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Raiders steal millions rothschild gold

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Raiders take two minutes to steal Rothschild gold worth millions
By Will Bennett, Art Sales Correspondent
(Filed: 11/06/2003)

Antique gold boxes worth millions of pounds have been stolen from the Rothschild Collection by a masked gang that smashed its way into one of Britain's finest stately homes early yesterday.

More than 100 boxes were taken from Waddesdon Manor, the French-style chateau built by the European banking dynasty near Aylesbury, Bucks, in a meticulously planned night raid that lasted less than two minutes.

The thieves' haul is part of the world's greatest collection of gold boxes, formed over more than a century by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild, his sister Alice and the present Lord Rothschild.

The family trust that now runs Waddesdon was reluctant to put a value on the stolen items yesterday but one expert in the field said that they were worth several million pounds.

The raid by five men wearing balaclavas and blue boiler suits took place at 2am yesterday. They smashed their way in through a window setting off alarms and headed straight for the gold boxes.

By the time security staff arrived the gang was leaving with more than 100 boxes, mainly 18th century French works of art but including some examples of English craftsmanship.

"It was a well-researched job," said a police source. "They had obviously done their homework and knew what they were looking for."

The gang drove off across fields and down a steep embankment in a stolen blue Toyota four-wheel drive vehicle that was later found burned out in the nearby village of Westcott. Detectives are now examining CCTV film that is believed to show the gang breaking into the house.

"This is a very serious loss," said Lord Rothschild. "Waddesdon encapsulates generations of Rothschild collecting and the gold boxes at Waddesdon are among the finest in the world."

It is the second time that gold boxes from Waddesdon have been stolen. In 1983 thieves took a number of pieces which, with one exception, were recovered 18 months later.

Although the men who carried out yesterday's raid knew exactly what they were looking for, it is unlikely that they were stealing to order for a collector. Art theft experts say that such people do not exist.

They may hope to sell them, or they may be planning to demand a ransom. The greatest fear is that they might decide to melt them down. Waddesdon was built on a hilltop overlooking the Aylesbury Vale between 1874 and 1889 by Baron Ferdinand.

A family charitable trust chaired by Lord Rothschild now manages the house for the National Trust and looks after one of Britain's greatest art collections.

The house is open to the public and was visited by 225,000 people last year.

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