A golden ring once given as a present by the famed Irish writer Oscar Wilde has been recovered by a Dutch “art detective” nearly 20 years after it was stolen from Britain’s Oxford University.
The frie ndship ring, a joint gift from Wilde to a fellow student in 1876, was taken during a burglary in 2002 at Magdalen College, where the legendary dandy studied. At the time it was valued at ￡35,000 (US$45,143).
The trinket’s whereabouts remained a mystery for years and there were fears that the ring — shaped like a belt and buckle and made from 18-carat gold — had even been melted down.
Yet Arthur Brand, a Dutchman dubbed the “Indiana Jones of the Art World” for recovering a series of high-profile stolen artworks, used his underworld connections to finally find it.
Magdalen College home bursar Mark Blandford-Baker said that they were “very pleased to have back a stolen item that forms part of a collection relating to one of our more famous alumni.”
“We had given up hope of seeing it again,” he said.
The ring will be handed back “at a small ceremony” on Dec. 4, Blandford-Baker said, adding: “We are extremely grateful to Arthur Brand for finding it and returning it to us.”
The ring was an important part of Magdalen’s large collection of memorabilia related to Wilde, who penned classics such as The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Importance of Being Earnest.
It was a present from Wilde and fellow student Reginald Harding to their friend William Ward in 1876 while the Irishman was a student at Magdalen, one of the three dozen colleges that make up Oxford University.
The ring bears the inscription in Greek that says: “Gift of love, to one who wishes love.” It also has “O.F.O.F.W.W. + R.R.H. to W.W.W.” written on the inside.
Disaster struck in 2002 when a former college cleaner named Eamonn Andrews broke into Magdalen, got drunk on whisky from the college bar, then stole the ring and two unrelated medals.
The college at the time offered a ￡3,500 reward for the ring’s safe return — but after he was caught, the burglar told a court that he had sold the golden band to a scrap dealer for ￡150.
That might have been that, had Brand not picked up the scent a few years back.
“Rumors started in 2015 in the art underworld that a Victorian ring has surfaced ‘with some Russian writing on it,’” Brand told a correspondent, who saw the ring at an apartment in Amsterdam.
“I knew that Oscar Wilde’s ring was stolen from Magdalen College at Oxford and that it had a Greek inscription on it. It could have only been the same ring,” he said.
The Dutchman then started to put out feelers. Together with a London-based antiques dealer named William Veres, their inquiries eventually led them to George Crump, a man whom Brand described as a “decent man with knowledge of the London criminal underworld because of his late uncle, a well-known casino owner.”
Through Crump, Brand and Veres finally managed to track down and negotiate the safe return of the stolen ring.
Brand has previously hit the headlines for returning stolen artworks including a Picasso painting stolen from yacht in France, and Hitler’s Horses, two bronze statues made by Nazi sculptor Joseph Thorak.
The story of this latest find could have a final twist worthy of one of Wilde’s tales.
Wilde’s ring might have never been discovered were it not for another heist, when a gang of elderly criminals raided a vault in London’s jewelry district in 2015 in what was described as the “biggest burglary in English legal history.”
“There are very strong indications that the appearance of the ring is linked to the 2015 burglary at Hatton Garden Safe Deposit,” Brand said.
“Rumors that the ring has reappeared first started a few weeks after the burglary, and I was given the ring right in front of the Hatton Garden Safe Deposit ... which I thought was a bit of English humor,” he said.
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