Rare Book Monthly

Articles - January - 2011 Issue

Settlement Reached in Rothschild Suit vs. Auction House


Bookseller David Slade, whose theft led to the Rothschild-Winter lawsuit.

According to a press release issued by his attorneys, Sir Evelyn de Rothschild has reached a settlement in his suit against Dominic Winter Book Auctions. The amount was not revealed though the press release indicated that Sir Evelyn was satisfied with the result. A spokesman for the attorneys said they would not be making any comments beyond those contained in the press release.


This was a very sad case, where the suit was between two victims of a crime committed by a once well-respected member of the book community. David Slade was a former president of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association (Britain) who was hired by Sir Evelyn to catalogue his collection in 2001. Mr. Slade's credentials, a bookseller from the age of 17 who reached the highest office in England's most prestigious booksellers' organization, were impeccable. Both Sir Evelyn de Rothschild and Dominic Winter Auctions trusted him completely. Both suffered for their confidence.


At some point between 2001 and 2005, Slade began taking books from Sir Evelyn's collection of turn of the 20th century private press books. There is some obscure material here, and he probably believed no one would miss it. Perhaps he would have gotten away with the thefts, but the unusually long amount of time Mr. Slade was taking to catalogue the collection led to suspicions, which eventually led to the discovery of the theft. All told, he probably stole around 70 volumes from the Rothschild library.


In April of 2008, police raided Slade's home and discovered some of Sir Evelyn's books and receipts for others. Mr. Slade confessed, attributing his actions to great personal debt, including around $50,000 on credit cards. In February 2009, Slade pleaded guilty to stealing approximately $340,000 worth of books from Rothschild. He was sentenced to 28 months in prison.


And so this sad story came to an end. Well, not quite. Where had the books gone that Slade no longer possessed? Sir Evelyn was still entitled to his books, or compensation for those that could not be found. Mr. Slade was liable to him for the value, but he had long ago spent those proceeds covering his debts. He was broke. Mr. Slade might have to pay for his crime by spending time in jail, but some innocent party would have to pay for the financial losses. That would be Sir Evelyn, unless someone else besides Mr. Slade was secondarily accountable.


Forty-two of the books Slade had stolen were taken to Dominic Winter Book Auctions and sold there. We do not know what Winter did to investigate the provenance of the books Slade brought them, but it appears that the auction house may have relied too much on Slade's reputation and assumed his possession was legitimate. Sir Evelyn believed that Winter owed him a bit more due diligence in determining the provenance of these books and sued the auction house for wrongful interference with his ownership and right to possession, along with conversion. Winter maintained that they never took possession of the books and provided no guarantee of title, hence they had no legal connection to the stolen books that would make them liable to Sir Evelyn. They were, in their view, simply facilitating a sale between Mr. Slade and the ultimate buyer, perhaps like a landlord of a retail store facilitates a sale between the shopkeeper and his customer.


According to the press release from the Rothschild attorneys, the court ruled for Sir Evelyn in the suit in August 2009 with damages to be determined later. This summer, according to the release, "Sir Evelyn accepted Dominic Winter Auctions' offer to pay him substantial damages and his legal costs in settlement of his claim."


The press release also indicated that Sir Evelyn was concerned that Mr. Slade had been able to sell so many stolen rare and antiquarian books at the auction house, noting he was "pleased with the favourable outcome of the litigation." The release concluded, "Sir Evelyn is hopeful that the success of the legal action he has taken in this case will serve to highlight both the potential risks to purchasers of antiquarian books at auction and, most importantly, the need for auction houses to conduct adequate due diligence in order to establish the provenance of the books they are being asked to sell."


There is not much we can add to the advice proffered by Sir Evelyn. All purchasers and facilitators, be they collectors, dealers, or auction houses, should be conducting some degree of investigation, particularly with more expensive or large quantities of items. Nonetheless, we can also sympathize with Dominic Winter, whose apparent excessive reliance on David Slade's integrity was very similar to the reliance Sir Evelyn placed on the same man. Perhaps the most important message for all involved in the book trade is to remember that the law is more focused on the nature of the material you possess or trade (stolen vs. legitimate) than on the good faith with which you received it. If you possess stolen goods, you must return them, even if you purchased them in good faith for fair value. You are simply out of luck. You are expected to determine their legitimacy, and if you do not, you will be held accountable for their value (though your good faith will keep you, unlike Mr. Slade, out of prison). Caveat emptor! Let the buyer beware. Do your research, recognize that something too good to be legal probably isn't, and consider your source. A seller's guarantee and promise to take back stolen merchandise with no time limit is a reassurance worth considering, even if that dealer or auction house's prices are somewhat higher than the street bazaar.



Posted On: 2011-01-01 00:00
User Name: MikeDaw

Sad case but raises some interesting issues. If the books had been sold through an on-line marketplace or auction site (AE, ABE, Amazon, eBay, et

Posted On: 2011-01-05 00:00
User Name: monatrim

One obvious question: I assume that the books stolen by Slade did not feature the bookplate/signature of Sir Evelyn. In such a case, what const

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Jenner (Rev. George Charles). <i>The Evidence at Large...Respecting Dr Jenner's Discovery of Vaccine Inoculation,</i> presentation copy from Edward Jenner to Rev. Rowland Hill, 1805. £4,000 to £6,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Houdini (Harry).- Maggi (Girolamo). <i>De tintinnabulis liber postumus...de equuleo liber,</i> Harry Houdini's copy, Amsterdam, H. Wetstein, 1689. £600 to £800
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Meyer (Henry Leonard). Coloured Illustrations of British Birds, and their Eggs , 7 vol. in 2 plus Illustrations of British Birds, 4 vol., 1842-50 and [1835-51]. £5,000 to £7,000
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Dickens (Charles). <i>An Entirely New Romantic Drama, in Three Acts, by Mr. Wilkie Collins, called The Frozen Deep,</i> 1857. £3,000 to £4,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Lighthouses and Islands of Ireland, c. 125 drawings, 1867. £6,000 to £8,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Shelley (Lady Jane). Diary, 1853 & 1860. £1,500 to £2,000
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Scottish Binding.- The Holy Bible, Containing the Old and New Testaments, bound in contemporary brown polished calf decorated with the figure of a Chinese spearman, by ?James Scott of Edinburgh, 1778. £2,000 to £3,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Greene (Graham). <i>The Man Within,</i> first edition, signed by the author, 1929. £4,000 to £6,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Mellan (Claude, 1598-1688). The Holy Face, or the Veil of St Veronica, [c. 1649 and later]. £800 to £1,200
    <b>Forum Auctions: Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper. March 22, 2018</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Desaguliers (John Theophilus). <i>A Dissertation concerning Electricity,</i> W. Innys, and T. Longman, 1742. £2,000 to £3,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Le Jeune (Paul). <i>Relation de se qui s'est passé en la Nouvelle France en l'anné 1636 enuoyée au R.Pere Provincial de la Compagnie de Iesus en la Province de France,</i> 1637. £2,000 to £3,000
    <b>Forum Auctions, Mar. 22:</b> Stumpf (Johann Rudolph). <i>Gemeiner loblicher Eydgnoschafft Stetten, Landen und Völckern Chronicwirdiger thaaten beschreibung, </i> Zurich, Froschauer, 1586. £3,000 to £4,000
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22: Autographs</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> George Washington, Letter Signed to General James Clinton, preparing for the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign, 1778. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Thomas Jefferson, Letter Signed, to Major-General Nathanael Greene, promising to send reinforcements against Cornwallis, 1781. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Thomas Edison, Autograph Letter Signed, to Western Union President William Orton, 1878. $10,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22: Autographs</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> William, Bishop of Coventry, vellum charter granting the church of Rochdale to the Cistercian Abbey of Stanlaw, in Latin, 1222. $3,500 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> FDR, Photograph Signed & Inscribed, framed with wood removed from the White House roof, 1927. $2,500 to $3,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Jean Dubuffet, archive including many letters written while painting in NYC, 1951-72. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22: Autographs</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Mohandas K. Gandhi, Autograph Letter Signed, describing the source of his patience, 1939. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Lithograph portrait of Albert Einstein by Hermann Struck, signed by both, 1923. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Charles The Bold, Duke of Burgundy, Letter Signed to Johann IV of Nassau, in French, 1470. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22: Autographs</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Jean Cocteau, Autograph Letter Signed, in French, 1919. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Louis Armstrong, two Autograph Letters Signed to Erich Kauffmann, his lip salve purveyor, 1965-70. $1,500 to $2,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 22:</b> Wernher von Braun, Autograph Letter Signed to Jonathan Cross, 1975. $5,000 to $7,500.
  • <b>Bonhams: Fine Books and Manuscripts. March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> BEETHOVEN, LUDWIG VAN. Autograph Manuscript sketch-leaf part of the score of the Scottish Songs, "Sunset" Op. 108 no 2. [Vienna, February 1818]. Inscribed by Alexander Wheelock Thayer. $80,000 to $120,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> Violin belonging to Albert Einstein, presented to him by Oscar H. Steger, 1933. $100,000 to $150,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> EINSTEIN, ALBERT. Autograph Letter Signed ("Papa") to his son Hans Albert, discussing his involvement with the atomic bomb, September 2, 1945. $100,000 to $150,000
    <b>Bonhams: Fine Books and Manuscripts. March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> HAMILTON, ALEXANDER. Autograph Letter Signed, to Baron von Steuben, with extensive notes of Von Steuben's aide Benjamin Walker, June 12, 1780. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> NEWTON, ISAAC. Autograph Manuscript in Latin, being detailed instructions on making the philosopher's stone. 8 pp. 1790s. $200,000 to 300,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> 1869 Inauguration Bible of President Ulysses S. Grant. $80,000 to $120,000
  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions