December 29, 2021

Stolen Pistol Returned to Museum After 50 Years

RECOVERED ARTIFACTS: Mercer Museum Executive Director Kyle McKoy, third from right, and Vice President of Collections and Interpretation Cory Amsler, center, gather with members of the FBI and local law enforcement at a recent repatriation ceremony for stolen artifacts. (Photo courtesy of Museum of the American Revolution)

The Mercer Museum in Doylestown, Pa., operated by the Bucks County Historical Society (BCHS), attended a repatriation ceremony for stolen artifacts at the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia on Friday, December 17, alongside six museums from the region.

Artifacts stolen nearly half a century ago and recovered as part of a 50-year-old cold case cracked by the FBI in 2019 were returned to the Mercer Museum, American Swedish Historical Museum, Hershey Story Museum, Landis Valley Museum, Museum of the American Revolution, and York County History Center. The items being repatriated include historic firearms from the 18th and 19th centuries, including rifles and pistols, and a Native American silver concho belt.

The recovery of the artifacts was made possible through the efforts of the Federal Bureau of Investigation Art Crime Team – Philadelphia Division, the United States Attorney’s Office of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, and the Upper Merion Township Police Department.

The Mercer Museum received a late-18th century English flintlock boarding pistol, stolen from their collection nearly 50 years ago. At the time of its disappearance, the pistol was on display in an exhibit case on the third floor of the Mercer Museum in downtown Doylestown, Pa. In the 1990s, when reviewing a comprehensive inventory of the Mercer Museum’s collection, the pistol could not be located and was officially recorded as “missing.”

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 captain of militia at the onset of the American Revolution, later being promoted to a major and lieutenant colonel. In 1800, he was commissioned brigadier general of the Bucks County militia.

The original items donated by Willet’s great-granddaughter to the museum in 1906 also included Willet’s regimental coat, a rare surviving artifact, likely dating back to the period after the American Revolution.

The person who was convicted of stealing the artifacts in the 1960s and 1970s was recently sentenced to one day in prison and various fines. The judge took his age and declining health into consideration during sentencing.

The Bucks County Historical Society’s Vice President of Collections and Interpretation Cory Amsler adds, “To recover an object stolen from a museum is a tremendous thing. But to recognize that the object, once returned, can also help to tell an important and compelling story about a dramatic time period in Bucks County history makes its recovery that much more valuable.”

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