January 25, 2022

FBI Recovers and Returns 1875 Letter by Charles Darwin to Smithsonian Archives, Item Was Stolen in the Mid-1970s

From the FBI:

Special agents from the FBI returned a recovered Charles Darwin letter to the Smithsonian Institution Archives, the FBI Washington Field Office announced.

The letter, penned by the renowned naturalist and geologist in 1875, was stolen from the Smithsonian more than three decades ago. It was recently recovered by the FBI following a public tip regarding the letter’s whereabouts. On May 26, 2016, Assistant Director in Charge Paul M. Abbate of the FBI Washington Field Office returned the letter to Smithsonian Institution Archives Director Anne Van Camp after an investigation by special agents from the FBI Art Crime Team.


The Darwin letter was part of the George Perkins Merrill Papers, a collection of correspondence and documents relating to the history of North American geology. In the letter, Charles Darwin wrote to American geologist Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden to thank him for sending two geological field studies of the American West, including of the region that soon after became Yellowstone National Park.

The text of the letter reads as follows:

May 2nd
Dear Sir,
I am much obliged to you for your kindness & for the honour which you have done me in sending your Geological Report of the Yellowstone River & your Preliminary Field Report on the Colorado & New Mexico. I had heard of your Geological researches on the Colorado & was anxious to see the conclusions at which you had arrived, & I am therefore especially obliged to you for having sent me your works.
With much respect & my best thanks, I remain,
Dear Sir,
yours faithfully
Charles Darwin

The letter was stolen from the Smithsonian Archives in the mid-1970s, shortly after the Archives received the Merrill Papers but before the letter could be inventoried.

Read the Complete Announcement, View/Read Letter

On a Related Note…

New Reference and Research Resource: Culture Crime News Database of Antiquities and Art Crime Reports

About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.