Precious items allegedly stolen from the British Museum in London by one of the institution’s senior curators were put up for sale on eBay according to a report in The Telegraph. The objects, including a piece of Roman jewellery offered with a minimum price of £40, appeared on the auction and shopping website as early as 2016.
Peter John Higgs, a prominent curator who was employed at the British Museum for 30 years, was identified in UK press reports as the person alleged to be responsible for stealing priceless artefacts from the museum’s collection.
The Roman jewellery piece consigned to eBay in 2016 appears to have attracted no bids though its value is reportedly between £25,000 and £50,000. The seller is listed as “Sultan1966”; a search of that name on eBay does not bring up further sale listings.
In a thread on X, formerly known as Twitter, the art historian and columnist at The Art Newspaper, Bendor Grosvenor, provides the museum classification details for the item which is listed on the BM website as “cameo… Roma Imperial, production date 1stC-2ndC”. Under location, the entry says, “not on display”.
Meanwhile the Chasing Aphrodite blog account written by Jason Feltch posted on X: “There is tons of purportedly ancient material for sale on eBay and has been for years. Most of it is assumed to be fake. But apparently there are also some things straight from the bowels of the British Museum on there.” The post links to a page of unverified images on eBay.
An eBay spokesperson says: "Our dedicated law enforcement liaison team is in close contact with the Metropolitan Police and is supporting the investigation into this case. eBay does not tolerate the sale of stolen property. If we identify that a listing on our site is stolen, we immediately remove it and work with law enforcement to support investigations and keep our site safe.”
In another post on X, Chasing Aphrodite asks a series of questions related to the alleged thefts including: “Why have pics of objects not been released? When were police told? Why has Higgs not been arrested?” It is unclear also if all of the missing items were catalogued. A British Museum spokesperson says: “We won’t be commenting further on this matter as it is the subject of a police investigation.”
The historian and author Martyn Whittock has also weighed in on the affair, telling TalkTV that “museums are repositories of yesterday for today and tomorrow… even though nobody may miss it [items in the collection], it’s not for anybody to put it on eBay.”
Higgs was first employed by the museum in 1993 and worked in a senior curatorial position as the museum’s head of department for Greece and Rome. He was also the lead curator of the exhibition Ancient Greeks: athletes, warriors and heroes, which was staged at the museum in 2021 and is currently on tour.
Higgs’s family said he is innocent of all wrongdoing and have vowed to clear his name. His son, Greg Higgs, told The Times: “He’s not done anything. He’s not happy about it at all. He’s lost his job and his reputation and I don’t think it was fair. It couldn’t have been [him].” No arrests have yet been made, although the British Museum has committed to pursue legal action in the event of an arrest.