I stumbled upon the book Priceless:
How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World’s Stolen Treasures. The founder of the FBI
Art Crime Team, author Robert Wittman recalls a number of cases when he
recovers stolen artifacts or artwork, working undercover convincing mobsters
and corrupt collectors that he’ll pay big money for their stolen works. It can take months, even years, of building
rapport with the sellers or middlemen before setting up a sting which involves
large amounts of cash, priceless works of art, and, very likely, guns or other
Wittman struggles with the widely accepted opinion at the bureau
that art crime is less important than other types of investigations. What is even more perplexing to those
investigators that take this stance is that arresting those guilty of the theft
or selling the stolen property is much less important than recovering the
stolen works. Regardless of this, each
time something is recovered, communities celebrate the return of their lost
treasures, whether they have been gone a few months or more than a hundred
The book starts and ends with talking about the Gardener Heist. The
most valuable collection of stolen artwork in the world, the paintings were cut
out of their frames in March 1990 and are estimated to be worth more than $580
million. One painting, Vermeer’s “The Concert”, is
estimated to be worth $200 million on its own!
We learn from the book that the heist is so well known and the paintings
so recognizable, they could only ever be sold on the black market.
I really enjoyed reading Priceless. Most chapters are their own little short stories. This means the book works well for those with similar scheduled to mine that may not give them an opportunity to sit down with a book for long periods of time. I greatly appreciate that Wittman rescues different types of art and artifacts all with the same dedication to returning them to their rightful owners. Hope you enjoy this book as much as I did if it makes it onto your reading list!