June 29, 2013

History of Art Crime: ARCA Student A. M. C. Knutsson Writes on Book Thief Anders Burius and the Theft at the Swedish Royal Library

by A. M. C. Knutsson, ARCA Student 2013
 
Photo: Andrea Davis Kronlund and Jens Östman
http://www.wytflietatlas.com 
At 04.30 am on the 8th of December 2004, a top floor apartment in Central Stockholm explodes, injuring 11 people and forcing the evacuation of 44 others. Four days later the body of a man was found among the debris, along with a pro and con list of whether or not to stay alive. The man’s wrists had been slashed and the gas lead had been cut repeatedly; it remains uncertain whether Anders Burius was alive when his apartment exploded. Three days earlier Burius had been released from custody. 

Anders Burius had been the chief of the Swedish Royal Library’s Manuscript Department, and in charged of imposing increased safety measures following the thefts by renowned map-thief Peter Bellwood. Burius had also been stealing books from various libraries since 1986.

During the spring of 2004, the Royal Library personnel were looking for an 1850 map of the Mississippi. The online database REGINA still contained an entry indicating that the book would be in the library's possession, however it could not be located within the library. Following an inventory of the book stacks, it was revealed that more than 50 books had gone missing.  As the investigation wore on, Burius felt that it was only a matter of time before he would be exposed and he confessed to a colleague.

On the All Saints Eve, Burius sent a text message to a colleague, “Now I’m going into Bergsgatan 58 [the police station]”. At 4.40 pm, Burius was arrested for the thefts in the Royal Library. He was almost immediately dubbed "KB mannen" (the Royal Library man) by the media and his story spread through the news like wildfire. During his three weeks in custody, he kept writing lists for the police of all the books he had stolen. In total, Burius appears to have stolen 103 books whereof 58 where from the Royal Library. As the investigation dragged out, Burius was temporarily released.

At the time of the discovery of the thefts, Burius had systematically retrieved books from his work for a decade. He had, with his intimate knowledge of the library, been able to steal books and remove entries from the old card index in order to conceal his crimes.  However, over time, Burius had become less careful and started leaving catalogue traces behind. In addition to his meddling with the catalogues, Burius was also careful to remove identifying marks from the books. In the extreme case of Maximilianus Transylvanus' 1523 account of Magellan’s tour of the world, he had even cut the text-block out of its original binding and had it rebound in Germany in order to conceal its connection to the Royal Library. The book was later sold for €94,300.

After ‘cleaning’ the books, Burius approached dealers in Germany under the pseudonym Karl Fields, a nod to the Swedish poet Karlfeldt. The auction house Ketterer Kunst, Burius claimed, only required the seller to sign an assurance of ownership and made no effort to check the provenance of the works offered for sale. Ketterer Kunst maintains that they did nothing wrong in selling the books as Burius had confirmed that the books were his.

In June 2012, one of the most important stolen objects resurfaced in New York. The Cornelius Wytfliet atlas that contains one of the earliest maps of North America was offered for sale by W. Graham Arder III. He in turn had purchased it in good faith from Sotheby’s in 2003 for $100,000; its current value was estimated at $450,000. Mr Arder returned the book to Sotheby’s who reimbursed him in full and later returned it to the Royal Library after negotiations. Whilst it is hoped that this find will encourage other books to resurface, most of these books have now been legally acquired by ‘good faith’ purchasers and it is uncertain whether the Royal Library will be able to recreate its marred collections.

Bibliography

http://www.herrick.com/siteFiles/News/B6C44B1FDFDEFECAFB7BCB94496A843D.pdf


Radio:

Tv-dramatisation:

Bibliotekstjuven (The Library Thief), originally aired January 2011

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