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A "priceless" pair of rare Indian shoes stolen in broad daylight from the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto has no street value and will be nearly impossible to sell in Canada, said museum officials.

The extravagantly decorated 19th-century shoes, valued at $160,000, were stolen some time between 12 p.m. and 5 p.m. on Sunday. Embroidered with gold and encrusted with diamonds and rubies, they were once worn by a Hyderabad prince before the region was amalgamated into India. Judging by their dimensions - 28 centimetres long and 11.5 centimetres wide - the shoes are a size eight or nine, said Bata Shoe Museum curator Elizabeth Semmelhack.

"We're still under shock," said museum director Emanuele Lepri. "We thought that, being a shoe museum, we wouldn't have to worry about things like this."

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Lepri said the shoes were stolen from a glass case in plain sight during the museum's operating hours - an indication that the crime was well planned.

"These had to be professional thieves ..... at least two, if not three people," he said, suggesting the perpetrators had to know what kind of tools to bring to open the glass case.

Lepri said the museum recorded about 150 visitors on Sunday, but was not aware of any witnesses coming forward. Surveillance tapes have been handed over to police.

The shoes' insured value is based solely on their historical context, Semmelhack said.

"What the criminals don't realize is that without historic context, [the shoes]have no street value. The diamonds on them are cloudy, they are not properly cut, so they are worthless on the market," she said.

"The shoes are so beautiful because we know who wore them. They are priceless. They are historic."

Lepri said it would be impossible to sell the shoes in Canada, unless a private collector of decorative art were willing to risk purchasing the artifact.

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He said the thief or thieves may try to sell the shoes in New York or London, cities that have become hotbeds for the sale of stolen artifacts in recent years. However, the shoes' value may depreciate if they are damaged by light or humidity.

The last high-profile Toronto art theft ended happily with the recovery of billionaire Kenneth Thomson's five 18th-century ivory sculptures, valued at $1.5-million, in 2004. The sculptures were stolen from a display case at the Art Gallery of Ontario and recovered by a Toronto lawyer two weeks later.

Semmelhack said the Bata Shoe Museum did not change its security practices following the AGO theft.

"Unlike the ivories, there just isn't a market for our shoes," she said.

Lepri said the museum will wait until Sonja Bata, chairman of the Bata Shoe Museum Foundation, returns from Europe to discuss a potential reward for the artifacts' recovery and a security upgrade.

"That is definitely something we are going to discuss at the next board meeting," he said. "This has never happened to us before. We struggle so much to make people realize that ... there is a reason for [the museum's]existence, we never thought we'd have to deal with [theft]and high security."

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