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Police – who were called to the house at 2am – believe that a gang of up to five men wearing blue boiler suits and balaclavas were involved in the raid. They broke in through a window and took the items from their display cases. The raiders’ vehicle, a stolen blue Toyota was later found burnt out.

The stolen items are mostly high-value 18th century French gold snuff boxes and other small containers with gem-set, enamelled or painted decoration. They include a group of boxes, plaques and rings set with delicately painted gouaches by the Van Blarenberghe family of artists.

The boxes represent several generations of collecting by different branches of the Rothschild family including Ferdinand and Alice de Rothschild and Baron Edmond de Rothschild whose son James inherited Waddesdon in 1922.

This is the second time that gold boxes have been stolen from the Waddesdon collection. Eighty boxes were taken in 1983, but were later recovered.

The investigating officer D.S. Dave Honeyball of Aylesbury CID said “This was a professional and organised criminal act and we are keen to hear from anyone who may have seen anything in the early hours of that morning or have any further information that they feel may help in the police investigation”.

Waddesdon’s academic director Philippa Glanville, said that details of the stolen pieces had been circulated to the antiques trade, auction houses and to restorers and that a substantial reward was being offered for the return of the boxes (subject to the usual conditions). “We do hope these fragile, precious items will reappear undamaged,” she told the Antiques Trade Gazette last week.

Readers with any information should contact D.C.I. Christopher Back on 01296 396000 quoting crime reference number AL 8600192.03