Last week a man was sentenced to five years in prison for the theft of this Benvenuto Cellini salt-cellar. The 500 year-old work may be worth as much as $50 million. Robert Mang stole the gold an enamel sculpture from Vienna’s Fine Arts Museum in 2003, easily skirting the security cameras and alarm systems.
He knew of course that there was no legitimate market for the object, so instead hid the salt-cellar under his bed and then buried it in a forest. He sent a number of ransom notes to the museum’s insurance company threatening to melt the work down if he wasn’t paid €10-million. A number of thieves attempt to ransom their ill-gotten gains back to the insurance companies or original owners, and its unclear how often a ransom is paid. In this case certainly, the owners and insurers made the rigt decision, but it must have been a difficult one in the face of the potential destruction of the work.