More than 30 years ago, a Smithsonian intern came upon a letter written in 1875 by famed evolution theorist Charles Darwin.
The letter was part of a collection of North American geology documents sent to the museum for archiving.
The intern stole the priceless artifact before it could be inventoried, according to the FBI, beginning a decades-long mystery that has now been solved.
Recovering the stolen artifact
The FBI recently recovered Darwin’s looted letter in Washington state after it came into the possession of someone who felt it should be returned to authorities.
After verifying the letter’s authenticity, the FBI returned the 140-year-old letter to the Smithsonian Institution Archives . Because the statute of limitations has expired, no one will be charged in this theft.
The good news is that Darwin’s letter has been handled with care in the years since it was swiped.
“It’s in great condition,” said Katherine Zackel, FBI spokesperson. “It’s surprising; it actually still looks really good.”
Darwin wrote the two-page letter to Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden to thank him for sending two field surveys of land that would later become Yellowstone National Park, one of the stamps the Postal Service recently dedicated at the World Stamp NY—2016.
In the letter, dated May 2, 1875, Darwin wrote:
“I am much obliged to you for your kindness & for the honor which you have done me in sending your Geological Report of the Yellowstone River & your Preliminary Field Report on the Colorado & New Mexico.”
Darwin is said to have written 7,000 letters in his life, according to Tim Berra, a Darwin expert from Ohio State University.
Another stolen postal treasure story has made the news recently. An Inverted Jenny stamp that was stolen 60 years ago has been returned to the American Philatelic Research Library. Read about the Inverted Jenny stamp here to learn more.