An "idiotic" thief who stole a 17th century porcelain figurine of national importance was caught out when he wrote to a ceramics expert asking for a valuation.
Jason Cochlin, 32, was part of a gang who took the figure of Ignis - the personification of fire - and 11 others from the Allen Gallery in Alton, Hampshire, in 2002.
The 1679 tin-glazed figure, described in court as a piece of Britain's heritage, was worth up to £160,000.
Cochlin, who has not named his fellow thieves, was found guilty of conspiracy to steal the pieces at Winchester Crown Court and jailed for 12 months.
His barrister Robert Pawson said Cochlin, from Southampton, had been forced to take part in the conspiracy because he owed a debt to someone.
He said Cochlin had used a loan of £20,000 to buy Ignis back from the criminal who had it, and told the court the married father of three could not name him otherwise he would be shot.
"Mr Cochlin was idiotic enough to write to a world expert on English earthenware, Jonathan Horne, giving the insignia of the figure and asking for a valuation," said Mr Pawson.
Mr Horne knew the treasure - made in London as a commission for a client interested in alchemy and science - was stolen. He contacted the museum and they called the police.
After he was caught, Cochlin handed the undamaged figure, which he had kept wrapped in towels inside a shoebox, back to police.
A catalogue of Moronic behaviour.
Although this may raise a smile it does prove that High Value Art Theft has become mainstream with Morons like this complete thicko getting involved.
There will always be the highly sophisticated art criminals who cover their tracks and never get caught because of a lack of investigation by Police, but the emergence of everyday moronic petty crooks turning their hands to art theft will only increase the likelihood of further art thefts in the future.
If this is the only way art crooks can be caught then it does not say much about the competence of law enforcement.
Imagine if this moron had been caught with £160,000 of fake DVD's, or drugs, or other contraband, his sentence would far exceed the 12 months he received for this offence.
High value Art theft is the crime of choice for criminals of all shades not least because the penalties are nothing more than a slap on the wrist, and the returns are huge for little risk.