by Annette Bignami

On our last Renaissance Cruises between Istanbul and Barcelona it became clear that the British had, at least in the "sun never sets" days, sticky fingers. In Kusadasi, Acropolis and in Italy we constantly saw reproductions of statues, friezes and other art objects and were told to go to the London Museum to see the real thing.

It's clear the British stole or rescued-it depends on nationality of the informant-the Elgin Marbles from Greece, gold from Spain and art from everywhere. This isn't unique. Ask the Venetians about their horses or famous columns, or the Spanish about the source of the gold privateers like Drake stole from Spanish galleons.

Much treasure ended in London. Spend a few pounds and check the "one of everything" collections at the Victoria & Albert Museum just a few blocks from the "one of everything" wonders of Harrods's Department Store or head across town to a free visit to the British Museum.

Treasure hunters who visit England, as we all should, can find treasure in museums, shops and open-air markets. You can buy books on anything, maps for anywhere, shops specializing in everything from sword to candy canes and more.

With the world's best mix of museums, auction houses, shops and open markets, London is a treasure hunter's delight. In 1985, for example, a pair of Venetian paintings that sold for about $3,000 in a rural auction - this with a batch of antique dealers on hand - fetched over $1,000,000 at Christie's when they turned out to be authentic Canaletto scenes of Venice. While discoveries like this are rare, small items worth decent dollars often sell at low prices.

If you plan to shop for, rather than look at treasures start with an orientation tour from in front of the National Gallery on Trafalgar Square. Then simply hop on and off at museums that help you recognize quality before you search for bargains such as the British Museum. It's free, and so huge we visit for an hour or two, then return again and again. You find many book and antique shops on nearby Museum Street with decent values too.

How good are London values? I came across old playbills from the 1920's and 1930's New York musicals at a fraction of the cost in the USA. I bought several bits of Art Deco jewelry and some extremely old cookbooks. We found some wonderful old cast iron toys as well.

We do go with a plan and research prices in the U.S. and at English dealers before we take our treasure hunting to street in the open markets where the best values are found. You can do the same. If you can't find treasure in London, you are not looking, and if your lucky you'll come home with a very special item that will make your shopping trip memorable.