MOSCOW, October 7 (RIA Novosti) - A museum as no other appeared in Brest, on the Soviet west frontier, fifteen years ago. Named, Rescued Art Treasures, it exhibits antiquarian contraband customs officers have confiscated from travellers.

The catch previously made an annual 2,000 items, all landing in the museum. This year's is a mere 300 for this day, says the Rossiiskaya Gazeta daily.

Smuggling spectacularly dwindled last year. Irina Tarima, museum director, ascribes the achievement to a civilised antiquarian market that has got going in Russia, main source of art contraband. Aboveboard sales and purchases at home are now far safer and more lucrative than hush-hush deals abroad.

Mineral samples, fossils and old coin make a majority of articles confiscated this year. Previous smugglers saw icons as their bonanza, so the museum possesses 3,000 icons out of its total 4,000 exhibits.

"The museum never ceded any of its treasures to anyone in the Soviet time. True, we attempted to donate some antiquarian things to local churches-but the state was loath to part with what it had laid hands on. Scanty donations started as late as 1994. We made bold then to cede to other museums and to churches things out of tune with the overall exposition. The Church is our eager partner, what with the many icons we have for now donated," says Irina Tarima.

The museum never sells its possessions. However, when you see a stolen family relic on display, you are free to regain it once you offer reliable evidence. A private collector of Yaroslavl recently recovered his ninety icons.

Close on 90 per cent of the museum stock hides in its depositories, but the few items on display make an impressive exposition with 16th century icons, Faberge jewellery, and canvases from the brush of Aivazovsky, Vinogradov and Myasoyedov.

"The people on our staff are making extensive research. Now, for instance, we have started cataloguing silver-encased Russian icons of the 17th century into the early 20th," added the museum director.

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