Stolen 18th century artifact returns to Detroit Historical Society more than 60 years later


  • Photo courtesy of Federal Bureau of Investigation – Detroit Division

An 18th-century artifact is returning home to the Detroit Historical Society more than 60 years after it was stolen.

The powder horn — which was made in Charlestown, New Hampshire, in 1757 for a soldier named Lt. Abel Prindel — was stolen from the Dearborn Historical Museum in 1952 shortly before the public opening of the "Saga of a Settler" exhibition. The powder horn, which features carefully engraved verses on the horn's body, was in the family of John Nowlin's possession — one of the earliest settlers of Dearborn — until June 1947 when it was sold to the Detroit Historical Museum.

Despite a theft investigation by the Dearborn Police Department, the case went cold with no leads to the horn's possible whereabouts until 1991. That year, the powder horn appeared at auction at Christie's Auction House where it was sold to an unknown buyer. In 2017, the Dearborn Police Department asked for assistance in the case from the FBI's Art Crime Team. Near the end of 2018, the FBI's Detroit Division and Philadelphia Division Art Crime Team recovered the long-lost artifact.

Upon its return to Detroit, the Nowlin powder horn will be on short-term display through the Spring of 2019 at the Detroit Historical Museum. Following that, it will make an appearance as a permanent fixture in the Detroit Historical Society's "Frontiers to Factories" exhibit.

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