Cue the "That Belongs in a Museum" memes, authorities have managed to recover and return dozens of rare collectible guns – some priceless – to the institutions from where they were stolen. 

The repatriation was announced at Philadelphia’s Museum of the American Revolution on Monday by the FBI’s Art Crime Team, the U.S. Attorney's office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, and the Montgomery County DA's office. The recovery came from the collection of Michael Kintner Corbett, a Delaware man who was indicted in 2021 for possession of the stolen guns and other items swiped from museums across the country more than 40 years prior. 

In all, some 50 items, some dating to the French and Indian War, were returned to 17 institutions located in five states. 

Among the more interesting items recovered were: 

  • An 1847 Mississippi rifle stolen from Beauvoir in Biloxi, Mississippi.
  • World War II battlefield pickup pistols – a Luger and a Walther PPK – once owned by General Omar Bradley, stolen from the U.S. Army War College in 1979.
  • Assorted 19th-century flintlock rifles stolen from Pennsylvania museums.
  • An early Colt Whitneyville Walker revolver, valued at $1 million, stolen from the Connecticut State Library.
  • 18th-century English and Scottish pistols stolen from the Valley Forge Historical Society Museum.
  • A Volcanic pistol stolen from Pennsylvania’s Hershey Story Museum.
  • A rifle from the Daniel Boone Homestead in Birdsboro, Pennsylvania.
     
Historic guns recovered by by the FBI’s Art Crime Team
A huge Colt Whitneyville Walker revolver (bottom row with CT tag) was taken back to its home state. A powder horn (center right) dating to the French and Indian War was stolen from a Belchertown, Massachusetts, museum in the 1970s. The Walker PPK and Luger in the top right corner had been donated by Gen. Omar Bradley to the Army War College in Carlise, Pennsylvania. An exceedingly rare Volcanic pistol stolen from the Hershey Museum is in the bottom right. (Photo: FBI)
Historic guns recovered by by the FBI’s Art Crime Team
Dr. Scott Stephenson, President of Philadelphia’s Museum of the American Revolution, looks at recovered firearms, some of which were featured in a book he has had since childhood.  (Photo: FBI)
Historic guns recovered by by the FBI’s Art Crime Team
Recovered historic rifles in this week's repatriation ceremony. (Photo: FBI)


"It is a rare privilege to be a part of today’s repatriation ceremony, returning stolen items to victims and, at the same time, returning important pieces of American history to the public," said U.S. Attorney Jacqueline Romero. "Many of these pieces have special meaning to their local area. No monetary value in the marketplace can compare to their historical significance."

In many cases, it was thought Corbett simply used a screwdriver to pry open display cases and slip guns down his shirt. Other items were stolen in nighttime burglaries. In the end, Corbett, 73, pleaded guilty to the possession of stolen items and was sentenced to one day in prison, 14 months of house arrest, and a $65,000 fine. 

This week's ceremony wasn't the first occasion in recent memory where historic firearms lifted from public displays were restored to their rightful institution. In 2019, the FBI was able to recover a 1775-dated rifle crafted by Pennsylvania master gunsmith Johann Christian Oerter to the Museum of the American Revolution. The rifle had been stolen from its “unbreakable case” at Valley Forge in 1971 and remained missing until it was purchased by a prominent antique dealer at a barn sale, who subsequently reported the historic find to authorities once he realized its provenance.

Those curious about the items on the National Stolen Art File can browse it online.

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