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Art Theft

The letter, penned by the renowned naturalist and geologist in 1875, was stolen from the Smithsonian more than three decades ago.

It was recently recovered by the FBI following a public tip regarding the letter’s whereabouts. Assistant Director in Charge Paul M. Abbate of the FBI Washington Field Office returned the letter to Smithsonian Institution Archives Director Anne Van Camp after an investigation.

Screen Shot 2016 06 14 at 07.03.49Darwin Letter - Image Courtesy | F.B.I.

The Darwin letter was part of the George Perkins Merrill Papers, a collection of correspondence and documents relating to the history of North American geology. In the letter, Charles Darwin wrote to American geologist Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden to thank him for sending two geological field studies of the American West, including of the region that soon after became Yellowstone National Park.

The text of the letter reads as follows:

May 2nd
Dear Sir,
I am much obliged to you for your kindness & for the honour which you have done me in sending your Geological Report of the Yellowstone River & your Preliminary Field Report on the Colorado & New Mexico. I had heard of your Geological researches on the Colorado & was anxious to see the conclusions at which you had arrived, & I am therefore especially obliged to you for having sent me your works.
With much respect & my best thanks, I remain,
Dear Sir,
yours faithfully
Charles Darwin

The letter was stolen from the Smithsonian Archives in the mid-1970s, shortly after the Archives received the Merrill Papers but before the letter could be inventoried. An F.B.I. spokesperson told us that the letter was retrieved in Northern Virginia, and from a prosecution stand point, the statute of limitations has run on the crime so there can be no prosecution or arrests. 

The letter will now be re-united with the other Merrill Papers Darwin letters. 

Elliot Lee

Screen Shot 2016 06 02 at 01.33.15

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