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Benjamin Franklin Bust Stolen -
Current Events -
September 25, 2012

September 25, 2012 (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) - A priceless Benjamin Franklin bust, one of only four surviving busts of Franklin created by the famous French artist Jean-Antoine Houdon was stolen from its owner's home in Philadelphia on August 24th. The plaster-of-paris bust, valued at $3 million dollars, was recovered on September 25th at a bus stop in Maryland by authorities.

The bust was stolen by Andrea Lawton, 46, of Philadelphia and Mobile, Alabama, who had worked as a housekeeper in the Bryn Mawr home of George A. D'Angelo, a Philadelphia lawyer. Lawton had obtained the job through a placement agency and was fired after being on this particular job for only 3 days.

Benjamin Franklin bust by Jean-Antoine Houdon

Click to enlarge

Benjamin Franklin bust
by Jean-Antoine Houdon

Witnesses saw Lawton speeding away from the home in an SUV. Investigators were able to trace her to Mobile, Alabama, where she stayed with a cousin for three weeks. Another witness told them Lawton did indeed have the bust and was returning to Pennsylvania on a bus, apparently to try to sell the bust on the black market. Authorities were able to trace the bus to Elkton, Maryland, where they arrested Lawton and recovered the bust. The 25 pound bust had sustained a large crack on its breast and was being carried in a simple duffle bag with the other luggage in the bottom of the bus.

Houdon was one of the premier sculptors of the Enlightenment era. He also sculpted other figures such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Paul Jones, the Marquis de Lafayette, Voltaire and Jean Jacques Rousseau. Ben Franklin was so pleased with his likeness that he personally undertook to invite Houdon to America to sculpt George Washington.

Franklin did not actually sit for Houdon, who presumably created the likeness from looking at other paintings of Franklin and from his own personal knowledge of Franklin. They were acquaintances when Franklin lived in Paris during the American Revolution to get French help against the British.

In that era, sculptors and artists would often reproduce their most popular works to earn extra money. There are only four known authentic reproductions of this particular sculpture by Houdon - the one owned by Mr. D'Angelo, one at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City (made of marble), one at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (also of marble) and another of plaster at the Boston Athenaeum.

Lawton is currently being held in a federal facility in Philadelphia awaiting trial. She was not granted bail and was deemed a flight risk because of an extensive criminal history, including using more than a dozen aliases, six Social Security numbers and four previous burglary arrests.

D'Angelo has said that he considers the Benjamin Franklin bust an "American treasure" and is grateful it has been returned. He will have a restoration expert look at the crack in the bust to see if it can be restored.

Learn more about Franklin at our Benjamin Franklin Facts page.

Published 9/25/12

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