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Jan 22, 2014 08:56 AM EST

Missing 18th century Chinese Jade Incense Burner Returns to Harvard after 35 Years

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An 18th century Chinese jade artwork has finally been returned to Harvard University's Fogg Museum after it went missing for nearly 35 years. The sparkling green jade censer, worth around $1.5 million, was discovered in a prominent auction house in Hong Kong.

"It gives hope for stolen pieces of artwork, that they will resurface, because we'll be able to track them down," Bruce M. Foucart, Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent in Charge, said, Boston Globe reports.

The censer is approximately 6½ inches tall and 7 inches wide and features two handles with carved dragons and a cover adorned by carved lions.

Ernest Dane, a 1982 graduate of the Ivy League School and an art collector, and wife Helen Pratt Dane donated the Qing Dynasty Chinese incense burner to the museum in 1942. The jade censer went missing during an exhibition held in the museum in 1979. Officials believe that someone might stolen the 'priceless' jade.

The Museum officials immediately reported the incident to the law enforcement authorities. Investigators alleged that none of the museum officials were responsible for the theft. They claimed that the incense burner was transported to the Midwest after being stolen from the Fogg. After a few decades, the object was smuggled to South Korea and then was brought to Sotheby's auction house in Hong Kong.

In the fall of 2009, Sotheby's listed the object for sale at a starting price of $500,000. The private seller, who personally delivered it to the auction house, did not provide any documentation regarding its history of ownership.

As a result Sotheby's decided to run a search in the Art Loss Register database. That's when they discovered that the censor was actually reported missing from Harvard. The Register immediately informed the U.S. law enforcement authorities.

Thomas Lentz, director of the Harvard Art Museums, and university officials thanked the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. attorney's office for collaborating with the Ivy League School to bring back the censer.

''It's an important object, and it's been gone a long time.....Because of their efforts, the censer rejoins our permanent collections just before we open the doors to our newly renovated, state-of-the art facility this fall, when it will be accessible once again to students, faculty, and scholars,'' Lentz said, Boston reports.

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