England’s Museum Collections Missing More Than 1,700 Objects

England's Museum Collections Lost More Than 1,700 Objects in the Last Twenty Years, The Guardian Report Shows.

Jan 12, 2024By Angela Davic, News, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and Analysis
The British Museum, England's Museum Collections
The British museum. Via archive


England’s museum collections lost over 1,700 art pieces and artifacts in the last two decades, as the Guardian report shows. It wasn’t until the PA news agency sent Freedom of Information Act requests to galleries and institutions that the missing objects surfaced. Many started paying attention only last year, when the British Museum disclosed information on two thousand stolen, missing, or damaged pieces.


England’s Museum Collections Missing Valuable Pieces

The British Museum, England's Museum Collections
LONDON, ENGLAND – NOVEMBER 22: Sections of the Parthenon Marbles also known as the Elgin Marbles, (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)


The British Museum’s chair, George Osborne, proposed that inadequate cataloguing caused the incident. Forty-five artworks are accessible as “not located” in London’s National Portrait Gallery, according to a recent Guardian story. However, the organisation insists that these items were neither lost nor taken. Among pieces lost between 2007 and 2022 os a 1869 drawing of Queen Victoria.


Also, there is mid-19th century engraving of King John granting Magna Carta, a bronze sculpture of painter Thomas Stothard, and a 1947 negative from the wedding of Queen Elizabeth II to Prince Philip. After a three-year renovation, the gallery stated that it must look for objects listed as missing. The loss amounts to 0.02% of the collection held by the gallery.


England's Museum Collections
London’s National Portrait Gallery


The 180 stolen items from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London included sketches, pants, a mousetrap, shadow puppets, oil and watercolour paintings and fake moustaches. The museum states that it is uncertain if these items were taken or lost. No items vanished from their holdings were reported by the National Gallery or the Tate art museums and galleries.

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Human Error in Auditing Process

A $25 Brooch
Exterior of V&A East Storehouse. @ Victoria and Albert Museum


The Royal Museums Greenwich could not identify 245 artefacts among its southeast London sites. These objects included an Altazimuth oval, hat ribbons and bands, a gun-sighting telescope, a cannonball, charts, liquid compasses, and an act of parliament. The museum highlighted faulty data transfer from prior databases, poor documentation, and human error in its auditing process, which resulted in the discovery of 560 artefacts since 2008.


The Natural History Museum reported the loss of over 180 fish in 2020, a crocodile tooth, and a jaw part from a late Triassic Diphydontosaurus during a 2019 lending. Following the practice of barcoding artefacts, the Science Museum Group announced the disappearance of two miniature steam trains. This includes a King George V and a British Railways Standard 4MT class.


battle roncevaux pass song of roland
Tapestry depicting the Battle of Roncevaux Pass, with Roland and his magical sword Durendal (both helpfully labeled) depicted to the right of center, late 15th century, via the V&A Museum


There are also seven reported missing items from the Horniman Museum and Gardens in London. Additionally, a few missing objects from Sir John Soane’s Museum, National Museums Liverpool, Museum of the Home, and Wallace Collection come to notice. More than 550 artefacts from the Imperial War Museum also went missing.

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By Angela DavicNews, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and AnalysisAngela is a journalism student at the Faculty of Political Science in Belgrade and received a scholarship for continued education in Prague. She completed her internship at the daily newspaper DANAS and worked as an executive editor at Talas.