The UK’s Sheffield Museums is appealing to the public for help in recovering a dozen objects that were stolen from the Kelham Island Museum in the early morning of Sunday, May 14. In what museum officials have described as “a carefully planned theft,” thieves took 12 “irreplaceable” objects housed behind display cases, including knives, sculptures, and silver kitchenware that relate to the city’s history of metalworking, a longtime staple industry in Sheffield.
The stolen objects date back to the 1700s and include items on loan from the Sheffield Assay Office as well as those featured in exhibitions created by the Ken Hawley Collection Trust. “We’re deeply saddened by the break-in at Kelham Island Museum over the weekend,” Chief Executive of the Sheffield Museums Trust Kim Streets said in a public statement.
“The historical significance of these items goes far beyond any financial value they hold,” Streets continued. “They span one of the first objects hallmarked by Sheffield Assay Office to knives made by one of our last Little Mesters, the much-missed Stan Shaw, and are irreplaceable touchstones of Sheffield’s rich heritage.”
Hyperallergic has contacted South Yorkshire Police for more information and is awaiting a response.
Located south of Leeds in South Yorkshire, the city has a long and storied history of metalworking and cutlery production, which was largely carried out by local artisans known as Little Mesters. Sheffield’s close proximity to raw materials like iron ore, as well as several rivers and forests that helped fuel machinery, made it a main center for cutlery production outside of London by 1600, according to historians. The earliest reference dates back to 1297 when tax records identified an individual as “Robertus le Coteler,” or Robert the Cutler, according to the Sheffield Museums’s website. In 1340, a Sheffield knife belonging to King Edward III was found at the Tower of London.
The stolen objects from the Kelham Island Museum include four Jason Heppenstall sculptures, a 104-blade exhibition knife (1800), and two knife displays made by one of the area’s last Little Mesters Stan Shaw, who died in 2021.
This recent theft is unfortunately not the first to occur in Sheffield. Earlier this year, the Sheffield Assay Office was targeted by thieves when over $100,000 worth of items was taken during a break-in. The incident resulted in 14 stolen items and two damaged display cases.
“Once again, similar to the Assay Office break-in earlier this year, the articles stolen do not have any real sell on value. To Sheffield Museums and the stories they celebrate, these represent a far wider loss and are totally irreplaceable,” Ashley Carson, assay master for the Sheffield Assay Office, said in a statement.
Streets said that the stolen objects are “very distinctive” and likely to end up on the market. “We’re appealing to the public to be vigilant and to share any information they have that might aid their recovery with South Yorkshire Police,” Streets said.