The Saga Of The Stolen Solid Gold Toilet Somehow Keeps Getting Stranger

Something interesting happened at the Guggenheim a few years ago. The famed museum hosted an installation from a conceptual artist named Maurizio Cattelan that became a bit of a sensation in the art community and, look, I’m just going say it: We’re talking about a fully functional solid gold toilet. He called the whole thing “America,” which is really just very mean and also perfect. Visitors could go in and use the toilet — again, fully functional — for three minutes at a time. Lots of leisurely number ones and frantically rushed number twos, one assumes, with the “one” in this situation being me, because I thought about the golden toilet a lot.

Here, look, the New York Times wrote about it at the time.

It has been one of the smallest exhibitions in the museum’s history, comprising a single work of art: a fully functional 18-karat gold toilet, designed by the puckish Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan and installed in a single-occupancy museum restroom. But it has been popular with visitors, some of whom waited in line for an hour to test its metal.

“More than 100,000 people have waited patiently in line for the opportunity to commune with art and with nature,” wrote Nancy Spector, the Guggenheim’s artistic director and chief curator, on the museum’s website.

All good things come to an end eventually, though, and so did the golden toilet’s run at the Guggenheim. Two years after its debut, it was time to find a new home. Which, naturally, because why wouldn’t this be where a fully functioning solid gold toilet ends up, turned out to be a place called Blenheim Palace in England, a historical site best known for being the childhood home of Winston Churchill. A thing you will learn as we continue on here is that every twist in this story is so delightful that I’m not sure it could even exist in fiction. Real life is sometimes weird enough without help.

But anyway, maybe you saw that and thought “Hey, do they have enough security at Winston Churchill’s childhood home to protect a solid gold toilet? Like, the Guggenheim has guards and cameras and the NYPD is a phone call away. What if someone tries to steal the solid gold toilet?”

The Churchill family considered this but brushed it off for reasons explained by the dude who lives in the palace.

In August 2019, Edward Spencer-Churchill, the brother of the Duke of Marlborough who resides at Blenheim Palace, spoke to The Times, saying, “It’s not going to be the easiest thing to [steal]. Firstly, it’s plumbed in and secondly a potential thief will have no idea who last used the toilet or what they ate. So no, I don’t plan on guarding it.”

It brings me more pleasure than any of you can possibly imagine to tell you that the golden toilet was stolen two days after it was installed. Thieves broke in at 4:30 a.m. and ripped it out of the wall and left. This is interesting to me for three reasons:

  • As a lover of very silly heists, who has written at this very website about thefts of everything from maple syrup to six-figures worth of ramen to Cadbury Creme eggs to a massive statue of Shrek, the opportunity to type “GOLDEN TOILET HEIST” was and is just very thrilling
  • I choose to believe the thieves had no intention of stealing the golden toilet until they read the quote where the guy pretty openly said it wasn’t going to be guarded and then they were like “well, geez, we’d be stupid not to at least try”
  • Some of the official quotes released by the interested parties after the robbery are really just beautiful

Look at this one.

“Due to the toilet being plumbed in to the building, this has caused significant damage and flooding. We believe a group offenders used at least two vehicles during the offense.”

Two notes here:

  • Let’s be very clear about this: The childhood home of Winston Churchill was ravaged by substantial water damage because thieves ripped a fully functioning golden toilet out of the wall after the owner of the home kind of dared them to do it
  • I choose to picture this exactly like the scene in Fast Five where Vin Diesel and his crew ripped a vault out of the headquarters of a crooked Brazilian businessman and fled through the streets with it towed behind them

Basically this, but with a golden toilet.

fast five vault

Moving on.

“The piece of art that has been stolen is a high value toilet made out of gold that was on display at the palace,” said Detective Inspector Jess Milne of Thames Valley Police at the time of the theft.

Imagine you get into law enforcement to right wrongs, to provide justice to the people who have been hurt or harmed by criminal activity, and you rise through the ranks to become Detective Inspector, and then one day you find yourself standing in front of a microphone saying the words “a high value toilet made out of gold.”

What a journey.

The New York Times also tracked down the artist himself, who said this.

Shortly after the robbery, Mr. Cattelan told The New York Times in an email that his first reaction was to think it was a prank. “Who’s so stupid to steal a toilet?” he said. He “had forgotten for a second that it was made out of gold,” he added

Hmm. Yes, I love him even more now.

But we press on. There was an arrest pretty much immediately but nothing stuck and the suspect was released. Time passed. Two whole years. No arrests, no sign of the golden toilet. At one point, seven people were charged but released. We had a full-on golden toilet mystery on our hands. My favorite quote about it all came from the guy at the company that insured it, who very much wanted to recover it instead of writing a check for millions of dollars with “for the stolen gold toilet” scribbled into the memo line.

Insurance firm Fine Art Specie Adjusters (FASA) said the reward, for safe return of the property leading to an arrest, still stood.

Director Philip Austin said: “No-one has come forward for the reward money yet… Initially there were lots of inquiries but now it’s all gone quiet.”

Two notes again here:

  • It’s fun to picture a very sexy and mysterious insurance investigator — male or female, your choice, although I am going with “Rene Russo in The Thomas Crown Affair” for reasons I do not have to explain to any of you — flying around the world on private planes and wearing many thousands of dollars worth of designer turtlenecks all in search of a golden toilet some dudes yoinked out of a wall
  • Please take a minute today and really think about the smorgasbord of bozo prank calls that must have come into the tip line for information about the stolen gold toilet

But then…

After many years…

A break in the case.

Earlier this month, police in England announced that four arrests had been made. Four years after the theft. Of the gold toilet. They worked on this case for four years. I know they probably worked on other cases between, but I’m just going to go ahead and pretend there was a Golden Toilet Task Force assigned to this case, specifically. With a war room and unlimited budget and everything. I’m picturing the full-on CSI lab here. There are lasers for some unknown reason. You should see the smile on my face as I am typing this.

The only sad part about the whole thing is that these arrests — should they lead to convictions, and yes, it is outrageously funny to think about a wild media circus trial with charismatic defense attorneys that ends in four Not Guilty verdicts — bring an end to the saga of the stolen solid gold toilet. Which is a shame. For me. It’s probably good for everyone else. But I guess I’ll just have to accept that it’s over and that there are no other rocks to turn over related to missing golden toi-…

To this day, the toilet has not been found.