Chinese jade treasure, missing for 35 years, finally returned to US museum

Harvard museum gets back an incense burner stolen from its halls in 1979 and which had a brief appearance at auction in Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 January, 2014, 12:56pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 January, 2014, 10:44pm

An 18th-century Chinese incense burner has been returned to Harvard University, 35 years after it disappeared from an art museum there.

It only turned up five years ago when it was put up for auction in Hong Kong.

Ernest Dane, a businessman and art collector who graduated from Harvard in 1892, and his wife, Helen Pratt Dane, donated the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) jade censer to the Fogg Museum in 1942.

In 1979, after the museum opened an exhibition of jades the Danes had donated, museum officials discovered the burner was missing from its display.

A screenshot of a Boston Globe report showing the stolen censer. Photo: SCMP

They contacted police, but the censer was not found until 2009, when Sotheby's in Hong Kong prepared to offer it for sale in its Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art auction. The censer had been hand-delivered to Sotheby's Hong Kong offices by a private seller, who did not provide any documentation on its history of ownership.

Before the auction, Sotheby's ran a search in the Art Loss Register database, and the censer was found to be a match with the one missing from Harvard. The US Department of Justice in September granted Harvard's request for return of the censer.

A transfer ceremony was held on Tuesday at Harvard.

Harvard art museums director Thomas Lentz said university officials were grateful to Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the US prosecutor's office for working to return the censer. "Because of their efforts, the censer rejoins our permanent collections just before we open the doors to our newly renovated, state-of-the-art facility this fall," he said.




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