The busts were badly vandalised when they were moved behind the Broadmarsh
A series of busts depicting famous people have been stolen from a council storage depot.
The heads graced Nottingham city centre more than a century ago when they were a shop decoration.
With the development of the Broadmarsh shopping centre they were relocated to a site where they were badly vandalised.
But the thieves may find few takers for their wares as local historical groups say they are not interested in them.
Ken Brand from the Nottingham Civic Society, who turned down the chance of taking the busts from the council, said: "I don't think they were really worth saving.
"They had broken noses, broken chins and so on. I don't want to get too nostalgic about this.
"The Civic Society was contacted by the city council about them but we couldn't do much the state they were in. The cost was too prohibitive to repair them.
"It's not really a loss to Nottingham."
Montague Burton busts
General James Wolfe
Duke of Wellington
Dr David Livingstone
Captain James Cook
Sir Joshua Reynolds
A sign of the times
At the turn of the twentieth century the busts were used as a means of drawing attention to shops. They looked good overhanging doorways but they were not exclusive. In fact they were mass produced.
"From the 1880s onwards you could talk in terms of a builders supermarket," said Ken Brand.
"There were firms who specialised in what you could call architectural decoration. It's possible some of them were mass produced and taken off the shelf."
The lost busts used to grace the Montague Burton store that once stood on the corner of the old Broadmarsh and Carrington Street.
The faces depicted were not Nottingham celebrities but historical figures like William Shakespeare and Horatio Nelson.
"In this case the selection was probably due to some PR by Montague Burton or just the house architect for the firm," added Mr Brand.
"It had interesting value when it was in situ because it was a way of drawing people to a new building. People probably had a great delight trying to name them. It gave a touch of class. It generated interest even if people didn't rush in and buy something."
The busts outside Broadmarsh bus station in 2008. Picture by Ray Teece
Fall from grace
The arrival of the Broadmarsh shopping centre in the early 70s signalled the end for the famous faces.
The Montague Burton store was demolished but the busts found a new home around the back of the shopping zone, next to the Broadmarsh bus station. They were placed on a pillar. However, over the years they were vandalised and covered in graffiti.
By the end of 2009 more improvements to the area meant the pillar was pulled down. The busts were left lying around until Nottingham City Council collected them.
The local authority hoped to preserve them but only four were in a good enough condition. They were stored at the council's compound on Sussex Street but were stolen.
A council spokesman said: "It is regrettable that our attempts to salvage these unusual pieces of local history have ended in this sad way."
Ken Brand, from Nottingham Civic Society, added: "It is one of those things when, 50 years on, it's sliding out of the public consciousness. So many of the people who used to shop there (Montague Burtons) have unfortunately passed on."