Six gold coins dating back to 1860 were stolen Thursday afternoon from the Pony Express National Museum.
They were part of a larger display of Pony Express-era coins on display at the museum.
Executive Director Cindy Daffron said the theft occurred midday, but a maintenance worker noticed the coins were missing from the display later Thursday evening.
“He called me and said, ‘Cindy, I think some of the coins are missing, did you take them out?’ I said, ‘No, I did not,’” Ms. Daffron said.
It wasn’t clear early in the morning which coins were stolen. By afternoon, they were determined to include two Half Eagles, $5 gold pieces; two Eagles, $10 gold pieces; and two Double Eagles, $20 gold pieces. Ms. Daffron estimated their worth to be about $6,000. They had been in the museum’s collection since 2009.
Although the suspect left undetected by museum staff, the man was caught on surveillance camera.
“He was in here about two hours, looking around,” Ms. Daffron said. “I do believe he possibly bought a pocket knife (from the store) ... I think he was able to wedge the edge of the pocket knife in there and unscrew the back of the lock and get into the case, and then he took six of them.”
Staff turned over surveillance video to police Friday afternoon. Capt. Jeff Wilson of the St. Joseph Police Department said the suspect was an older white male. Ms. Daffron said the man in the video appeared to be in his 70s.
On Friday morning, the glass case was empty of all the display coins that remained, but descriptive text remained. A sign on top of the glass notified visitors that the exhibit was temporarily closed and museum staff roped off the area.
Of the six coins, five were appraised to be in fine or extremely fine condition.
“I don’t know if we can ever find another fine coin, but two of them were rare in the fact that they were not (widely) circulated. They weren’t well used,” Ms. Daffron said. “Having those kind of coins here is easier for people to look at than a coin that’s all faded away.”
She said that is part of why it’s such a loss for the museum.
“They were gifted to us by a family so that children and people could see them and we’re at the height of our time right now, and we don’t have that exhibit and I want them back,” she said.
She’s hoping that if the man attempted to pawn the coins, the museum would be able to track them down. The museum is considering beefing up security for the exhibit, including possibly purchasing an alarm-triggering mechanism for the lock.
Ms. Daffron said the only other incident that has occurred during her time at the museum that involved missing museum items was when pieces were put out for children, who pocketed the items.
Although she is thankful no one was hurt in the incident, she said their pride was “smacked.”
“It’s just hurtful for us as a staff,” she said. “You try your best to make sure everything goes right for visitors,” she said. “Here he was, right in midday. So it teaches us a lesson, don’t let down your guard.”
News-Press reporter Marshall White, who also is an estate appraiser for coins, appraised the coins for the museum. He said at the time, they were worth about $6,000, but today, they would have increased in value to between $6,000 and $9,000.
He said the coins are not easily replaceable.
“This is not something that grows on trees and that you can just go and pick and replace every day,” he said. “They had a very kind donor who did a very good job of putting together on relatively short notice a collection that was the same time period as the Pony Express, 1860, 1861.”
He also noted that one of the stolen coins included a $10 piece minted in 1860 in New Orleans, a year before the Civil War. It was one of only about 11,000 similar pieces.