July 12, 2013

FBI Looking for Owners of Recovered Art (Books and Maps)

The FBI has posted images of 57 rare books and maps in hopes of finding the owners:
After a well-known dealer of rare maps was caught stealing from a Yale University library in 2006, a subsequent FBI investigation revealed that the man had stolen antique maps and other valuable items from institutions around the world. Most of the pilfered material was eventually returned to its rightful owners—but not all of it. 
We are still in possession of 57 rare maps and books—some dating to the 17th century—and we would like to return them. To that end, we are posting pictures and information about the items in the accompanying photo gallery in the hopes that the individuals or institutions who own them will come forward to claim them. 
“These items have been legally forfeited to the U.S. government,” said Bonnie Magness-Gardiner, who manages the FBI’s Art Theft Program. “Technically, they belong to the Bureau now, but we don’t want to keep them. Even though we have tried to find the rightful owners over the years, we are making another attempt.” 
After Edward Forbes Smiley, III was arrested for the Yale library theft, he admitted stealing and selling nearly 100 rare maps from international collections over a period of seven years. With Smiley’s cooperation, we tracked down most of the dealers and collectors who purchased the approximately $3 million worth of stolen material. But returning the maps to their homes proved to be a daunting task. 
In many cases, the maps were cut from books with a razor and trimmed so they didn’t look like they came from books. Some of the maps had different titles—many in Latin—and could have come from several known copies of the same book. To further complicate matters, many libraries weren’t even aware they were missing items until we contacted them. 
“These maps aren’t vehicles with identification numbers stamped on them,” Special Agent Stephen J. Kelleher, who led the 2006 investigation, said at the time. Special Agent Lisa MacNamara, who is working the case now from our New Haven, Connecticut Division, added, “Our hope is that by reaching out to the public in this way, we can get these historical items back to where they belong.” 
The items still in our possession include rare maps such as an 18th century depiction of the United States, a 1683 street plan of Philadelphia, and several antique books. 
If you believe that one of the maps or books shown in the gallery was stolen from your collection, please contact Special Agent MacNamara at (203) 503-5268, or send an e-mail to artwork@ic.fbi.gov. To claim any of the items, you will need to provide evidence of ownership and positively identify the item in question. That might include—but is not limited to—giving a description of special markings or stamps, wear patterns, specific damage, or other detailed information.


I am appalled to see the slipshod manner in which objects held by the FBI are handled. The photographs found here:


show rare books and maps on a filthy floor; on counters and surfaces inadequate to support the artifact; surrounded by ball point pens and beverages; being held down by inappropriate objects; with metal paper clips attached to them; and best yet, with one clod standing, in filthy shoes, mere centimeters from a map that is roughly held down by several idiotic helpmates.

How on earth can the FBI be charged with the recovery of art and artifacts if they clearly have no respect for them once they are in their care? Horrible as it sounds, these items had more protection while in the hands of the thief. I refuse to believe that the FBI lacks the resources and the staff to provide even the most basic instruction in the proper handling of cultural property. Whomever is responsible for such irresponsible handling is not suitable for employment.

Such incompetence is inexcusable.