ICE recently returned two royal seals, each valued at approximately $750,000, from the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) to the Republic of Korea.
“While we recognize that cultural property, art and antiquities are often assigned a dollar value in the marketplace, the cultural and symbolic worth of these Korean treasures far surpasses any monetary value to the people of Korea,” ICE Acting Director Thomas D. Homan said.
The Royal Seals belonged to Queen Munjeong, who reigned from 1545 to 1565, and King Hyeonjong, who reigned from 1659 to 1674. The seal belonging to Queen Munjeong is believed to have been stolen sometime between 1950 and 1953 during the Korean War and illegally removed from Korea. King Hyeonjong’s seal is believed to have been stolen sometime between 1910 and 1945 during the Japanese occupation of Korea.
A silver royal seal from the Joseon Dynasty. To the left, an upward view of the seal. To the right, a downward view of the seal. (Photos by Josh Denmark/ICE)
“On behalf of the South Korean government, the Cultural Heritage Administration (CHA) and the National Palace Museum are deeply grateful to ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) for the successful repatriation of the Royal Seals of Queen Munjung and King Hyeonjong,” Yeonsoo Kim, Director of the National Palace Museum of Korea, said. “CHA trusts that this case and future joint investigations will further strengthen the alliance and partnership between the United States and South Korea.”
HSI began investigating Queen Munjeong’s seal in 2013 at the request of CHA after the seal was located at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which had purchased the artifact in good faith in 2000. Subsequent investigations also lead to the discovery of King Hyeonjong’s seal in a private collection.
A gold royal seal from the Joseon Dynasty. To the left, an upward view of the seal. To the right, a downward view of the seal. (Photos by Josh Denmark/ICE)
ICE has returned approximately 8,000 artifacts to over 30 countries since 2007, including paintings from France, Germany, Poland and Austria, as well as 15th to18th century manuscripts from Italy and Peru and cultural artifacts from China and Cambodia.
Two Baatar dinosaur fossils were also returned to Mongolia, antiquities and Saddam Hussein-era objects returned to Iraq, ancient artifacts–including a mummy's hand–to Egypt, and most recently an illuminated page from a 15th century manuscript, nearly 200 ancient Roman coins and a book from the personal library of a 14th century Archbishop to Italy.