Rare Book Monthly

Articles - August - 2012 Issue

First of 56 Books Stolen by Thief Who Killed Himself in 2004 Finally Located

Wytcal

Early California Map from the Wytfliet Atlas.

Eight years ago, a request to see an old map of the Mississippi River from a patron at the Royal Library of Sweden led to the unraveling of one of the greatest book and map thefts of recent memory. The map wasn't there. So weren't a lot of other books. It set off an internal investigation, with evidence pointing to an inside job. It would not be long before the head of the Royal Library's manuscript department, Anders Burius, confessed. He had taken 56 old and valuable books from the library between the time he was hired in 1995, and what was then the present, 2004. Evidence discovered at his home indicated he had been stealing books from other sources for ten years prior to his appointment to the Royal Library.

Burius' modus operandi was to take the books and scratch off the library markings. He would remove cards from the card catalogue so that no one would miss the books. He then took them to the auction house of Ketterer Kunst and its predecessor to be put up for sale. Fellow librarians were surprised by such things as Burius' expensive clothes on a library salary, but no one really knows how much money others have from legitimate sources, so no undue suspicions were aroused.

Burius did not stick around long enough to face the music. On a temporary release from custody while awaiting a court hearing, Burius went to his apartment, slit his wrists, and severed a gas main. Eventually, a spark set off the escaping gas, resulting in a major explosion. The walls of his apartment were demolished, with debris scattered everywhere. Around a dozen people were injured, many more were forced from their homes. Burius died.

That seemed to be the end of the story. The Swedish government issued a report about the case in 2008, and a documentary was broadcast over Swedish radio in 2009, but essentially, the case was forgotten. However, one element remained missing – the books. None of the 56 books stolen from the Royal Library were ever recovered. Why this fact seems to have been placed on the back-burner is unclear, since Burius had told officials where he had taken them, but perhaps everyone concluded it was too difficult to pursue them further. This part is hard to understand.

Finally, last summer, a member of the library staff noticed a copy of the rare Wytfliets Atlas, one of the 56 stolen books, posted for sale at Arader Galleries in New York. The Swedish Library contacted the Arader Galleries with their suspicions. The Arader Galleries requested photographs of the Royal Library's copy, and after comparing them with the copy in their possession, realized what they had was the library's stolen copy. The firm's owner, Graham Arader, had purchased it at a Sotheby's auction on May 7, 2003, for $100,000.

Mr. Arader was mystified as to why the Royal Library had not posted a list of missing items long ago. That is another aspect of this case that is hard to explain. Sometimes, libraries can be embarrassed by having their items stolen. It may make them look lax. Whatever the reason, Mr. Arader, who is noted in the field as a hawk about tracking down map thieves, was unaware that he had a stolen atlas in his possession. Indeed, for years he had openly advertised it on his website with no one notifying him that it might be a stolen copy until eight years later.

Once ownership was established, the Arader Galleries quickly returned the book to Sotheby's. They held it, performing whatever due diligence was necessary, and presumably attempting to track down the book's history, returning the book to the Royal Library this June 27 past. Sotheby's reimbursed Mr. Arader his purchase price. It has not been released whether Sotheby's has been reimbursed its losses by anyone else in the chain of possession. Presumably, someone is out a substantial sum of money, as it is unlikely there is much if anything left of what Burius obtained. It should be noted that there are still 55 more such books out there, so there is still a substantial amount of losses to be realized if the Swedish library continues to locate more of its missing books.

Map Librarian Greger Bergvall described the Wytfliets Atlas as the first atlas devoted exclusively to maps of North and South America, and the first to include a printed map of California. The atlas was published in 1597. National Librarian Gunilla Herdenberg added, “We could not be more thrilled that this national treasure has finally been returned.” The Royal Library, along with legal representatives it has hired, and government agencies on both sides of the Atlantic, plan to pursue the remaining 55 volumes aggressively now. A list of the missing books has been published and can be found at the following link: wytflietatlas.


Posted On: 2012-08-02 00:00
User Name: mottebooks

Let's hope the Library posts a list of the remaining 55 books soon, and distributes them to various auction houses. One would think that the ori


Posted On: 2012-08-02 00:00
User Name: mottebooks

Ah. I see they did make a list. That's a start.


Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Caius Julius Hyginus, <i>Poeticon Astronomicon,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1482. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Giovanni Botero, <i>Le Relationi Universali... divise in Sette Parti</i>, Venice, 1618. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> <i>L'Escole des Filles</i>, likely third edition of the first work of pornographic fiction in French, 1676. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Illuminated Book of Hours in Latin on vellum, Flanders, early 16th century. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes Regiomontanus, <i>Calendarium,</i> Venice, 1485. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Pedro de Medina, <i>Libro d[e] gra[n]dezas y cosas memorables de España,</i> Alcalá de Henares, 1566. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b><br>Luis de Lucena, <i>Arte de Ajedres,</i> Salamanca, circa 1496-97. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Andrés Serrano, <i>Los Siete Principes de los Ángeles, válidos de Rey del Cielo,</i> Spain, 1707. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes de Sacrobosco, <i>Sphaera mundi,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1478. $15,000 to $20,000.
  • <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> A Rare 3-rotor German Enigma I Enciphering Machine. $70,000 to $90,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Important collection of correspondence between Werner Heisenberg and Bruno Rossi. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Walt Whitman Autograph manuscript containing his thoughts on death. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> David Roberts. <i>Holy Land</i>. Six volumes. 1842-1849. First edition. $15,000 to $25,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Extensive collection of Ray Bradbury's primary works, most signed or inscribed. $15,000 to $20,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Peter Force. Declaration of Independence. $12,000 to $18,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Steinbeck. <i>Grapes of Wrath</i>. A fine copy of the first edition. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Lewis & Clark. <i>Travels to the Source of the Missouri River</i>... First English edition, extra-illustrated. 1814. $10,000 to 15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Manuscript document signed by Nuno de Guzman relating to Hernan Cortes, 1528. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> “Nos los inquisidores..." The first book in English printed West of the Mississippi. [1787]. $5,000 to $8,000.
  • <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Collection of 131 Herbert Ponting gelatin silver contact prints of Antartica, £6000-8000
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> One of several lots of Henri Cartier-Bresson gelatin silver prints, £200-300
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Vintage gelatin silver print of Diego Rivera by Leonard McCombe, £300-500
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Albumen print portrait by Julia Margaret Cameron of Sir John Herschel (April, 1867), £30,000-50,000
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Albumen print by Julia Margaret Cameron, Love, 1864 (from the Norman album), £1000-1500
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Albumen print by Lewis Carroll of Twyford School Eleven (Summer Term, 1859), £1000-1500
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Albumen print portrait by Lewis Carroll of Xie Kitchin as 'Dane' (Oxford, 1873), £500-800
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Calotype print (c1845) by Hill & Adamson of Lady Elizabeth (Rigby) Eastlake, £3000-4000
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Group of 12 waxed paper negatives of Scottish scenes by Thomas Keith, mid-1850s, £3000-5000
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> One of 15 lots of Roger Fenton salt prints of his work in the Crimea, mid-1850s, £400-600
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Quarter plate ambrotype (c.1860s) with ethnographic portrait of a woman seated at a table, £400-600
    <b>Dominic Winter, March 9:</b> Rare whole plate thermoplastic union case of the Landing of Columbus (c.1858),part of the John Hannavy collection, £1500-2000
  • <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.
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    <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
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