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World’s Largest Gold Coin Stolen From Berlin Museum

Thieves appear to have snuck through a window before making off with the almost 221-pound coin

(Reinhard Saczewski/Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Münzkabinett)
smithsonian.com

The Canadian coin known as “Big Maple Leaf” weighs almost 221 pounds. It is made of 99.999 percent pure gold, with a market value of more than $4 million. The Royal Canadian Mint produced only five copies of the coin, one of which was displayed behind bulletproof glass at Berlin’s Bode Museum. But early Monday morning that bulletproof glass was shattered. And the hulking coin, Melissa Eddy reports for The New York Times, was stolen.

The rear wall of the Bode backs out onto a commuter railway, and the heist seems to have taken place during a two-hour window when trains do not run. Police were called to the museum at 4 A.M., and believe that the coin was stolen between 3:20 and 3:45 A.M. A museum window above the railway had been “forcibly opened,” police spokesperson Winfrid Wenzel said, according to Eddy. Officers also found a ladder on the elevated roadbed of the railway, not far from the museum.

The working theory is that the thieves—there were likely multiple perpetrators, judging by the coin’s weight—dragged the Big Maple Leaf through the museum, booted it out the window and transported it down the railway track, possibly to a nearby park. But officials have yet to reveal how the burglars managed to lug the chunk of gold—which weighs as much as a refrigerator, Eddy notes—out of the museum without attracting attention.

"Neither I nor the Bode Museum can go into detail regarding personnel inside the building, the alarm system or security installations," said Wenzel, according to Michael Nienaber of Reuters. Museum spokesman Markus Farr simply told Nienaber that the coin was stolen. “It’s gone,” Farr said.

Amidst these scant details, one thing seems clear: the burglars entered with a specific mission in mind. The now-shattered display case contained other, smaller coins, reports Travis M. Andrews of The Washington Post. But only the Big Maple Leaf was pilfered.

The first Big Maple Leaf was produced in 2007, according to the website of the Royal Canadian Mint. Guinness World Records deemed it the world’s largest going coin later that year. “Why did the Royal Canadian Mint make the world's purest and largest gold bullion coin?” the Mint’s site asks. “Because we can.”

The coin was stamped with a portrait of Elizabeth II on one side and a maple leaf on the other, reports CNN’s Donie O’Sullivan. Its face value is $1 million, but its market value is more than $4 million.

The Mint subsequently produced five coins to be sold to interested customers, writes Andrews of The Washington Post.  One of these coins was acquired by the Bode Museum in 2010, where it was displayed until the recent heist.

In a translated statement, Michael Eissenhauer, General Director of the Bode, addressed the theft and called for the coin's safe return to the museum: “A theft is one of the worst types of news a museum director can get. We are shocked that a burglar overcame the security system with which we have successfully protected our objects for many years. The perpetrator acted violently and we are happy that nobody was injured. Now we hope that the perpetrator will be caught and that the expensive coin will be returned unharmed to the Bode Museum's coin collection."

About Brigit Katz

Brigit Katz is a journalist based in New York City. Her work has appeared in New York magazine, Flavorwire, and Women in the World, a property of The New York Times.

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