July 26, 2013

Royal Library of Sweden celebrates the return of two rare manuscripts stolen by Anders Burius and recovered by Baltimore-based book dealer Stephan Loewentheil

by A. M. C. Knutsson, ARCA Student 2013

On Wednesday the 24th of July, the second return ceremony for books stolen from the Royal Library of Sweden took place in the office of the New York District Attorney.  Last year the Wytfliet Atlas was the first to be returned to the Royal Library after it was identified in the possession of a New York-based dealer who had purchased it in 2003 from Sotheby’s, who reimbursed the dealer before returning it to the Library.

The two new returns are the ‘Das illustrirte Mississippithal’ by Henry Lewis, which was the first book to be discovered missing from the Royal Library and a 1683 French book by Louis Hennepin on the Louisiana territory.  A full list of the books that remain missing can be found here. Both of these books were purchased by Baltimore-based dealer Stephan Loewentheil from Ketterer Kunst, a German auction house where many of the stolen books had been sold. Learning about the thefts, Loewentheil, who in turn had sold the books, bought them back and returned them to the Royal Library at his own expense. Loewentheil explained his actions in the following words, "Although as a bona fide purchaser, I didn't have any legal liability, from a moral standpoint it bothered me.”

The head librarian and CEO of the Royal Library, Gunilla Herdenberg commented on the return, saying that the return means a lot to the Library as well as the Swedish cultural heritage. It is important, she asserts, to show that these types of thefts can be resolved.

The thefts from the Royal Library took place between 1995 and 2004. They were conducted by Anders Burius, the head of the Manuscript Department, who at discovery committed suicide. More than 50 books remain missing, but it is believed that the increased publicity with the return of the resurfaced books in conjunction with further effort at identification both by the Library and the FBI might prove fruitful.

The juridical representative of the Royal Library has ensured that the Library is constantly working to localize the missing books. The economic value is irrelevant when it comes to the damage conducted to the Library and the cultural heritage of Sweden.  These books are intended for the enlightenment of mankind and the return of the books is the only right thing to do from an ethical standpoint.

Steven D. Feldman, from Herrick, Feinstein LLP, representing the Royal Library stated, “Stephan Loewentheil’s decision to return these two cultural treasures to the Royal Library of Sweden should serve as an example for ethical book dealers and collectors in the United States and around the world.  As Mr. Loewentheil demonstrated, these stolen books should be returned to the people of Sweden and the Royal Library, their true owner, and made available to the public.  They should not be secreted away in private collections.”

In the words of Stephan Loewentheil, “Our clients love books and people who love books tend to want to do the right thing, so they were happy to sell the books back to me.”

Anyone who holds any information regarding the missing books (a complete list is available at www.wytflietatlas.com) is encouraged to contact Jerker Rydén at the Royal Library of Sweden.

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