Viking Lars | Saturday, 8 September 2018
Did you hear about the great feather heist? This is the true story about a spectacular theft, old bird skins, the development of the theory of evolution, World War II and a young man.
I've heard about this story some years ago, and just recently, a book was published about the story. The author is Kirk Wallace Johnson and the book is called The Feather Thief.
This is the story of Sir Alfred Russel Wallace's collection of birdskins, collected in the middle of the 19th century. Wallace was a peer of the more well known Charles Darwin, but the two of them did in fact develop theories of evolution. Wallace's bird skin collection was moved to Tring during WWII, to keep it safe from the German bombardments. I don't know why, but the collection remained there after the war, and in 2011, a young man managed to break in and stel 299 skins.
As if that wasn't spectacular enough, the young man broke in in order to steal and re-sell skins and feather - to fly tiers! The young man himself was a very talented tier of classic salmon flies, and was, reportedly, obsessed with the classic, true-to-original-descriptions materials.
He was caught and some of the skins recovered, but unfortunately he had plucked many skins to sell feathers, and I believe most if not all of the skins had been robbed of the all important information of place and time of catch, which renders the skins more or less useless in scientific terms.
Kirk W. Johnson not only went through the entire theft, but also managed to trace more of the skins, even after the police had closed the case.
I've read the book, and can highly recommend it, but if you're lazy, there also a podcast with the author of the book - here.
Have a great weekend!