PRICELESS items of worldwide historical importance have been stolen

from Sir Walter Scott's ancestral home at Abbotsford, near Galashiels.

Art experts and detectives investigating the theft said last night the

haul included many rare and unique pieces of ''enormous international


They emphasised that such was the significance of the items taken that

no monetary value could be placed on them.

A precise tally of the pieces taken in the raid, which is believed to

have been carried out between 5pm on Tuesday and 8.30am yesterday, was

still being established.

The items taken include a wooden quaich belonging to Bonnie Prince

Charlie, the Old Pretender's snuff box, a cloak clasp in the shape of

two gold bees belonging to Napoleon, Mary Queen of Scots' silver-gilted

seal, and Sir Walter's personal silver tea service.

One theory being pursued last night by Lothian and Borders Police is

that the theft was carried out by a team of professional thieves. It is

possible that they may have, in fact, visited Abbotsford earlier, posing

as tourists to pick out the items they were after.

It is believed that the raiders gained entry after forcing the bars on

a downstairs window. They made their way upstairs to the library and

Chinese drawing room, where the exhibition tables and cases were housed.

After smashing the glass fronts, the thieves would have had access to

any of the priceless pieces. The discovery was made when custodian Tom

Barr went to open the rooms in preparation for visitors yesterday


The alarm system protecting the prize collection at Abbotsford -- a

virtual shrine to the world-renowned literary figure -- appeared to have

been activated but not heard in the living quarters of the house,

occupied by Mrs Patricia Maxwell-Scott, 73, Sir Walter's great, great,

great grand-daughter.

''This has been very distressing,'' she said yesterday. ''There was

glass all over the inside of the exhibition cases and we are trying to

work out with the police just what has been stolen. The things that we

already know to have been taken are quite priceless.''

Together with her sister Dame Jean Maxwell-Scott, 70, a

lady-in-waiting to Princess Alice, the former Duchess of Gloucester,

they have maintained Abbotsford, making it the second top tourist

attraction in the Borders. Nearly 65,000 visited the house last year.

Dame Jean said yesterday: ''It seems fairly obvious that those

responsible had cased the joint while posing as tourists to pick out

what they were after.''

A Borders CID spokesman said that they were fairly convinced that the

raid had been carried out by a ''very professional team''.

''The thieves went for mostly gold and silver items but left unique

relics like the lock of Bonnie Prince Charlie's hair, which would

probably be unsaleable,'' he explained.

''The tragic thing is that when they realise how identifiable some of

the stolen items are they may be dumped or melted down.''

Police added that many of the pieces are distinctive and if they are

spotted, or indeed, anyone becomes aware of them being offered for sale,

they should contact them immediately.

Last night, one of the country's leading art experts, Mr Julian

Spalding, director of Glasgow Museums and Art Galleries, stressed that

the stolen items were of international importance.

''They are very, very important objects,'' he explained,

''particularly because they belonged to Sir Walter, who was one of the

world's great literary figures, and also his standing in Scottish


''I am hopeful that they will be returned to their rightful owners

after the thieves discover that they are vitually unsaleable. They will

have enormous difficulties in disposing of them because they are so rare

and unique.''

Mr Spalding dismissed a suggestion that the items may have been stolen

to order by a wealthy private collector. He said that this was highly

unlikely and largely a myth, as such collectors would want to realise a

return on the items in any future sale.

He continued: ''This would obviously not be the case with regards the

theft of these pieces. My hope is that the thieves will return them when

they discover that they will be difficult to move.''

The items stolen are: Napoleon 1 cloak clasp in the shape of two gold

bees, approx 6ft long; Bonnie Prince Charlie's wooden quaich with seven

bands and two small handles; egg shaped brass snuff box -- Balfour or

Burleigh; Mary Queen of Scots' seal -- silver gilt decorated with

foliage and shell work 3ft high and one to one-and-a-half inches broad,

which forms a double box. The base is engraved with a crowned shield and

lion and the initials MR.

Miniature bust of Sir Walter Scott; Bog oak snuff box in black wood

with gold Irish harp and diamonds; silver snuff box marked City of Cork;

lock of Lord Nelson's hair; bronze medallion of Sir Walter Scott showing

bust; china box; miniature of Lady Scott; Lord Byron's black enamel

finger ring; finger ring -- Douglas; box inscribed He screwed the Pipes;

silver plaid brooches.

Quaich made from the Dukes tree at Waterloo; Sir Walter Scott's

father's watch; brooch made from a stone taken from the site of the

battle of Bannockburn; finger ring -- High Altar of Jedburgh Abbey;

finger ring -- King Charles I; quaich made from Falkland Oak; quaich

made from Queen Mary's yew; box, engraved Tom Purdie; quaich made from

the Wallace Oak; white enamel snuff box -- King James VIII; Gold snuff

box -- King George IV.

Quaich -- Sir John de Graeme; quaich -- pair -- inserted with coins;

pair of silver plaid brooches; finger ring -- Memorial Sir Walter Scott

hair; box owned by Napoleon -- oblong silver depicting the last supper;

silver 12ft tall trophy with black base inscribed A gift to Sir Walter

Scott from the Prince of Wales 1820.

Silver tanker inscribed A gift to Sir Walter Scott from the Edinburgh

Society; a cup (like a large egg cup) -- Peter Mathieson; silver tea

service -- tea pot, coffee jug, milk jug, and sugar bowl with Sir Walter

Scott's Coat of Arms.