New research reveals the mystery of the Hunterian Gem Heist

Published: 2 April 2012

Recent research for a lunchtime talk has uncovered details of the largest single theft in the history of The Hunterian.

Recent research for a lunchtime talk has uncovered details of the largest single theft in the history of The Hunterian.

The talk, titled 'The Great Hunterian Gem Heist of 1962', sheds light on the little-know incident 50 years ago where gemstones worth about £5000 at the time (approximately £87,000 today) were stolen from a display case in the Hunterian Museum during opening hours.

The theft included many of the most valuable gemstones in the collection, including a rare 18th century yellow diamond ring belonging to Hunterian founder Dr William Hunter, and a 367 carat faceted blue topaz.

The circumstances of the theft remain a mystery as no suspects were identified or charged and none of the material has ever been recovered. Unfortunately, no pictures of the stolen items are known to exist.

In 1962 most of the gemstones were displayed in table cases topped with thin glass, located on the upper gallery of the museum main hall. Unusually, the cases had clip-on fabric covers to keep out light, and these may have been a significant factor in the theft.

At the time, The Hunterian did not employ attendants on the galleries, and the only supervision of visitors was at the museum entrance. These days museums have very different standards of security. The Hunterian now enjoys state of the art alarm systems and close circuit television throughout and vigilant front of house staff patrolling the galleries.

Research reveals that the theft was discovered by a museum cleaner, who noticed a single small gemstone on the floor. The cleaner pulled back the fabric cover of gemstone case, to reveal that it had been prised open, and almost all of the best stones stolen. The thief had been able to operate undetected, probably the previous afternoon, and afterwards had simply replaced the cover to hide the crime.

Gemstones were a significant part of William Hunter’s original 18th century mineral collection, and a variety of gemstones, cut and polished stones, and mounted jewels are listed in the mineral catalogue prepared by his Trustees after his death in 1783. As a result of further donations and acquisitions, by 1960, The Hunterian had a very large and comprehensive gemstone collection, over 1500 items, including the yellow diamond ring and 367 carat blue topaz stolen in the heist.

The Hunterian would be delighted to hear from anyone who has information about the heist, or from anyone who has photographs of the museum interior taken between the 1930s and 1960s, even if they don’t specifically show the missing jewels. Perhaps you had relatives who visited the museum at this time, and have pictures in family albums?

The lunchtime talk on the 'The Great Hunterian Gem Heist of 1962' is part of The Hunterian Insight Talk series and takes place in the Hunterian Museum on Tuesday 3 April at 1.00pm. Admission is free and all are welcome. Further information on Hunterian Insight Talks can be found at    


For further information or photographs please contact:

Harriet Gaston, Communications Manager, The Hunterian

Email: Telephone: 0141 330 3310


John Faithfull, Curator of Mineralogy/Petrology, The Hunterian

Email: Telephone: 0141 330 4213

The Hunterian
Founded in 1807, The Hunterian is Scotland’s oldest public museum. Built on William Hunter’s founding bequest, the collections include scientific instruments used by James Watt and Joseph Lister; outstanding Roman artefacts from the Antonine Wall; major natural sciences holdings; one of the world’s greatest numismatic collections and impressive ethnographic objects from the Pacific Ocean.

The Hunterian is also home to a major art collection ranging from Rembrandt and Chardin to the Scottish Colourists and contemporary art; the world’s largest permanent display of the work of James McNeill Whistler; the largest single holding of the work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh and The Mackintosh House, the reassembled interiors from his Glasgow home.

There are four Hunterian venues on the University of Glasgow campus - the Hunterian Museum, Hunterian Art Gallery, home to The Mackintosh House, the Zoology Museum and the Anatomy Museum.

Hunterian Art Gallery Refurbishment
The Hunterian Art Gallery will undergo major refurbishment in 2012, which will see significant investment and improvement to its gallery and circulation spaces, giving visitors greater access to this world class art collection.

All exhibition spaces are currently closed to the public and will re-open in September 2012 with the new exhibition ‘Rembrandt and the Passion’.

The Mackintosh House and the Art Gallery shop remain open. The Hunterian Museum is also open as usual.

The Hunterian
University of Glasgow
Glasgow G12 8QQ

Open Tuesday - Saturday 10.00am - 5.00pm and Sunday 11.00am - 4.00pm
Closed Mondays

Easter opening hours

Friday 6, Saturday 7 and Sunday 8 April open 11.00am - 4.00pm. Closed Monday 9 April.

First published: 2 April 2012

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