Many of the links below point to messages sent to the ExLibris list. In June 2009, the list's archive was transferred from Stanford University Libraries to the Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation. Although the intention was to make the archive "publicly available again as soon as possible" this has not yet happened (February 2011). Those links no longer work but they have been left on the page in case they become functional again later.
Another good place for breaking news is < http://www.maproomblog.com/ > The Map Room weblog, whose archive includes a section on Map Thefts.
Among the reaction from newspapers and journals, the following piece by the author in The Boston Globe (23 May 2014),
- http://www.bostonglobe.com/magazine/2014/05/23/trail-martha-vineyard-rare-map-thief/qbFFssloEpByBZ4vK14DgL/story.html - 'On
the trail of Martha’s Vineyard’s rare map thief', is worth noting.
"According to intelligence, the criminals usually stole to order from national archives, libraries and cultural
institutions all over the EU. After gaining access to valuable books – often from the sixteenth and seventeenth
centuries – they cut out the desired maps or pages before smuggling them out of the building.
The members of this criminal group are suspected of having committed thefts with this modus operandi in Belgium, France,
Germany, Hungary, Italy, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain and Switzerland.
Global losses caused by the group are thought to be in the millions of euros, but the stolen objects have a priceless
cultural and historical value to the countries from which they were stolen.
The investigation is still ongoing with suspects in jail awaiting trial.
"Europol supported the investigation by organising operational meetings between the investigators and providing
ad-hoc analysis of case intelligence. In addition, an alert report warning EU law enforcement authorities about
this specific modus operandi was issued. International law enforcement coordination is essential to solve such
cases and Member States are therefore encouraged to report similar cases in their countries to national
authorities and Europol. "
A later report, 27 February, from XpatLoop, 'Hungary’s Interior Minister
Returns Antique Maps Stolen From France', added that "The  maps, cut out of books, were stolen from the
Library of Toulouse in 2012 and were discovered in the same year in a car near Gyor in north-western Hungary"
See also 'Birmingham University library hit by £200,000 burglary' (by Nick McCarthy in the Birmingham Post, 5 August
burglary-97319-20766006/ > - 'Historic books, maps and letters worth £200,000 were stolen from Birmingham
University. The documents, which have since been recovered, were taken from a secure collections department at the
university library in February ... A spokesman for the university declined to give details of what was taken whilst
it was subject to a police investigation and court proceedings, but he confirmed that the items have been recovered.'
As can be seen the accounts disagree about the value of the stolen material. His age is variously given as 36 and 37.
This later report talks of him 'facing charges' where the earlier one announced the sentence.
'Auction house Christie’s valued the maps at £70,000, or
around 1 million kroner, while Bellwood’s lawyer claimed the value to be only around 40,000 kroner. The
Royal Library sought a total of 4.2 million kroner in compensation for the loss, which included the
destruction of the maps’ original books. Yet the court required Bellwood to pay only 324,000 kroner in
retribution in addition to his one-year jail sentence.
'He will begin serving the sentence in 2009, after he has finished serving his UK jail term. The
whereabouts of the maps are presently unknown, as Bellwood had sold them on. Bellwood received his Danish
sentence from the Eastern High Court on Tuesday and was given the chance to speak in his defence. ‘I would
like to take this opportunity to apologise to the library and the Danish people,’ he told the court. ‘I am
very sorry for what I’ve done.’ Bellwood had also robbed libraries in other European capitals and it was
only due to the Royal Library’s cameras that he was identified and later caught' [via
Philobiblos.] See also a statement from the Danish Royal Library, posted to the MapHist list on 16
'The FBI estimates $6 billion is lost annually in crimes against cultural institutions worldwide. Strassberg
advocates spending more on security and tougher sentences for the thieves ... Mandatory bag inspections of
State Library and Archives employees as they leave work have been discussed over the years, but have not been
put in place because of concerns raised by unions and the added cost.' As one librarian pointed out: "We're
always trying to balance access and security".
[The full text also available via
'Margolis said investigators have returned 31 maps that Smiley admitted taking from the Boston library. In addition, Smiley has
paid the library $7,000 in restitution for another map he stole that cannot be found, Margolis said. Three other maps have not
been located, he said. Curators at the library inventoried their rare maps after the thefts came to light, and discovered 36 more
missing maps worth almost $1 million. Two of those maps have since been returned by collectors in Boston and Maryland, Margolis
said, and efforts to uncover the others at auctions are ongoing ... The Boston library has spent about $200,000 on improved
security and surveillance systems to prevent future thefts, Margolis said. All visitors to the rare-books room now sign in and
out. But by necessity, the thefts have left the library a less trusting place.' Also giving details of the three maps still
missing from Harvard.
Smiley had dealt principally in the rarest and most expensive antique American maps. Reese put together a list of about a hundred
likely targets. To find out which of them had once been in the collection but had disappeared, staff assistant Margit Kaye tracked
down old acquisitions records, and the staff pored over microfiche of the card catalog as it existed in 1978. All this research
was necessary because, disturbingly, the cards for many of the missing maps were themselves missing from the catalog ...
Today, Sterling and its storage space have been renovated. No one sees any of Sterling's rare maps without first signing a form
and listing the map requested. Patrons can see only one item at a time, and only while they themselves are under constant
surveillance by two video cameras. Two full-time catalogers are now at work in the collection, and the 11,000 rarities are their
main charge ...' The longer-term plan is to scan the 11,000 rare maps. [The full text also available via ExLibris.]
About an example of the 1612 Champlain map of New England, missing from the Boston Public Library collection and identified by the map curator Ron Grim in the catalogue of Cohen & Taliaferro. Although E. Forbes Smiley was the last person recorded as seeing it, this was not one of those he confessed to having taken. The key to the identification lay in copy-specific details that were revealed in the digital image taken earlier by the library. The dealer returned the map.
See also < http://www.finebooksmagazine.com/press/2015/12/map-believed-stolen-from-the-boston-public-library-is-found-and-returned.phtml > 'Map Believed Stolen from the Boston Public Library is Found and Returned' (Fine Books & Collections, 4 December 2015).
Includes the statement: "Earlier this summer, the library told the police that about 20 three-century-old maps had vanished from its Richelieu-Louvois branch, a 17th-century mansion in the heart of Paris that is undergoing renovation."
A round-up, including Forbes Smiley, based partly on an interview with Bonnie Magness-Gardiner, manager of the FBI’s Art Theft Program, with comments on the available listings of stolen books, favouring ILAB's Stolen-Book.org.
A phone interview with Michael Blanding, author of The Map Thief: the gripping story of an esteemed rare-map dealer who made millions stealing priceless maps. Including for example: "Q: Do you know how the restitution is going to those he stole from or sold stolen maps to? Is it likely all will be made whole? A: I believe that they are garnering his wages, that's my impression, and that the dealers get very small checks every month or every few months. I don't expect he will ever be able to pay everyone back".
'Peter Bellwood was jailed for four-and-a-half years at Swansea Crown Court in 2004 after confessing to stealing 50 documents from the Aberystwyth’s National Library of Wales from March to August 2000. The gambling addict sold them for £70,000. But when the institution checked their archives they found 107 maps and one portrait had been plundered. Only 12 maps have ever been found – leaving 95 maps and the portrait still unaccounted for.
'Tim Bryars, who runs Tim Bryars Ltd, a specialist map shop in London said: “These maps are gong to be difficult if not impossible to trace because they are not quite rare enough, or valuable enough, to arouse suspicion in a dealer.” Work stolen was by famous cartographers including Ortelius, Mercator, Hondius and John Speed.'
"I have supplemented this list with my own research and reporting, verifying the information whenever possible with the curators at the institutions, most of whom were very open to assisting me. I also visited each of the six affected institutions and examined the books and maps themselves, in most cases personally viewing and photographing the items that have been recovered. While inevitably there may be errors in the listing, the final lists are as close to definitive as I have been able to make them."
Even if collectors, rare map dealers and auction houses do not acquire the book they should certainly make sure to have those lists beside them when considering a future purchase of any similar item listed there. Otherwise it could be argued that the requirement for 'due diligence' will not have been met.
'Rear Adm. Samuel Eliot Morison was a friend to President Franklin D. Roosevelt who knew the ins and outs of the Navy's strategy during World War II. He would go on to write the definitive history of the Navy's wartime operations in a collection that spanned 15 volumes. In February 2013, an employee at the Naval archives in the Washington Navy Yard discovered that some of Morison's papers — a trove of maps, charts and photographs that informed his writings — had gone missing.
On Tuesday, Morison's 69-year-old grandson was arrested and charged in the theft after some of the records turned up for sale on eBay. Samuel L. Morison of Crofton, Md., who had already been pardoned by President Bill Clinton for leaking classified photos to the media nearly three decades ago, is accused in court papers of stealing scores of items from his grandfather's collection ... The elder Morison, who died in 1976, was a well-regarded historian who had a warship named after him. His biographies of Christopher Columbus and John Paul Jones were awarded the Pulitzer Prize ... In 1985, Morison was found guilty of giving three classified spy satellite photographs to the British magazine Jane's Defence Weekly. He was pardoned by Clinton in 2001. Nine years later, Morison was hired as a part-time researcher in a position that gave him access to his grandfather's historical records at the Navy archives known as "Office Files of Rear Admiral Morison Papers."'
Admiral S.E. Morison also wrote the two-volume European Discovery of America.
A preview of Michael Blanding's The Map Thief due out in June. It includes some new material based on the author's six-hour interview with Forbes Smiley. Now known as 'Ed', rather than Forbes, he was working as a landscape labourer. One or two extracts:
“The Sterling Library is the first place I realized I had access to material that was not well-catalogued, and it wasn’t clear it would be missed,” Smiley told Blanding. “I am looking at a piece of paper that I can fold and put in my pocket, that people in New York expect me to show up with because I’ve been doing this for 25 years legitimately.”
“There’s something of a Greek tragedy in the hubris he showed,” Blanding said. Smiley told him, “The libraries weren’t using these things, and I’m building collections where they are going to be used.” After Smiley’s arrest, Yale closed its map department for months. Reese and others conducted a thorough examination of the collection, finding that a number of other maps were missing as well. According to Blanding’s book, Yale found 30 catalog cards for missing maps in the office of Fred Musto, curator of Sterling’s map collection. The university fired Musto for gross mismanagement.
Graham Arader chips in with: “Not only was (Smiley) stealing stuff, he was selling copies of maps as the real thing.”
"A Hungarian organised criminal group, specialising in the theft of rare and valuable maps, has been dismantled by Hungarian and French law enforcement authorities, supported by Europol. After a lengthy two-year investigation, a common action day has led to the arrests of 11 criminal group members (7 in Hungary; 4 in France) and the seizure of more than 400 stolen antique maps in Hungary. Today, 110 valuable maps of French origin seized in this operation are being returned to French authorities during an official ceremony at the French Embassy in Budapest. The ceremony will be attended by the Hungarian Minister of Interior, the French ambassador, the French Police and Home Affairs attaché in Hungary, representatives of the French and Hungarian investigators, and Europol.
The volume had been sold by Sotheby's in London the year before that, where it was bought by W. Graham Arader III. When a Stockholm librarian noticed it in his inventory, Arader returned it to Sotheby's, who passed it back to the Library 10 days ago. Arader pointed out that the Library had never published a list of what was known to have been stolen (despite the thief having removed the catalogue cards as well). The new climate is very much in favour of full and immediate disclosure, giving the antiquarian book and map trade a chance to exercise 'due diligence' and avoid purchasing such items. It also significantly increases the chance that the thief will be caught. Earlier this month, the Library belatedly issued a list of the 55 books that are still missing.
It would seem that most of the stolen books were illustrated. Besides works on astronomy, navigation and travel, there are a number of atlases or books with maps, by, for example, Apian, Bertius, Bertelli, Champlain, Henepin, Montanus, Tschudi and Zeiller.
All but two of the books were recorded as having been sold, in two cases twice, in a succession of sales (1995-2009), partly by F. Dörling but mostly at their successors, the Hamburg auction house Ketterer Kunst. The New York Times notes that "the police later discovered that Mr. Burius started stealing rare books as early as 1986 from at least four other prominent libraries. A number of stolen texts were found in his home and in a friend’s garage. As for the others, Mr. Burius ground off identifying marks and sold them, mainly to the German auction house Ketterer Kunst, using an alias. He told the police that he was never asked to show proof of the books’ provenance and that he was always paid in cash. Mr. Burius said he believed “that the auction firm understood that he didn’t have the right to sell them,” according to a 2008 Swedish government report". Ketterer Kunst have yet to supply an explanation.
Focusing on the attempts to identify material from the US National Archives among items recovered from Barry Landau, this broadens out into an account of how the badly staffed US agencies are trying to deal with increasing levels of cultural theft.
The discursive piece about Barry Landau, accused of stealing American historical documents, includes the following: "Yale University clamped down on library security a few years ago after antiquities dealer E. Forbes Smiley confessed to widespread map theft on the campus and elsewhere, says Lynn Ieronimo, the head of security at Yale's Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library. That library has installed casino-style cameras that hover over every table in the glass-walled reading room, and the library is considering adding facial recognition software to its arsenal says Ms. Ieronimo, who adds that everyone's belongings, including her own, are searched upon departure."
'One of the books stolen from the Swedish National Library in the beginning of the 2000s has been discovered with a collector in New York. This is the first of the books stolen in the by now infamous book thefts to have been tracked down. “The discovery was a combination between coincidence and skill, actually,” said head of information at the National Library (Kungliga Biblioteket –KB) Urban Rybrink to The Local.
'In 2004 literary Sweden was hit by scandal when it was discovered that a respected specialist at the National Library in Stockholm had been pilfering rare books to a value of at least nine million kronor ($1.4 mllion) from the library’s collections and selling them off at auction houses worldwide for a number of years. After admitting to the crime while questioned by the police, the man took his own life five days after being released from custody by slitting his wrists and severing a gas lead in his kitchen ...
'At the time the library was not allowed to make the list of stolen titles public due to the ongoing police investigation. But only a few weeks ago, library specialists looking into another atlas up for sale in New York, discovered a book, seemingly similar to an atlas they knew as stolen, among the books of a New York collector. “We have been able to verify that it is the right book by help of photos and descriptions sent back and forward between the library and the collector, “ said Rybrink. The book, an atlas from the 16th century called "Descriptionis Ptolemaicae augmentum, sive Occidentis notitia brevi commentario" which was made by Cornelis van Wytfliet, covers the “new world”; North and South America.'
The article then explains why the Royal Library has little chance of getting the book back since it had been sold, several times, in good faith.
'Mr. Gilkey is reported to have a storage unit containing rare books, autographs, prints, maps, stamps, comic books, Hollywood and film memorabilia, and coins. Many of these objects may have been obtained through fraud. However, police cannot obtain a search warrant of the storage unit until they provide a judge with a list of items that they are seeking ...'
< http://www.ilab.org/eng/news/928-michael_inman_a_long_road_home_investigation_and_recovery_in_the_e__forbes_smiley_map_thefts.html >
DC Michelle Roycroft, of the Art and Antiques Unit, said: "Doyle's arrest and subsequent charge demonstrates how by working closely with our partners in the museums and trade organisations we will combat thieves and thwart their attempts to profit from robbing Britain's heritage." Doyle appeared at Wood Green Crown Court, in Lordship Lane, on January 25, where a judge sentenced him to 15 months imprisonment.
Further on the William Jacques case. He had been in jail before for book theft. 'Between October 1996 and May 1999, he stole about 500 extremely rare books and pamphlets from Cambridge, the British Library and London Library. Many were then sold on through auction houses in the UK and abroad, netting him hundreds of thousands of pounds...'
'Many booksellers feel there has historically been a reluctance on the part of libraries to acknowledge there was a problem, with many fearing adverse publicity. "There were cases where embarrassment played a part and fear of how donors would react," says [Julian] Rota [President of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association]. However, he adds that many great research institutions are now much better prepared to tackle theft. "You don't want to have so much security that people can't get to the books," he says. "But libraries are much more clued up about theft than certain ones were 20 years ago."'
[Excerpts from the article about the jailing of William Jacques, which includes a photo]: 'A serial book thief who used a Cambridge degree and a tweed jacket as a "shabby cloak of respectability" to mask his deeds was jailed for three-and-a-half years today for stealing books worth £40,000 from the Royal Horticultural Society's library. There was, as the prosecution pointed out, little sophistication in the strategy employed by William Jacques, who had already been given a four-year sentence for plundering £1m-worth of rare books in the late 1990s. Armed with his scholarly jacket and a pair of glasses, the man dubbed "tome raider" began frequenting the RHS's Lindley library in Vincent Square, central London, and signing in under the false name of Santoro. But his regular visits and limited wardrobe soon caught the eye of staff, who grew suspicious. On one occasion, Southwark crown court heard, the defendant "was seen to place something inside his jacket and walk away with his left arm stiff against his jacket as if holding something". "It was rather crude," noted Gino Connor, prosecuting. "But it was effective."'
'... not only did the [police] find a piece of paper bearing the names of 70 volumes of rare books, all kept at the library, along with their precise locations, there were also notes on the books' valuations and whether they included maps and plates that could be removed and sold separately. They then came across a card for London's Senate House library, also in the name of Santoro...'
'Because he has never revealed his true address, investigators believe he may have stashed the rare books he stole in a secret location....' The thief, who failed to pay the £56,327 demanded when he was last before the courts, faces confiscation proceedings next January. With interest, the amount outstanding now totals £93,000.' On Jacques see also below, 2 February 2009.
'Durham University has made a renewed appeal for the return of six historic books and manuscripts stolen more than 10 years ago. The items, valued at about £160,000, formed part of an exhibition at the University Library charting the progress of English literature. Also taken during the theft in 1998 was a priceless Shakespeare First Folio. This has now been returned following the conviction of Raymond Scott for handling stolen property. The 53-year-old, of Wingate in County Durham, was warned he faced jail after being cleared of stealing the Folio but found guilty of handling stolen goods and removing stolen property from the UK. Security arrangements at the library at Palace Green have been significantly tightened since the 1998 theft.
The missing documents include a manuscript by the medieval political writer Egidius Romanus, and a volume containing three works on English history with maps - Michael Drayton's Poly-Olbion (1612); William Slayter's The History of Great Britanie (1621) and Matthew Stevenson's Florus Britannicus (1662). Dr Sheila Hingley, head of heritage collections at Durham University, said: "The theft of these historic books and manuscripts was devastating for the university community. "We were all delighted at the return of the Shakespeare First Folio, and we would love to be reunited with the other missing books and manuscripts which form an important part of the historically significant collections held at the University." A Durham Police spokeswoman appealed for anyone with information to ring Crimestoppers.'
"... I’m writing a screenplay now, which I’m trying to direct, and it’s about a man who was a well-known map expert, who was famous for having discovered certain maps, and he was caught stealing from the Beinecke Library at Yale a few years ago. A guy named Forbes Smiley, he was actually a college friend of mine. The screenplay also has references to other things that happened to Forbes Smiley, although most of it is invention [!]. And many of our friends who’ve looked at it are amazed that so much of it is invention. They thought I was going to make a biopic or something. But being able to invent gives you a lot of freedom. By the way, the film is called (Also, a Villager) ... " < http://nymag.com/daily/entertainment/2010/01/a_serious_mans_fred_melamed.html >.
'Almost nothing remains of the entire set of maps that date back to 1803-04: they depict the expanse of Mumbai (then Bombay) in great detail when the first revenue survey was carried out. Called the Dickinson survey, close to 350 rolls had every part of the city drawn - its street plan, forts, old tanks, buildings. The 200-year-old guardian of these maps has no clue how they slipped through its fingers. And in what doesn’t seem to be an admirable reflection of Asiatic Society’s efforts to preserve these records, another set of antique rolls last catalogued in 1975 is short of 150 maps. These included admiralty charts of various parts of the world, some drawn by the Portuguese who were considered prolific cartographers.
‘"It appears to be a systematic theft. Of another set of 1,330 maps that were catalogued by an internal committee of Asiatic, only 1,135 remain now. I’ve written a letter to Society regarding these missing maps. Maps have been vanishing over a period of time"', according to B Arunachalam, Professor of Geography at the University of Mumbai.
Dibbell explores the general issue of journalistic ethics, when presented with evidence of crime. A word of warning: 'As Bartlett notes in the afterword, Gilkey couldn't be stopped: just before the book went to press, he stole a book from a Canadian dealer. I'm sure it's not the last time.'
'A Czech court today sentenced 47-year-old Pole Piotr Stanislaw Peron to five years in prison for stealing 16th-century maps from the Scientific Library in Olomouc, expelled him from the Czech Republic for eight years and ordered him to pay 1.2 million crowns to the library. The verdict has not taken effect as Peron appealed it immediately.
'In March Peron took the Apian World Map, originating in 1520, away from the library, after cutting it out from an ancient book, Ioannis Camertis Minoritani. Then he attempted to steal a map from 1599. The police caught him red-handed. An expert estimated the value of the original coloured Apian map at 1.2 million crowns [about $67,000]. The value of the other map, depicting North Pole and America's northernmost parts, was estimated at 600,000 crowns. Unlike the former map, the latter has been returned to the library.
'Peron confessed to having stolen the latter map, but asserted that he has never seen the former. Judge Marketa Langerova labelled his assertion expedient. "When a library expert was giving his testimony, Peron came up with thorough information about details in the map, before being stopped by his defence lawyer. The five-year sentence was imposed in view of the danger [such crime poses] to society, of the damage caused and because significant pieces of cultural and historical heritage were involved," Langerova said.
'State attorney Petra Brncalova said Peron, with a permanent residence in Canada, was probably a member of an organised group."He was interested in history, maps and atlases. He knew how to handle books, he was an experienced professional," Brncalova said. Experts say similar maps can sell for an equivalent of up to 6 million crowns on the U.S. market, while the prices are slightly lower in Europe. In the past, Peron was prosecuted for frauds in Poland. In March he was not allowed to leave Poland and was bound to regularly report to the local police.' The article includes a photograph of the thief.
'A thief, who has already made off with nearly 70 priceless maps and documents from a number of Spanish libraries, and who was arrested by the Guardia Civil on Friday, had planned a route of robberies across the rest of Spain and abroad. Z.V., a 47-year-old Hungarian, had marked all the libraries he planned to 'visit' on a road map, continuing the journey he started in the north of Spain, passing through another 30 or so Spanish cities before moving into Portugal, France and then Italy. His 'visits' to libraries in Soria, Toledo, Valladolid, Logroño and Pamplona had already netted him 67 historic maps and cartographic documents dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries as well as several from the Ptolemaic dynasty of ancient Greece [i.e. presumably Ptolemaic maps].
'All the stolen documents have been recovered from the hotel room in Pamplona, where Z.V. was arrested on Friday. The thief has no previous criminal record and is currently resident in the Dominican Republic where he works as a second-hand car salesman. Apparently the man had no intention of selling the documents, that he wanted for his own private collection ... The police operation, codenamed 'Operación Biblión' began in March 2008, when a map dating back to 1537 was stolen from the Real Biblioteca in the San Lorenzo Monastery in Escorial (Madrid). The thief was eventually tracked down thanks to hotel records in the towns where he had stolen.'
See further two articles in Spanish: (1) < http://www.levante-emv.com/sucesos/2009/08/12/detienen-ladron-mapas-ptolomeo/620446.html > 'Detienen al ladrón de los mapas de Ptolomeo. El acusado de robar 67 documentos cartográficos tenía una hoja de ruta con bibliotecas de España, Francia y Portugal' (from levante-emv.com, 12 August 2009); and (2) < http://www.museum-security.org/?p=2478 > 'Spain - El ladrón de mapas antiguos robó páginas de ocho libros de Navarra / Among the copies seized by the Guardia Civil is the first modern atlas, Theatrum orbis terrarum (1579)' (featuring the text of an article by Nerea Alejos (Pamplona, 12 August 2009) via the Museum Security Network).
'Thieves are ripping off Kansas University’s Watson Library, tearing apart books filled with old and expensive artwork, taking what’s valuable and leaving destruction behind. Thousands of dollars worth of expensive pages have been cut apart and stolen from rare books dating to the early 1800s, their bindings and remnants left sprinkled in unusual spaces throughout the library. "It’s really unfortunate and incredibly rare that something like this would happen," said Rebecca Smith, library spokeswoman. The thefts began May 28, when two books - valued at $3,700 by the library - were damaged and parts of them stolen. The books, or large folios, contained expensive plates of unique artwork and archaeological drawings, said Lea Currie, head of collection development for KU libraries.'
Two obvious questions: how do they know more than one peron was involved, and how, after all the recent, and widely publicised, slicing out of plates from books, can those in charge of rare books find such activity surprising? No details were given here but it seems that some maps were involved. [Thanks to Heather Kinsinger for drawing my attention to this.]
'An Iranian scholar who stole pages from priceless books at Oxford's Bodleian library and the British Library has had his sentence halved. Farhad Hakimzadeh, 61, of Knightsbridge, central London, pleaded guilty to 14 counts of theft and was jailed for two years in January 2009. Judges at the Appeal Court reduced the sentence to 12 months and a deportation order was overturned ...
'William Boyce QC, for the scholar, pleaded his "philanthropic and charitable works" in mitigation, asking for his jail term to be decreased. Mr Justice Blake, giving the court's judgement, said: "This was not a case of someone stealing to improve his library then preventing scholars from accessing those books in the future. All the books have been recovered and so have the pages. "He has suffered a considerable humiliation and loss of reputation at the age of 61 years." The decision means that Hakimzadeh, having served 104 days, will be released in 78 days time.
'A spokesman for the British Library said: "When Hakimzadeh damaged and stole pages from Library items he abused the trust that we extend to all researchers using our collections. "We have zero tolerance of anyone who harms our collections and will pursue anyone who threatens them with utmost vigour." The spokesman added that the Library will "continue to pursue a number of routes with the aim of achieving redress for the damage he caused."'
No clear details have been released about the maps that were taken. All the books have apparently been recovered. Does that apply also to the maps?
Travis McDade is quoted on the subject of map dealers, who are 'allowed to plead ignorance, saying that they thought the stolen map they bought was a rare opportunity, a fantastic buy.' Among his own observations is this: 'The surprise is not in the National Library [in Madrid] thefts having occurred at all, but that someone was careless enough to have been caught.' He does, however, urge that we all learn from past mistakes and he suggests various practical security measures. Some have been urged by others; a few perhaps will be thought impracticable.
A run-down of recent events and of the measures being taken in an attempt to make things more difficult for future thieves. The task, though, is a large one. 'The Museum Security Network, a Dutch-based, not-for-profit organisation devoted to co-ordinating efforts to combat this type of theft, estimates that only 2 to 5 per cent of stolen books are recovered, compared with about half of stolen paintings ... Yet there is still no global security network for libraries and the need for more co-operation and openness is, perhaps, reflected in the fact that Hakimzadeh had form'. Though brief, the article is wide-ranging. 'Now we come to the elephant in the room: insider theft. The vast majority of library staff would, of course, never dream of stealing items in their care but evidence suggests that most thefts are committed by staff or trusted insiders.' The piece includes a summary of Martin Gill's tips 'To catch a thief', from a recent LIBER Quarterly article.
The draft statement, with important passages concerning security, and references, has been posted for comment by 15 March. It was prepared by a joint group from the American Library Association and the Society of American Archivists.
Forbes Smiley has achieved further fame - literary this time. The former chief prosecutor of the Manhattan District Attorney Office's Sex Crimes Unit, Linda Fairstein, now a crime novelist, has set her latest book, Lethal Legacy in the New York Public Library.
'Conservator of antique books and maps Tina Barr is attacked in her apartment, which turns out to be a murder scene the next day. [Alex] Cooper and regular police associate Mike Chapman delve into the shady world of rich collectors and library conservation as Fairstein explores how far people will go to secure a rare map - even murder. Barr is a suspected associate of map thief Eddy Forbes, who is based on two real- life criminals - Victor Phillips and Edward Forbes Smiley. Phillips was convicted of criminal possession of stolen property in 1976 after he stole rare maps and books, which he cut up to sell as individual prints'.
Smiley I think we already know. I hope her No.1 fan, Bill Clinton, enjoys this one, though map curators and those occupied in the 'shady world' of library conservation may have slight cause for alarm.
'They successfully plunder priceless tomes, manuscripts and ancient maps, while the players in this closed world - the national and international libraries, the dealers and the victims themselves - largely remain silent about what is going on ... Alan Shelley, current president [of the ABA], said the only way to eradicate the trafficking of rare books was to work closely with libraries, auctioneers and dealers. The British Library has led the way by admitting when it is the victim of theft. But while major international libraries alert each other to details of stolen books or descriptions of thieves, these do not always reach the antiquarian book trade and not all libraries are honest about falling victim to theft. "We all need to be a bit more grown up," said Jolyon Hudson, from Pickering and Chatto antiquarian bookseller. "[Libraries] are the curators of the nation's knowledge, and when they lose it they are somewhat embarrassed to admit that."
'The British Library, already plundered by Jacques, and after him by the American thief Edward Forbes Smiley, fell victim to the secrecy surrounding the antiquarian world, when they allowed Farhad Hakimzadeh to become a reader. He proceeded to slice out sections of handbound books, causing £300,000 worth of damage - a crime for which he received two years in jail this month. Unknown to the library, the Iranian academic had stolen almost £100,000 worth of books from the Royal Asiatic Society 12 years before. But in an out-of-court settlement, which included a gagging clause on both sides, Hakimzadeh paid the RAS £75,000 and details were not sent around the international library alert system.'
'Farhad Hakimzadeh, 60, used a scalpel to remove leaves from the priceless books, which date back to the 16th Century and chart the travels of westerners in the Middle East. Appearing at Wood Green crown court in London for sentencing yesterday, Hakimzadeh, who lives in a £3m home in Knightsbridge, south-west London, claimed he suffered from an obsessive compulsive disorder which forced him to remove the pages to complete his own extensive collection.
'The court heard that his obsession was such that he left his marital bed on his wedding night to polish his books, but that he also made monetary gain, selling one of his own books with a stolen page inserted into it for more than £2,000. Passing sentence, Judge Peter Ader told Hakimzadeh: "I have no doubt you were stealing for gain in order to enhance your library and your collection. It seems to me it was a kind of vanity that you wanted to have the best library in your field ..."
'The court heard he had stolen 94 items from the Royal Asiatic Society in 1998, but paid the library £75,000 as compensation. The British Library is pursuing its own civil claim for damages in excess of £300,000 from Hakimzadeh. The claim takes into account the priceless nature of some of the books he damaged which cannot be restored.'
The reported facts include the following. Over a period of seven (or eight) years he used a scalpel to remove pages and maps from books (presumably seen in the British Library's Rare Books Reading Room), making sure he was unsighted by the CCTV. I have seen reference to just one map although 'maps', in the plural, was mentioned several times. This appear to be the world map attributed to Holbein, which appeared in the 1532 Huttich and Grynaeus Novus Orbis regionum (Shirley No. 67). I did not see any comment as to whether or not this map has been retrieved, nor the identity or fate of others.
The books he mutilated described 'how Europeans travelled to Mesopotamia, Persia and the Mogul empire from the 16th century onwards'. In some cases Hakimzadeh used the stolen pages to complete books in his own collection. However, many of the sheets have not been recovered, which raises the obvious questions: where are they now, and has he been selling the marketable material, particularly the maps? He has pleaded guilty to specimen charges of stealing 10 items from the BL and four from the Bodleian. The BL has valued the damage to their books at £400,000 and has launched civil proceedings against Hakimzadeh, who is described as a millionaire.
When damage to one book was reported in 2006, a check was made of other volumes consulted by those who had seen that title. Once the trail led to Hakimzadeh, he was found to have sliced material out of up to 150 of the 842 books he consulted. In the opinion of Dr Kristian Jensen, the head of British collections at the library, "Hakimzadeh is eminently characteristic of our traditional groups of readers: he has a profound knowledge of the field. From my point of view, that makes it worse because he actually knew the importance of what he was damaging. What he did was use the cover of serious scholarly purpose to steal historic pieces and abuse our trust." Jensen also stated that the thefts were the most damaging the British Library had suffered.
[Update: the [London] Times (also 21 November), 'The gentleman thief who took a leaf out of the British Library’s rarest travel books' < http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/article5201784.ece > states, 'The total cost of the damage that he inflicted on books from the British Library could be up to £1 million - one map alone that he cut out of a book was worth £30,000 ... Although four specimen charges were brought involving books from the Bodleian’s collection, a spokesman said that since 2003 he had taken pages from another 47 volumes.' Another comment - 'Experts were able to match one of the pages found at Hakimzadeh’s home to a book in the British Library as it had exactly the same mark made by a book worm' - brought memories of the laughter that the mention of worm-holes provoked in Smiley's US court.
[Further updates: 22 November. Sentencing has been postponed until 16 January 2009, as reported on the Cultural Property and Archaeology Law Blog. And 27 November. 'Millionare Bodleian thief brought to book' (Cherwell.org - student news and reviews at Oxford University) < http://www.cherwell.org/content/8170 >, which concentrates on the Bodleian's reactions.
[Further update: 27 November. '‘Trusted reader’ destroys books: Staff at British Library express outrage as ‘millionaire vandal’ pleads guilty', by Paul Keilthy in the Camden News [covering the British Library's borough] < http://www.thecnj.co.uk/camden/2008/112708/news112708_11.html >. Based on 'the first public discussion of the thefts' (that day) the period during which the activity occurred was given as 1997-2005. 'The British Library team which investigated the thefts had to minutely examine every page and illustration in 842 books consulted by the thief ... Police searched Hakimzadeh’s Knightsbridge home after the thefts were discovered but found only 14 items. Detective Sergeant Graham Simpson, who worked on the case, said there was no evidence that Hakimzadeh had sold the artefacts for gain. "As for his motivations, they are completely unknown," he said.' If the maps and pages were not sold, it is reasonable to ask where are they now? It is hoped that the British Library's proposed civil case against Hakimzadeh will throw light on that and, better still, retrieve a significant amount of the stolen material. There is still no information about the other maps involved.]
[Further update: 16 January 2009 - see under that date - he was sentenced to two years in jail.]
'A Sotheby's spokesman said the map being sold was checked - as all items are before sale - against a U.S.-based lost art registry that tracks missing artworks and other cultural artifacts from around the world'. Clearly Sotheby's are unaware of the efforts made to identify and then publicise the maps found missing in those collections visited by Smiley, information brought together by John Woram into a single database. That the large number of those maps still unaccounted for are not also included in the new database, specifically for maps, set up by IAMA, is not for want of urging by Joel Kovarsky, who manages that vital tool in the fight against thefts. [See also the comment placed on the online newsletter of the New York Map Society by John Woram.]
Travis McDade, who teaches a law course, with particular reference to, I understand, the theft of library materials has analysed the security implications of the various statements made by library officials. He also quotes, at the beginning, from the Philobiblos blog.
His piece needs to be read in full. In my view his criticisms about the library's security, or lack of it, seem justified, even if his blanket dismissal of the usefulness of a database of stolen material is not. As he itemises them, almost every action taken by staff was inappropriate and almost none of the precautions necessary for a library holding valuable material were in place. As he concludes: "I've seen a lot of crimes. I've never seen a more clear cut example of buffoonish criminals being abetted by a dismally ill-prepared library staff."
One of the Toledo Blade articles < http://toledoblade.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080912/NEWS03/809120347 > had a staff member say: "Our head librarian has been at the center 25 years and, in that time, we have never had a theft of this type of material". The same Communications Manager explained that "for someone to be so selfish to take material for personal gain and remove them from public access as a whole - that is ultimately upsetting to us." The upset is fully understandable, but how is such innocence about the ways of the world still possible, in a library described as containing 'some of the country's rarest books'?
Joshua T. McCarty (31) was one of three people arrested this week and charged with stealing two books from the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library in Fremont, Ohio. One of them is valued at over $100,000 and hence is an "object of cultural significance". McCarty and the others face 'up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 if convicted' [perhaps Smiley's lawyer could help here].
Of specific interest to the map community is the statement that 'Federal prosecutors said McCarty has a lengthy criminal history, including an arrest in 2007 in connection with the theft of $20,000 worth of antique maps from a bookstore in Harrisburg, Pa.' I reported the earlier theft as follows in March 2007: < http://mark.antiquetrader.com/Be+On+Lookout+For+Maps+Stolen+From+Pa+Shop.aspx > 'Be on lookout for maps stolen from Pa. shop' (Mark Moran, 1 March 2007) - 'Approximately 50 antique maps were stolen from Ted L. Canaday Old and Rare Books, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, sometime between Feb. 8-15. The total value of the maps amounted to nearly $20,000.' Among items thought to be unusual was a MS map of early oil territory in Pennsylvania'. I had not seen any further news about that map theft.
The Fremont thefts were also reported in the Toledo Blade on 12 September < http://toledoblade.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080912/NEWS03/809120347 > and again on the 13th < http://toledoblade.com:80/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080913/NEWS17/809139993 >. These add considerable extra information, e.g. that the thefts took place 'in June' and on 25 August, that the combined value was about $130,000, that one of the two stolen books, the 'Maxwell Code' (1795, the first book printed in Ohio), had been recovered, and that McCarty, although being described as 'more intelligent than your typical thief,' was caught when he was spotted 'leaving a women's bathroom'.
Bonnie Magness-Gardiner, art theft program manager for the FBI said private owners, libraries, museums, galleries, and presidential centers should take proper steps to protect themselves from such thefts. "They really need to protect it by having insurance, appropriate security, and an inventory," she said. "If they don’t have an inventory with a good photograph, if it’s stolen, it will be very difficult to get back that material."
'More than 30 rare, antique maps stolen from the Boston Public Library by a Martha's Vineyard map dealer were returned to the library in 2007, library president Bernard Margolis said this week, part of the conclusion of an international scandal that rocked the staid world of map collecting. Not all has been resolved, however. More than 30 other missing maps, losses that have not been linked to confessed map thief E. Forbes Smiley III, have yet to be recovered by the Boston library more than a year after their disappearance was discovered ...
Béatrice Loeb-Larocque, Librairie Loeb-Larocque,31 rue de Tolbiac, 75013 Paris France. Tél/FAX +33 (0)1 18.104.22.168" [via Map the Universe]
Among the reaction from newspapers and journals, the following piece by the author in The Boston Globe (23 May 2014), - http://www.bostonglobe.com/magazine/2014/05/23/trail-martha-vineyard-rare-map-thief/qbFFssloEpByBZ4vK14DgL/story.html - 'On the trail of Martha’s Vineyard’s rare map thief', is worth noting.
"According to intelligence, the criminals usually stole to order from national archives, libraries and cultural institutions all over the EU. After gaining access to valuable books – often from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries – they cut out the desired maps or pages before smuggling them out of the building. The members of this criminal group are suspected of having committed thefts with this modus operandi in Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain and Switzerland. Global losses caused by the group are thought to be in the millions of euros, but the stolen objects have a priceless cultural and historical value to the countries from which they were stolen. The investigation is still ongoing with suspects in jail awaiting trial.
"Europol supported the investigation by organising operational meetings between the investigators and providing ad-hoc analysis of case intelligence. In addition, an alert report warning EU law enforcement authorities about this specific modus operandi was issued. International law enforcement coordination is essential to solve such cases and Member States are therefore encouraged to report similar cases in their countries to national authorities and Europol. "
A later report, 27 February, from XpatLoop, 'Hungary’s Interior Minister Returns Antique Maps Stolen From France', added that "The  maps, cut out of books, were stolen from the Library of Toulouse in 2012 and were discovered in the same year in a car near Gyor in north-western Hungary"
See also 'Birmingham University library hit by £200,000 burglary' (by Nick McCarthy in the Birmingham Post, 5 August < http://www.birminghammail.net/news/birmingham-news/2008/04/15/birmingham-university-library-hit-by-200-000- burglary-97319-20766006/ > - 'Historic books, maps and letters worth £200,000 were stolen from Birmingham University. The documents, which have since been recovered, were taken from a secure collections department at the university library in February ... A spokesman for the university declined to give details of what was taken whilst it was subject to a police investigation and court proceedings, but he confirmed that the items have been recovered.'
As can be seen the accounts disagree about the value of the stolen material. His age is variously given as 36 and 37. This later report talks of him 'facing charges' where the earlier one announced the sentence.
'Auction house Christie’s valued the maps at £70,000, or around 1 million kroner, while Bellwood’s lawyer claimed the value to be only around 40,000 kroner. The Royal Library sought a total of 4.2 million kroner in compensation for the loss, which included the destruction of the maps’ original books. Yet the court required Bellwood to pay only 324,000 kroner in retribution in addition to his one-year jail sentence.
'He will begin serving the sentence in 2009, after he has finished serving his UK jail term. The whereabouts of the maps are presently unknown, as Bellwood had sold them on. Bellwood received his Danish sentence from the Eastern High Court on Tuesday and was given the chance to speak in his defence. ‘I would like to take this opportunity to apologise to the library and the Danish people,’ he told the court. ‘I am very sorry for what I’ve done.’ Bellwood had also robbed libraries in other European capitals and it was only due to the Royal Library’s cameras that he was identified and later caught' [via Philobiblos.] See also a statement from the Danish Royal Library, posted to the MapHist list on 16 May.
'The FBI estimates $6 billion is lost annually in crimes against cultural institutions worldwide. Strassberg advocates spending more on security and tougher sentences for the thieves ... Mandatory bag inspections of State Library and Archives employees as they leave work have been discussed over the years, but have not been put in place because of concerns raised by unions and the added cost.' As one librarian pointed out: "We're always trying to balance access and security". [The full text also available via ExLibris.]
'Margolis said investigators have returned 31 maps that Smiley admitted taking from the Boston library. In addition, Smiley has paid the library $7,000 in restitution for another map he stole that cannot be found, Margolis said. Three other maps have not been located, he said. Curators at the library inventoried their rare maps after the thefts came to light, and discovered 36 more missing maps worth almost $1 million. Two of those maps have since been returned by collectors in Boston and Maryland, Margolis said, and efforts to uncover the others at auctions are ongoing ... The Boston library has spent about $200,000 on improved security and surveillance systems to prevent future thefts, Margolis said. All visitors to the rare-books room now sign in and out. But by necessity, the thefts have left the library a less trusting place.' Also giving details of the three maps still missing from Harvard.
Smiley had dealt principally in the rarest and most expensive antique American maps. Reese put together a list of about a hundred likely targets. To find out which of them had once been in the collection but had disappeared, staff assistant Margit Kaye tracked down old acquisitions records, and the staff pored over microfiche of the card catalog as it existed in 1978. All this research was necessary because, disturbingly, the cards for many of the missing maps were themselves missing from the catalog ...
Today, Sterling and its storage space have been renovated. No one sees any of Sterling's rare maps without first signing a form and listing the map requested. Patrons can see only one item at a time, and only while they themselves are under constant surveillance by two video cameras. Two full-time catalogers are now at work in the collection, and the 11,000 rarities are their main charge ...' The longer-term plan is to scan the 11,000 rare maps. [The full text also available via ExLibris.]
'In the Montana case, McDermott says, records at the house suggest that the enterprise completed more than 9,000 eBay deals in 2007 alone, grossing almost $500,000. As of late February, no arrests had been made, but McDermott says there is a suspect and an indictment is expected. The breakthrough in Great Falls came after Lopresti used a feature on eBay that alerted him whenever an item that contained certain key words was offered for sale. He and his staff had chosen about 40 such terms because various stolen pages contained them. Within a month, Lopresti says, it was apparent that an eBay seller in Montana had many pages similar to those taken from WWU. Eventually, Lopresti says, he turned to two friends on the East Coast to act as buyers, because the seller might be leery about bids coming from Washington State. The friends won the bidding for two suspicious pages, and in September 2006, the state crime lab matched their paper and tear marks with torn pages in WWU books.
'More than a year passed, however, before authorities obtained the search warrant. Sgt. Bianca L. Smith of the WWU police attributes the delay in part to the complexity of a case involving two states, Washington and Montana, and the federal government. She notes, too, that no one was in physical danger. During the long wait, Lopresti says, he kept seeing items sold on eBay that might have belonged to WWU. "I was going crazy," he says. Identifying the legitimate owners of the books found at the Great Falls house should not be difficult, because most contain library stamps or catalog numbers. But matching the thousands of individual pages with libraries might prove impossible, because a single map or photo ripped from a volume rarely has marks identifying where it came from. A page could be from any existing copy of a book, and there might be many copies around the world. Meanwhile, Lopresti and WWU have dramatically stepped up security, so that history cannot walk out the door again.' The article contrasts this case with that of Smiley and Bland.
[Update 27 March 2008. The PhiloBiblos blog reports the arrest of the suspect, James Brubaker, and provides additional news links.] [Update, 1 April 2008: see < http://www.ala.org/ala/alonline/currentnews/newsarchive/2008/april2008/brubakerarrested.cfm > 'Washington Librarian Helps Nab Montana Library Thief' on the American Library Association's site 'american libraries', which includes this comment: 'Lopresti admitted to American Libraries that he feels frustrated by the lack of response from colleagues to his calls at a panel presentation at the 2007 ALA Annual Conference as well as on map specialists’ discussion lists that libraries missing materials share information with law enforcement.' Lopresti was further quoted expressing the following unfashionable opinion: '"We’ve got 20,000 pages with no identifying marks," he emphasized, adding that he has been urging the Great Falls police to hire a retired map librarian on a temporary basis to sort the recovered pages, "because you actually need somebody who knows the stuff."']
About the second alleged accomplice, Washington Luis Pereira, I have not found any information. The three have been granted bail, by the federal Argentinian judge, Ariel Lijo, for Gómez Rivero's self-confessed offence of stealing 10 world maps from the Biblioteca Nacional, Madrid. They face possible prison terms of between one month and six years, although it was also mentioned, by Gómez Rivero's lawyer, Fernando Soto, who is arguing against extradition to Spain, that the most his client could face was eight years. The thief, who is nicknamed 'el negro', apparently lives in a luxurious residential complex 'La Delfina', 50 km from Buenos Aires. According to the defendant's lawyer the case will not be 'resolved quickly'.
There is much more on this case on Spanish sites. Perhaps somebody in Spain or Argentina can provide more details. With a link to Fotogaleria: Los mapas recuperados (5 May 2008).
It now appears (15 November) that of the 15 (or 19) maps known to have been taken, eight were handed in by the presumed thief; two (a 1482 Ulm Ptolemy world map, and what sounds like the 1507 Ruysch map) were recovered in New York and have also been returned; and another example of the Ulm Ptolemy is due to be sent back from Australia. That leaves at least four unaccounted for .