Three bandits wearing ski masks crashed a stolen SUV into the Wells Fargo History Museum in San Francisco early on Tuesday (January 27) morning and held a security guard at gunpoint before making off with a display of gold nuggets from the 19th century.

The predawn smash-and-grab heist took place at the Montgomery Street building in the city's Financial District on the site where the original Wells Fargo bank was founded in 1852.

The dark-coloured GMC Suburban was left behind, and the thieves made off in a four-door sedan. The SUV had been reported stolen from San Bruno, about 12 miles south of San Francisco. The guard was not injured.

The value of the stolen Gold Rush-era nuggets was not immediately known.

The museum's website describes its collection as "an impressive display of gold dust and ore from California's Gold Country," along with the 19th-century stage coaches that are the bank's symbol. Photos of the crime scene showed that at least one of the nuggets was left behind.

A spokesperson said that the museum, visited by thousands of tourists and Bay area visitors each year, would reopen soon.