FBI’s Online Database of Stolen Art

With the recent redesign of FBI.gov, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has launched the National Stolen Art File, as it noted last week. This new database contains information about thousands of stolen art items across the US, from books to paintings to stamps, even. It’s available at http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/investigate/vc_majorthefts/arttheft/national-stolen-art-file.

(Before you get into searching, read the site’s description of what is qualified for listing in the file: “The object must be uniquely identifiable and have historical or artistic significance.” That’s a pretty wide mandate. Also it has to be worth at least $2000 “or less if associated with a major crime.”)

The search form on the right allows you to specify the type of object — from Altar to Wine Cooler — with a few other fields including title, maker, period, and “additional data,” which I think is a full-text keyword search. I specified just that I was looking for information on stolen books, and didn’t fill out any other fields.

I got around 300 results in groups of 20. Result pages include the name of the book and the copyright (or period date; I don’t think anything’s copyright 1366.) Sometimes a thumbnail image of the item is available. (The FBI announcement of the NSAF launch notes that there are about 7,000 images in the database right now.) Clicking the item gives you a spaces for some additional information, like dimension and materials, but descriptive information varies a lot.

The books were sometimes but not always particularly old; The Method of Manjusri’s Secret Yoga for Observing the Self and Becoming a Buddha in One Chapter, produced in China in 1316, was next to Speech of Acceptance Upon the Award of the Nobel Prize for Literature (William Faulkner, 1951) and near Walt Whitman: a selection of the manuscripts, books and association items gathered by Charles E. Feinberg (1955.)

The most surprising omission in the database listing was any kind of date of listing or notation on when the item was added to the database. I can also imagine that an RSS feed of new items in specific categories would be useful — if I were an antique dealer, for example, it’d be good to have an RSS feed of antiques reported stolen to the FBI, so I could stay aware of stolen items.

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