19th-century vase destroyed thief drops it leaving gallery

April 19, 1991

A 19th-century vase that was purchased in 1867 by the founder of the Walters Art Gallery was destroyed Wednesday when a thief attempting to sneak it out of the gallery dropped it, officials said yesterday.

The French Sevres porcelain, valued at $6,000 to $10,000, had been displayed as part of period decor in the 19th-century artwork section, on the fourth floor of the gallery in the 600 block of North Charles Street, a gallery spokesman said.

Just before 3 p.m. Wednesday, a man hid the vase in his overcoat and attempted to walk out the Centre Street entrance. He was stopped by security officers, said Lt. Joseph Richardson of the Central District.

Officials said that as the museum security officers tried to question the man, the vase fell from beneath his coat and shattered on the pavement.

The man was then arrested without incident, officials said.

"It was one of those unfortunate freak things. It's shattered. It's essentially gone," an art gallery spokesman said. "I'm just glad it wasn't a piece from the collection. Everything else is basically bolted down." The vase was purchased by William Walters as decoration for his home, he said.

Nathaniel Thomas, 56, of the 200 block of North Fulton Avenue was charged with the theft at the Central District lockup, the police said.

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