PHILOMATH, Ore. — About a half-century after someone stole coins from a Corvallis museum, detectives stumbled upon them by chance, and returned them to the museum to once again go up on display.
In May, the Benton County Historical Society in Philomath received a surprising phone call.
“The Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office called us to say they had recovered some coins that had been stolen from the Horner Museum,” said Executive Director Irene Zenev of the Benton County Historical Society.
The Horner Museum was in the basement of Gill Coliseum until 1995, when it faced budget cuts and was forced to close. The Benton County Historical Society inherited its collection and its catalogues – and knew that a set of presidential commemorative coins from the 1950s was missing. The museum believes that the 35 coins were stolen from the Horner Museum in the 1960s.
“There was a small label that’s on the back of this object that says ‘Horner Museum, OSC.’ And this is how the Sheriff’s Office was able to identify that this came from the Horner Museum,” Zenev said. “Oregon State University used to be called Oregon State College.”
In May, the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office was conducting an unrelated warranted search in a Portland-area home when deputies found the coins.
“Every single object in the collection is important to us,” Zenev said. “Whether it has great value or just you know, historical value or just of interest to the general public or collectors.”
Zenev says she will never know who originally stole the coins or how they got to Portland 50 years later. She says they are not worth a lot of money, but to a museum, they are priceless.
“These objects reflect culture and society as a whole,” she said. “People donate all these items. When they donate something, that means they think it is something that is so important in their life that they want other people in the future to be able to see it. And that represents their life but also society as a whole.”
The museum got the coins back last week, and will soon be putting them up on display.
“We’re preserving a bank of information for people in the future,” Zenev said. “Things are back in the collection where they belong. So we’re thrilled.”