieces are still missing.
2. The Empire State Building
The Empire State Building is one of New York City’s most iconic landmarks, and as of 1986, it has been designated as a National Historical landmark. This building was completed in 1931, and possesses 102 floors, as well as a distinct Art Deco style; and as a whole, it is worth roughly 2 billion dollars. Now, you might think that stealing a building as large and highly valued as the Empire State Building would be impossible, but thanks to the system in place at the time regarding New York’s mortgage, deed and property transferal records, it was very much possible. In fact, just to prove how easy it was to indeed steal a building, The New York Daily News created a company called, Nelots Properties, LLC, and then used fake documents signed by a fake notary to actually become the new ‘legal’ owners of the Empire State Building. The news outlet made the point they wanted, and being the nice people that they were, returned the building the following day.
1. The Mona Lisa
As mentioned earlier, Leonardo Da Vinci has given us some great things, but what he may likely always be remembered for, is the creation of the best known, most popular, most talked about, most studied, and the most visited painting in the history of art: The Mona Lisa. Da Vinci finished this painting somewhere between 1503 and 1506, and it depicts a noble woman with an enigmatic expression, while also showcasing composition, subtle forms, and atmospheric illusions. At some point, the Mona Lisa was acquired by the King of France, and since 1797, it has been on display in the Louvre Museum in Paris. For a brief time though, the Mona Lisa was missing, after a Louvre employee, Vincenzo Peruggia, managed to steal it in 1911, after the museum closed for the day. It was eventually found two years later and returned to the Louvre, which was very fortunate, considering that at the time it was valued at around 100 million dollars. It is now worth over 2 billion.