The Smithsonian’s Museum Conservation Institute (MCI) is the center for specialized technical collection research and conservation for all Smithsonian museums and collections. MCI combines knowledge of materials and the history of technology with state-of-the-art instrumentation and scientific techniques to provide technical research studies and interpretation of artistic, anthropological, biological, and historical objects.

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MCI Research Supported Law Enforcement in Infamous Theft

Imaging Scientist and Conservator filming a segment for 60 Minutes at the MCI facility

Imaging Specialist and Conservator filming a segment for 60 minutes




MCI Imaging Scientist E. Keats Webb and SLA Senior Conservator Nora Lockshin filming at segment for 60 Minutes at the MCI facility in Suitland, Maryland in February 2019. Photographs by Dawn Rogala, Museum Conservation Institute, Smithsonian Institution

In March 2024, convictions were handed down in the infamous case of the theft of more than 1,500 historically important items from the Girolamini Library in Naples, Italy. Among the notable scholars who provided subject matter expertise in this case were staff from the Smithsonian's Museum Conservation Institute and Smithsonian Library and Archives (SLA)

As is often the case with cultural heritage investigations, the case ruling was a long time coming. In October 2020, the CBS new program 60 Minutes broadcast "The Columbus Letters," a segment related to the Homeland Security Investigations (U.S. Department of Homeland Security) cultural property Case for which Smithsonian staff served as Subject Matter Experts.

Information related to the Smithsonian's work on this case is available on the 60 Minutes Overtime website, in a segment entitled "Forgery Forensics: How the Smithsonian Helped Identify Two Stolen Columbus Letters" featuring E. Keats Webb (MCI's Imaging Scientist) and Nora Locksin (SLA Senior Conservator for Archival Collections).

Earlier press releases from the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement had documented aspects of the case and the return of a Columbus letter to Italy (May 2016) and to Spain (June 2018).

(MCI participants: E. Keats Webb, Imaging Scientist, Dawn Rogala, Conservator/Program Manager. Other Smithsonian units: Office of Public Affairs, Smithsonian Libraries and Archives)

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