Estimated price: 20,000 CHFPoseidonia. Circa 530-500 BC. AR Stater.LEU Numismatic Auction 1510
Estimated price: 25,000 CHFDerrones. Circa 480-465 BC. AR Tetrastater or Dodekadrachm.LEU Numismatic Auction 1540
Estimated price: 25,000 CHFUncertain Ionia. Circa 650-600 BC. EL Stater.LEU Numismatic Auction 1593
Estimated price: 10,000 CHFTigranes the Younger. 77-66 BC. AR Tetradrachm.LEU Numismatic Auction 15128
Estimated price: 50,000 CHFBar Kokhba Revolt. 132-135 CE. AR Sela or Tetradrachm.LEU Numismatic Auction 15154
Estimated price: 20,000 CHFKyrene. Circa 450-435 BC. AR Tetradrachm.LEU Numismatic Auction 15166
Estimated price: 20,000 CHFApameia. Septimius Severus. 193-211 AD. Pentassarion.LEU Numismatic Auction 15189
Estimated price: 10,000 CHFHadrian. 117-138 AD. AV Aureus.LEU Numismatic Auction 15263
Estimated price: 15,000 CHFCommodus. 177-192 AD. AE Medallion.LEU Numismatic Auction 15273
Estimated price: 20,000 CHFLicinius I. 308-324 AD. AV Solidus.LEU Numismatic Auction 15304
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New Exhibition at the British Museum Presents Recovered Gems

A new exhibition at the British Museum showcases some of the finest ancient gems in the museum’s collection. They include some of the pieces that were recently stolen and could be recovered thanks to the cooperation of coin dealers.

In August 2023, the announcement that around 2000 objects from the Museum’s collection were missing, stolen or damaged – the majority of which were classical gems and items of gold jewelry – sparked a renewed public interest in these objects.

Now the British Museum reveals a new display that explores the significance of classical gems and the impression they have left throughout history. Seen as a window onto the ancient Mediterranean world, they were used as seals, worn as jewelry or collected as objects of beauty in their own right.

Highly coveted by royalty, aristocrats, artists, and antiquarians, Rediscovering gems will look at these incredibly small but highly coveted masterpieces, whose designs reflect, and serve as a record of, the personal tastes and aesthetic preferences seen throughout history.

Gems were hugely popular during the 18th century in Europe and visitors to Rediscovering gems will be able to see them displayed in a typical gem cabinet reflective of the period alongside other collector’s equipment, such as a magnifying glass, cast impressions and drawings.

Blacas cameo depicting Augustus - Roman, AD 14–20 1867,0507.484. Image: © The Trustees of the British Museum.

Blacas cameo depicting Augustus – Roman, AD 14–20 1867,0507.484. Image: © The Trustees of the British Museum.

Ancient glass cameo with a Nereid riding a sea horse (hippocampus) Roman, late 1st century BC–1st century AD 1890,0601.26. Image: © The Trustees of the British Museum.

Ancient glass cameo with a Nereid riding a sea horse (hippocampus) Roman, late 1st century BC–1st century AD 1890,0601.26. Image: © The Trustees of the British Museum.

Ancient glass cameo with the Three Graces Roman, late 1st century BC–1st century AD 1868,0501.151. Image: © The Trustees of the British Museum.

Ancient glass cameo with the Three Graces Roman, late 1st century BC–1st century AD 1868,0501.151. Image: © The Trustees of the British Museum.

Stolen and Recovered Items

Last year the Museum announced the discovery of thefts from the collection, and a recovery program was immediately launched. Thanks to the hard work of the recovery team, and the cooperation of the dealers and members of the public, hundreds of items have been returned. A selection of the recovered gems will be on display for the first time in this showcase. This includes two Roman glass gems from the late 1st century BC to early 1st century AD: an intaglio which features a profile bust of Minerva and a cameo with a bust of Cupid.

The British Museum is committed to recovering all the stolen items and to preventing thefts from happening again. A dedicated team within the Museum is working with the Metropolitan Police Service and with an international group of experts in gems, collection history and art loss recovery, to locate and return the remaining missing items.

George Osborne, Chair of the Board of Trustees, said: “We promised we’d show the world the gems that were stolen and recovered – rather than hide them away. It’s another example of culture change underway at the British Museum, as we open up and take ownership of our own story.”

Collection box of Charles Townley. Image: © The Trustees of the British Museum.

Collection box of Charles Townley. Image: © The Trustees of the British Museum.

Onyx cameo Roman, 1st century AD 1814,0704.1515. Image: © The Trustees of the British Museum.

Onyx cameo Roman, 1st century AD 1814,0704.1515. Image: © The Trustees of the British Museum.

Tom Harrison, Keeper of the Department of Greece and Rome, said: “We are delighted to be able to put on this exhibition and showcase some of the stunning recovered gems which are now safely back in the Museum’s collection. It’s also an interesting opportunity to cast some light on an underappreciated and very beautiful art form. A huge thanks goes out to all those who have lent support and helped us in the recovery program.”

Rediscovering gems will be on display for free in Room 3 of the British Museum from 15 February – 15 June 2024.

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