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Benjamin Franklin bust, valued at $3 million, found in gunny sack

September 25, 2012|By Tina Susman
  • Portrait of Benjamin Franklin from the late 18th century, attributed to French artist Jean Valade
Portrait of Benjamin Franklin from the late 18th century, attributed to… (Huntington Library )

As if surviving the American Revolution and helping draft the Declaration of Independence weren't hard enough, officials say Benjamin Franklin endured weeks on the road in the hands of a former housekeeper accused of stealing him -- or a bust of him at least -- from a former client's home.

The bust of Franklin, valued at $3 million, was found in a gunny sack as the alleged thief stepped off a bus in Maryland earlier this month, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported. Other stolen items were also found, the newspaper said, including a conductor's baton linked to a famous cellist.

The Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News said the items' owner, George A. D'Angelo, reported them missing from his Bryn Mawr, Pa., home on Aug. 24. That's the day Andrea Lawton, who had worked for him as a housekeeper, allegedly broke in after being fired by her cleaning company.

D'Angelo, a lawyer, said he has been warned that "Ben," as he calls the bust made in 1778, is damaged, but that he does not know how badly.

"I think it can be repaired," D'Angelo said, according to the Inquirer. "I hope so. It would be ghastly if it can't."

Franklin, who helped draft the Declaration of Independence and whose signature appears on both it and the U.S. Constitution, died in 1790.

The 25-pound bust is one of only four in existence and was crafted in Paris while Franklin, who was the United States' first ambassador to France, was there.

According to court documents, D'Angelo kept Ben on a pedestal in his home, and Lawton had been warned not to touch it because it was "extremely valuable."

In addition to the bust, Lawton is accused by the FBI of stealing a photograph of composer, cellist and conductor Victor August Herbert, who died in 1924. A conductor's baton and some other items linked to Herbert, worth a total of $80,000, also were stolen, officials said.

The picture has not been found, and D'Angelo speculated that it may have been dumped at a secondhand shop if the thief did not recognize its value.

A witness led the FBI to Lawton on Sept. 19, saying she still had the bust and planned to sell it on the black market, news reports said. Officials said Lawton, who had prior burglary convictions in Pennsylvania but came from Mobile, Ala., was arrested in Maryland as she got off a bus, with Ben in a bag, the newspapers said. She was due in court Wednesday in Philadelphia.

D'Angelo said he couldn't imagine why anyone would steal the huge bust, or how they thought they would be able to sell it. "It's like stealing Venus de Milo from the Louvre," he said.

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