National Archives Theft for eBay Sale


An unpaid intern at the National Archives in Philadelphia was charged last week according to Tom Schmidt of the Philadelphia Daily News. He has been charged with stealing 165 Civil War documents and selling them on eBay, which violated 18 USC 641 (theft of government property).

Some of the stolen documents included a letter announcing the death of President Lincoln, along with other letters and telegrams detailing the supply of weapons and other materials to soldiers. He was a volunteer to prepare documents for the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.

The defendant, Denning McTague, holds master’s degrees in History and IT. He had a website called Denning House Antiquarian Books, but it seems to have been taken down since last week. Many of the documents have been recovered, and McTague has been cooperating with authorities.

Sadly, I think this is what a substantial measure of cultural property theft looks like. It happens when curatorial staff and others take parts of a collection which may not be noticed. Susan Cooper, a spokeswoman for the National Archives in Washington D.C. was quoted in a story on PC World that “Since we never sell our documents, and since they [are] all unique, they are all extremely valuable” and this kind of theft is rare. I’m not sure how rare it really is, as institutions certainly do not want to publicize when parts of their collection are gone because of mismanagement. However in this case it seems the National Archives quickly discovered the missing documents, and no serious harm was done.

A copy of the Federal charges are available here.

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

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