Showing posts with label archive theft. Show all posts
Showing posts with label archive theft. Show all posts

October 6, 2020

Rare Books in an Even Rarer Recovery

On 29 January 2017 an organized crime group from Romania targeted and robbed over 200 rare books from a warehouse in Feltham, West London.  The collection consisted of 15th and 16th-century books and included works by well-known historical figures Galileo, Leonardo da Vinci, Isaac Newton, Dante Alighieri, and Nicolas Copernicus.  The most valuable of these was the 1566 copy of De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium by Nicolaus Copernicus but another lessor well known, and equally rare, texts, including a Muraqqa - album with Persian and Mughal miniatures were also taken in the heist

The books were owned by three collectors, two Italian and one based in Germany, and had been flown into the UK and stored in a climate-controlled warehouse while awaiting export to the United States for a scheduled book fair.  As the books were only intended to be at the warehouse for a short time period it is likely that the group involved in the theft had inside knowledge of the schedule of the books’ travel.  

When the theft was initially made public, many newspapers were more focused on the burglars' “mission-impossible" or "Ocean's Eleven-style" theatrics rather than on the cultural value of the rare books which were stolen, completely missing the value of Sir Isaac Newton’s 17th-century work “Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy” or fantastic etchings of the Spanish painter Francisco Goya.

To achieve their goal, the thieve's drilled through the building's skylight and rappelled down into the warehouse in order to avoid security measures.  Once inside they set about placing the rare books in large bags that could be hoisted back onto the roof, allowing the suspects to leave the way they came.  While it was expected that the books were either pre-sold to a collector or bound for the black market, nothing was seen of the books for nearly 3 years.   

The investigation of the theft was a multi-national collaboration involving the European Union Agency for Criminal Justice Cooperation and multiple law enforcement groups.   In a coordinated joint action day, in 2019 the Romanian, UK, and Italian authorities arrested 15 suspects, following 45 searches, in Romania and the UK, arresting a group of individuals believed to be responsible for a string of 12 highly-organised burglaries carried out across between December 2016 and April 2019.

Some of those taken into custody were linked to a number of prominent Romanian crime families who form part of the Clămparu crime group. This group has been known to be responsible for major heists, prostitution, and human trafficking offenses.   

According to released court records, forensic evidence and CCTV footage were both key to the investigation of the thefts and to the arrests of the co-conspirators.  Two days prior to the book theft CCTV footage captured images of three individuals involved in the heist:  Daniel David, Victor Opariuc, and Narcis Popescu, all three of whom are seen on footage arriving in the UK and driving to the warehouse in a blue Renault Megane. CCTV footage then shows David and Opariuc exit the van, leaving Popescu as a lookout while they cut through the warehouse's perimeter fencing.  

On the night of the theft itself, footage confirms that both Daniel David and Victor Opariuc returned, drilling through the skylight and entering the storage repository from above.  Once inside they are able to work undetected for five hours.  At 2:15 AM the pair exited back through the roof of the warehouse carrying large carryall bags, then loading up their cache into the Megane before driving away.  

To cover their tracks, the thieves quickly abandoned their get-away vehicle after wiping down the interior with cleaning products.  The stolen books were then transported to a house in Balham, rented temporarily to Narcis Popescu, where they remained for two days before being secreted out of the country.

Through examining cell phone records, the investigative teams were able to determine that the books were transported by a fourth accomplice, Marian Mamaliga to Romania, who left the UK through the Eurotunnel starting at Folkestone, Kent, and exited on the European mainland at Coquelles in Northern France. 

But even with that foresight to wipe down the car, forensic investigators were able to find a single hair on the drivers’ headrest which had escaped the burglar's clean-up.  This hair was later confirmed to be a match with Narcis Popescu.  DNA evidence inside the warehouse found on an escape ladder would also confirm the presence of Daniel David at the scene of the crime.   At other crime scenes, the members of the ring left drinks behind with traces of their DNA.

Perhaps the biggest break in the case though came from the evidence of a different theft conducted by the same group.  Some six months after the theft of the books, in July 2017, the group had moved on to target an electronics company, stealing some £150,000 worth of Lenovo laptops from another storage facility.   Similar to the book theft incident, the culprits of this later theft entered through the roof, this time using ladders both to scale and enter the building. This time transporting the hot merchandise proved their undoing.  Stopped by Romanian police Marian Mamalig could not provide proper proof of ownership for the laptops, and was arrested.   

Following resulting leads in 45 different locations in 3 separate countries, the books were recovered on Wednesday 16 September 16 2020 bringing the three-year joint investigation to an end.  Still wrapped in their original transport packaging, the rare books had been buried in a cement crawlspace under the floor tiles of a house in rural Romania in the historic region of Moldavia.  Once in law enforcement custody, the books were examined by conservators to assess for any moisture or mold damage and to carefully dehumidify the pages to prevent further damage. 

When speaking to the success of the investigation, Detective Inspector Andy Durham, from the Metropolitan Police's Specialist Crime South said: “These books are extremely valuable, but more importantly they are irreplaceable and are of great importance to international cultural heritage.”  Twelve of those involved in the thefts have pled guilty and received sentences  They are:  

  • Marian Albu received 4 years imprisonment  
  • Daniel David received 3 years 7 months imprisonment  
  • Liviu Leahu received 3 years 8 month' imprisonment  
  • Marian Mamaliga received 4 years and 1 month imprisonment.  
  • Traian Mihulca received 4 years imprisonment  
  • Victor Petrut Opariuc received 3 years 7 months imprisonment  
  • Vasille Ionel Paragina received 3 years 8 months imprisonment  
  • Paul Popeanu received 3 years 3 months imprisonment  
  • Gavril Popinciuc received 5 years 8 months imprisonment  
  • Narcis Popsecu received 4 years 2 months imprisonment  
  • Ilie Ungureanu received 3 years 8 month' imprisonment  
  • Christian Unrgureanu received 5 years and 1 month imprisonment   

A thirteenth is set to go to trial in March 2021. 

By: Lynette Turnblom and Lynda Albertson


Albertson, Lynda. ‘Theft: Antiquarian Booksellers Association’s reports dramatic book thief heist of 160 texts, some from the 15th and 16th centuries’. ARCA Art Crime Blog (blog), 13 February 2017.
Bland, Archie. ‘Rare Books Stolen in London Heist Found under Floor in Romania’. The Guardian, 18 September 2020, sec. UK news.
Brunt, Martin. ‘Romanian Crime Gang Members Jailed After String of High-Value Burglaries’. Sky News, 5 October 2020.
Chesters, Laura. ‘Stolen Collection of Antiquarian Books Worth £2.5m Recovered from Underground Store in Romania’. Antiques Trade Gazette, 19 September 2020.
Eurojust. ‘15 Arrests in Theft of Galileo and Newton Original Books’. Eurojust, 19 June 2019.
Hamilton, Fiona. ‘Ladder Blunder Led Detectives to Gang Behind Heist of Rare Books’. The Times, 2 October 2020.
ILAB. ‘Warehouse Theft London 2017 - Stolen Books’. International League of Antiquarian Booksellers, 12 January 2018.
Krishna, Swampa. ‘Thieves Rappelled Into a London Warehouse in Rare Book Heist | Smart News | Smithsonian Magazine’. The Smithsonian, 14 February 2017.
‘Romanian Nationals “Stored 170 Stolen Books Worth More than £1.3 Million in a Tooting Warehouse”’. Wandsworth Times, 24 February 2020.
The Crown Prosecution Service. ‘Romanian Gang Jailed for Burglary Spree Including 200-plus Stolen Ancient Books’. The Crown Prosecution Service, 2 October 2020.
The Metropolitan Police. ‘Officers Recover “Irreplaceable” Books Stolen in Feltham Burglary’. The Metropolitan Police, 18 September 2020.
———. ‘Organised Crime Group Jailed for Book Thefts’. The Metropolitan Police, 2 October 2020.

February 13, 2017

Theft: Antiquarian Booksellers Association's reports dramatic book thief heist of 160 texts, some from the 15th and 16th centuries

The International League of Antiquarian Booksellers and the Metropolitan Police at Scotland Yard have confirmed a brazen the theft at a storage facility in Feltham, west London near Heathrow during the late evening and early morning hours of January 29-30, 2017. 

In what is being characterised as a well-planned and savvy burglary, thieves somehow avoided detection despite a 24-hour monitored intrusion detection system which included CCTV cameras and infrared motion detectors.  Entering the bonded warehouse by scaling up to the roof, the culprits breached the warehouse’s reinforced glass-fibre skylights, dropping down into the storage facility from above.

Once inside, they cherry picked books, some of which are incunabula, meaning they are editions printed in the first half-century of printing – the second half of the 15th century. Once the books were chosen, they were hoisted back up through the skylight and loaded onto a waiting vehicle. 

The thieves made off with 160 historic texts.  Bypassing other items, they specifically targets books from six sealed trunks belonging to three dealers,whose inventory was being held at the storage facility in advance of California's 50th International Antiquarian Book Fair.  

Some of the more recognizable (but not necessarily the most valuable) texts stolen during the brazen burglary are:

Two rare editions of Dante Alighieri's narrative poem "La Divina Commedia" (Divine Comedy), one published by Giolito in Venice in 1555 and another in Venice by Domenico Farri in 1569

Copernicus' major theory De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres), published in the year of his death, 1543. 

an early version of Italian polymath Galileo Galilei's famous Opera , (pictured below) who was tried for heresy in 1633 and sentenced to house arrest for his admiration of Copernicus.  This edition, by Carlo Manolessi, contains many unpublished writings, as well as various writings of opponents of Galilei, Capra, Colombe, Grazia, Grassi and others, with their with their refutations. Zeitlinger: "The first collected edition of Galileo's work". Lacking Dialogue of Maximum Systems and the Letter to Christina of Lorraine, then still at the Forbidden Index and which will have to wait until 1744 and respectively 1808 to be reprinted. However, the allegory of Della Bella, disguising the heliocentric system by Medici coat of arms, he succeeded to declare openly in the Frontispiece the Copernican heresy. Galileo is kneeling at the feet of three female figures inpersonificanti Astronomy, Optics and Mathematics; to them with his hand raised, shows the coat of arms from the center of which depart the light rays and the planets are arranged like the six globes of the coat of arms of the Medici. Riccardi: "This year, though less abundant of succeeding, and bran, it is nevertheless highly esteemed, and not easy to be complete, because the various treaties having numbering and frontispiece particular, they were often distracted by the whole body of works." "Questo esemplare corrisponde perfettamente a quello censito in Iccu. Cinti, 132; Gamba, 482; Zeitlinger, I, 1435-6; Riccardi, I, 518-9, n. 17; De Vesme, p. 255, n. 965; IT\ICCU\UFIE\000447.

An impressive copy of Jo(h)annes Myritius' "Opvscvlvm geographicvm rarvm, totivs eivs negotii rationem, mira indvstria et brevitate complectens, iam recens ex diversorvm libris ac chartis, summa cura ac diligentia collectum & publicatum. (Pictured below). Ingolstadt, Wolfgang Eder, 1590. In a contemporary vellum binding made with parts of a 15th-century missal mss., water-stained and wormed, some slight damage to spine, lack epistles & a full-page heraldic woodcut, and pp. 131-136 with the portrait and another full-page heraldic wood-cut, the penultimate leave with colophon and printer‘s device, and the final blank) 

Sir Isaac Newton's "Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy." (pictured below) Translated into English, and illustrated with a commentary, by Robert Thorp, M. A. Volume the First [all published]. London: Printed for W. Strahan; and T. Cadell, in the Strand, 1777. (and) Newton, Isaac. Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy translated into English and illustrated with a Commentary by Robert Thorp, D.D., Archdeacon of Northumberland. London: T. Cadell Jun. & W. Davies, 1802. The translator Robert Thorp's copy, with his name on title, extensively annotated by him in the mar-gins with diagrams.

Alessandro Meda Riquier of Meda Riquier Rare Books Ltd., in London lost a total of 51 books in the theft.  He estimates his company's losses at close to £1 million.

Speaking with Sky News Mr Riquier stated that 90% of German colleague Michael Kühn of Antiquariat Michael Kühn's books were taken, while Italian bookseller Renato Bado of Antiquariato Librario Bado E Mart S.A.S., from Padua estimates he has lost 60 percent of his holdings including the precious Copernicus.  Bado's stated losses are approximately £680,000. 

But why were the books at a storage facility in the first place? 

Storage facilities such as these are used for off-site storage of valuable rare books and archives in transit and in storage as they provide owners with condition reporting as well as a climate controlled settings to store objects at a museum-approved humidity. High relative humidity (RH) along with high temperature, can encourage potentially devastating biological damage to older texts.  Lower humidity or more accurately, controlled moisture content in equilibrium with lower RH slows can slow chemical deterioration and helps preserve historic texts. This makes bonded warehouses suitable for archives repositories, as well as for shipment intermediary points for historic books that are fragile.  

That is, of course, if the storage facility's security does what it is intended to do.

Theft to order or insider job?

A book antiquarian ARCA spoke with, who asked to remain anonymous, stated that he believes that the theft was ordered by a specific collector, since the stolen texts are quite recognisable and well documented.  Also with the announcement of the theft and the itemization of the texts stolen in the heist, they will be impossible to sell on the open market through legitimate auction houses or through book antiquarians.

Given the thieves went straight for the books, and appeared to know the vulnerabilities of the warehouse's security, it is plausible to consider that the thieves had awareness of what was being stored and how to enter the facility without being detected. 

Why steal rare books? 

Although the bulk of Nicolaus Copernicus’s book, demonstrating that the earth rotated around the sun, instead of the sun around the earth, was already finished in 1535, it was only printed in 1543, the year of the Polish astronomer’s death.

The first edition was printed in Nuremberg in 1543 and a second printing in Basel in 1566.  Around the globe, there are only 560 known copies of these two editions.   Purchased legitimately, like Lot 110 pictured below from a Christie's 2013 auction, first edition texts like this one are not only historically significant, but extremely valuable. 

The International League of Antiquarian Booksellers has published a lists detailing all the texts believed to have been stolen during the burglary.  They can be accessed here.

This listing which contains books and manuscripts from the 15th to the 20th century, covering a variety of topics including mediaeval book art, natural history, science, early renaissance printing, and travel has been logged with The Metropolitan Police's Stolen Art Database and run by the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers.

Book and manuscript thefts have long been a problem for national libraries and private collectors.  Unfortunately when rare texts go missing, the actual monetary value of these works stands in second place to the incalculable history that is lost.

Since many of these texts may be identified by individual characteristics ARCA urges individuals involved in the rare book trade; collectors, institutions and book merchants to carefully check and verify all provenances, especially on historic texts printed in the second half of the 15th century.

The Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association asks for the book collecting public to be on alert and if anyone offers any of these titles, please contact the Metropolitan Police on 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

For further details on the theft please contact ABA Secretary Camilla Szymanowska on 020 7421 4681 or at secretary[at] or ABA Security Chair Brian Lake on 020 7631 4220 brian[at]

By: Lynda Albertson

January 16, 2014

Document Theft at the Maryland Historical Society: The Thief that Gives Back?

by Kirsten Hower

Normally when something is stolen from a cultural institution, the odds of the objects being returned is minimal, and often nothing is returned.  It is nearly unheard of for the objects to be returned…let alone for additional objects to be brought along in the return.  Oddly enough this is the case with museums in Maryland and New York, and document thieves Barry H. Landau and Jason James Savedoff.

Over the course of eight months, Landau and Savedoff stole ten thousand historical documents from cultural institutions such as the New York Historical Society and the Maryland Historical Society.  One of the documents stolen is a letter from Benjamin Franklin to John Paul Jones, a naval fighter in the American Revolution, dated April 1, 1780 which was stolen from the New York Historical Society.  The thousands of other historical documents included letters and other written pieces by Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt. 

It was not until July 2011 that both Landau and Savedoff were caught sneaking documents into specially tailored coats at the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore, Maryland.  Had it not been for the vigilant observations of one of the Society’s employees, the two men may never have been caught and the extent of their thefts never uncovered.  However, they were caught and subsequently charged for the thefts resulting in a seven year prison sentence for Landau and a one year prison sentence for Savedoff, who was released this past November.

What is particularly interesting about this case was that once the documents were returned, additional documents were discovered.  The “Baltimore Sun” reported that ten percent of the returned documents do not have traceable origins and are therefore homeless for the time being.  After temporarily staying at the National Archives in College Park, the documents were taken to the Maryland Historical Society in August where they will remain until they are claimed by their rightful owners.

News source:
Jessica Anderson, The Baltimore Sun, "Theft case leaves additional documents at Maryland Historical Society," December 31, 2013

August 11, 2011

Codex Calixtinus is missing

El Códice Calixtino
Editor's note: The ARCA blog received this submitted post in Spanish and decided to publish it as we're an international blog.

by Juan José Prieto Gutiérrez. Ph.D, Complutense University of Madrid.

El Códice Calixtino del siglo XII, considerado una de las joyas del Patrimonio Bibliográfico y Documental gallego, desapareció misteriosamente el pasado 5 de julio de la Catedral de Santiago de Compostela. La obra, que recoge la tradición de las peregrinaciones y la Ruta Jacobea, estaba custodiada en el Archivo catedralicio.

El manuscrito forma parte de una colección de sermones y textos litúrgicos y sirvió como una especie de guía para el mundialmente conocido Camino de Santiago, el cual se remonta a la Edad Media.

Las primeras investigaciones relatan que no existen "signos de violencia", pese a que el Códice se encontraba en unas dependencias privadas de acceso restringido y vetadas tanto a los investigadores como al público general (sólo tres personas tenían acceso directo a la sala donde se custodiaba el manuscrito; el propio deán y archivero y sus dos colaboradores, uno que trabaja por la mañana y otro durante la tarde.

Cabe destacar, que el libro se enseñaba en muy contadas ocasiones, de hecho, los investigadores trabajaban con la edición facsímil que se realizó hace unos años. Solo se podía ver en circunstancias muy concretas, y siempre en presencia de un responsable del archivo. Hace 18 años que no se exhibe fuera del archivo.

Por lo que en un principio se barajado la posibilidad de “venganza” o el hecho de dar a conocer a la sociedad los bajos índices de seguridad que rodean a los archivos y bibliotecas en España.

Falta de seguridad en Santiago: Las primeras investigaciones realizadas generan enormes fallos de seguridad:
1. La llave de la cámara de seguridad donde se custodiaba el libro estaba habitualmente puesta.
2. Las cámaras de seguridad solamente están instaladas en el claustro de la catedral, no en la zona donde se encuentran las joyas bibliográficas.
Ante estos hechos, cada vez se inclina más la balanza de que el robo se haya producido por personal del centro, de la propia Catedral de Santiago, la cual suma cerca de 70 personas. La regla general es que entre el 60% y 70% de las desapariciones en bibliotecas y archivos son producidas por personal de la casa o están involucrados.

Durante las primeras semanas se esperaba la devolución del material bajo secreto de confesión. Teniendo en cuenta una llamada anónima que habló expresamente de devolver el manuscrito. Pero este hecho pierde credibilidad día a día.

Realidad: La alarma social suele durar de 10 a 20 días. Se revisan las medidas de seguridad, se hacen algunos seguros, o se revisan las pólizas... y después, todo vuelve a ser como antes, por desgracia, hasta el siguiente suceso.

Las legislaciones españolas no inciden en los planes de seguridad concretos que se deben poner en marcha con el fin de custodiar Patrimonio de estas características.
Teniendo en cuenta que el arte religioso es "muy demandado en el mercado mundial de coleccionistas" y que el patrimonio bibliográfico es fácil transportarlo sin levantar sospechas, se confía a la colaboración policial internacional para localizar el manuscrito.

España es de los países mas azotados por los robos en bibliotecas en los últimos años, en el año 2007 se descubrió la desaparición de más de 100 documentos históricos en la Biblioteca del Ministerio de Exteriores, en 2008 se detiene a Cesar Gómez Rivero, autor del robo de la Biblioteca Nacional Española, en verano de 2009 se detiene Zslot Vamos con 67 documentos, faltando por recuperar 53.

Y ante este desgraciado hecho, volvemos a preguntarnos:
1. ¿Cuando se van a tomar en serio las medidas de seguridad en los espacios donde se custodia Patrimonio bibliográfico y documental?
2. ¿Cuando se va a instruir adecuadamente a bibliotecarios y archiveros?
3. ¿La cooperación nacional e internacional dará sus frutos?, etc.

December 24, 2009

Report on the IFCPP Art and Book Theft Conference at Ohio State

by Doug McGrew

Perhaps when you recall incidents of cultural property theft your mind dwells on incidents in Europe or major institutions within the United States. Along this same process you remember priceless works of art created from oil and canvass missing from those institutions. Your thought process would only be partially correct.

On November 10th 2009, the Heartland Chapter of the International Foundation for Cultural Property Protection organized a daylong seminar titled: Cultural Heritage at Risk, Art and Book Theft: Past, Present, Future. Nearly 100 attendees from the cultural property community around the state of Ohio and beyond attended this event organized by Douglas McGrew and hosted at The Ohio State University’s Wexner Center for the Arts.

The mission for this seminar was simple and unique. Change the perception on what others view as cultural property and change your personal networks. Invitations were sent to a wide base of professionals in the cultural property community. This was an intentional casting according to Doug McGrew and one he believes made this event a successful venture. “We deliberately invited curators, registrars, librarians, archivist, collectors and law enforcement professionals. We wanted them in the same room, sharing observations, meeting new folks outside of their traditional networks. At the end of the day, hopefully, the attendees gained a new understanding of what cultural property is and how to protect our heritage.”

To accomplish this mission featured speakers Noah Charney and Travis McDade were enlisted to share their research and efforts to protecting cultural assets. Professor Travis McDade with the University of Illinois shared findings with the group focusing on thefts of rare books and manuscripts. Thoughtfully Prof. McDade covered cases with connection to the Ohio area and particularly touching on individuals with ties to Columbus the host city for this seminar. Mr. Charney continued the event covering some well known cases but also provided valuable information on prevention and recommendations for improving current procedures within the attendee’s institutions.

The speaking portion of the day was concluded with a roundtable discussion with McDade and Charney. Joining this discussion were:

· Patrick Maughan – former director of security the Ohio State University

· John Kleberg – former director of the Department of Public Safety, the Ohio State University

· Paul Denton – current chief of police, the Ohio State University

The roundtable provided expertise from all sides of the cultural property community, demonstrating the need to have a diverse professional network. After sharing their professional experiences creating, administering and protecting cultural property the entire panel received questions from the guest. The event concluded with the screening of the documentary The Rape of Europa.

Post mortem discussions have been very fruitful and the positive feedback received from participants has been overwhelming. Planning is currently underway for the next installment of what will become a series of events under the Cultural Heritage at Risk banner.

March 14, 2009

Steal the World

(The following is an english translation of an article that appeared in the Spanish national newspaper ABC in 2008)

A razorblade left on a library floor.

That was the slip-up that led to his arrest. Over 8 years, he had sliced out at least one-hundred rare maps from the world’s greatest libraries.

But this is not the tale of Cesar Gomez Rivero, the thief of Spain’s National Library maps. Nor is it the story of Ben Johnson, the student intern who stole and mutilated scores of important historical letters while working at Yale’s Beinecke Library. This is the story of the American Edward Forbes Smiley III, convicted in May of 2007. He, along with Gomez Rivero and Johnson, are just a few thieves among thousands worldwide who profit from the theft of rare maps, books, and manuscripts.

Map theft is frighteningly commonplace. But discreet statistics are rarely if ever kept by police, so the exact number of book, manuscript, and map thefts per year in various countries is unclear. In the US alone, there are certainly the thousands per year. It is safe to say that there are tens of thousands each year worldwide, the map thefts alone worth tens of millions of euros. The Gomez Rivero case made international headlines, and shook Spain’s infrastructure to the point of politicians and cultural ministers resigning in disgrace, for their failure to protect the treasures in Spain’s National Library. For much of the world, the exposure of Gomez Rivero was a shock—how could this criminal mastermind steal such valuable works from a prominent national institution. But for those in the know, the greatest surprise around the Gomez Rivero case is not that someone was stealing from a national library, but that someone was actually caught.

Gomez Rivero, who admited to the theft of nineteen maps, eleven of which have been recovered, is a small-time crook, compared to a master thief like Smiley. Mr Smiley used Xacto knife blades and wet string to silently dismember rare maps all over the world. He altered the edges to hide his cuts and bleached out ownership stamps, before selling the maps to international collectors and dealers. Among the libraries he victimized are the New York Public Library (eleven maps stolen), the Boston Public Library (thirty-four stolen), Yale University Library (twenty), Harvard University Library (eight), the Newberry Library in Chicago (two), and the British Library (one). And how many stolen works are still out there, which he has not admitted to? The Boston Public Library alone reported thirty-three more maps discovered missing from books which Smiley had consulted in their archives.

The libraries of Yale University have been frequently victimized, and provide a microcosmic example indicative of the huge global problem. In 1973 a pair of priests were charged with the theft of rare books from Yale and other university libraries around the United States. They would conceal rare books under their priestly vestments. The FBI raided their headquarters at the Saint Stephen’s Monastery in Queens, New York, and found hundreds of stolen books. In 1979 Andrew Antippas, a visiting professor from Tulane University, pleaded guilty to having stolen five rare maps from one of Yale’s libraries. In 1981 an antique microscope, built in 1734 and valued at $10,000 (€7000), was stolen from Yale, only to be recovered in a trash can. In 1997, a man called John Ray stole a valuable 19th century art book. And in 2001, 21-year-old summer intern Ben Johnson stole fifty items valued over $2 million (€1.2 million) from Yale’s rare books library, the Beinecke. Keep in mind that these instances are from Yale libraries only, and are only those which were discovered. Certainly countless more have occurred that have not been detected, at Yale, in Madrid, and at libraries worldwide. As Spain’s Foreign Ministry admitted, at least 300 “highly valued” objects have disappeared from the National Library in recent years. A Ministry spokesman said that “already back in 1859 the odd disappearance of a book has been noticed” and yet security remained lax.

Map theft carves a fascinating niche in the history of art crime. Professor Travis McDade of University of Illinois Law School is perhaps the world’s leading expert in rare book and manuscript crime. In a recent conversation with the author, he described what makes map collecting, and the thefts that supply its demand, distinct from other types of art crime. Unlike fine art, which is most often unique, instantly recognizable and traceable, illicit rare maps may be sold at a legitimate level. Gomez Rivero sold some through eBay, for instance. The greatest difficulty in most art crime is not in the stealing but in the selling. Maps, most of which are printed on paper, are far easier to carry, to smuggle, and to sell. McDade puts much of the blame for the ease of sale on over-zealous dealers. “Map dealers are allowed to plead ignorance, saying that they thought the stolen map they bought was a rare opportunity, a fantastic buy. Doesn’t it seem to you that if the owner of an art gallery was approached by some man who just happened to have a Velazquez available, that the art gallery owner should be very suspicious? Some in the map dealer community have been less than assiduous in patrolling their own borders.”

Map collecting has its own qualities, distinct from art or book collecting. Unlike rare books, maps have a display appeal. But unlike most art, maps do not require specialized knowledge to discuss. Much of the pleasure of collecting is not only in the conspicuous display, but in a conspicuous didacticism. To own an object of high value about which you can point out details which are invisible to first-time viewers shows off one’s worldliness. Map collecting appeals to the wealthy dilleton who wants to appear knowledgeable, but does not necessarily have the background training.

Professor McDade explains. “Maybe [the collector] notices that, in an African map, a particular cove in Madagascar wasn’t surveyed, or in another map a particular island in the West Indies was neglected. This is something he can point out to his guests, and he’s likely to be the only person to have noticed it. Often little or nothing has been written about collected maps, so the owner may be the foremost expert on that interesting and unique item on his wall. Never underestimate the need for serious people to have themselves considered smart.”

Map theft is all too easy for several reasons. Compared to art, maps, books, and manuscripts tend to receive little or no protection. Maps tend to be housed in libraries, archives, or offices where researchers are inherently trusted. As McDade warns, “thieves posing as researchers are given some sort of solitary access to items and, even if he only has five to ten seconds, if he knows what he’s doing he can easily cut the map from its housing.” Cameras are easily blocked by the body, and there is little chance that a researcher is being monitored throughout his visit. Maps are works on paper, and are therefore easy to transport, hide, and smuggle. And finally, most maps are not catalogued at an item level, only in their overall binding. “For instance,” McDade describes, “if a library has a 1667 Blaeu Atlas with 100 maps in it, most libraries only catalogue the atlas and not each individual map within it.” So the removal of one page from a book can go undetected for years. “Even if a library has catalogued each map within a book, they likely won’t check each of the maps very often. Discovery will only happen when another person happens to be interested in the same map.”

Just as Spaniards should not think that map theft is a rare occurrence and has happened only to them, they should take some cold comfort in knowing that poor library security is an international handicap. McDade concludes, “the library thefts in Madrid, far from being unique, actually follow a standard practice. A researcher is given access to these things, he knows exactly how to avoid the meager security, he knows exactly what he wants, and no one is ever the wiser.” The surprise is not in the National Library thefts having occurred at all, but that someone was careless enough to have been caught.

The importance of studying the history of art crime is the ability to learn from past mistakes and take measures to prevent it in the future. Edward Forbes Smiley III, Ben Johnson, and Cesar Gomez Rivero offer us many lessons in how to protect maps in our libraries. Researchers, even those known to librarians, should be treated with polite suspicion. Glass-topped work tables should be used so that nothing can be concealed beneath them. Work spaces should be open on the sides, not hemmed in by privacy walls. Video cameras should record steadily the workspace for researchers. Digital images should be catalogued of all maps in a library’s collection, to facilitate identification and tracing. Books should be flipped through at regular intervals, to insure that all of the valuable pages are in place. Staff should occasionally sit with researchers while they work. Rare items should never mix with items from the library’s general collections, to prevent concealment or swapping. Laptops and bags must be opened on entry and departure, always. To defend against insider thefts, better screening of employees is needed, including regular evaluations, monitoring, and exit interviews upon the termination of employment.

There are hundreds of Smileys and Johnsons and Gomez Riveros still out there, plundering one of the least protected of the world’s treasure troves. But we can learn from past thieves how to defend against those in the future.

(For more about ARCA's activities in the field of library and archive security, please see the international conference held at the National Library of Spain and sponsored by AXA last November...After its great success, ARCA is preparing a US conference on the same subject: and