Rare Book Monthly

Articles - June - 2013 Issue

Buffalo Man Arrested for Theft of Letters from Museum Collection

Buffalohistory museum

The Buffalo History Museum (from their website).

A breach of trust has been charged by the FBI in a case of stolen historical letters from the Buffalo, New York, area. The technical charge is mail fraud, which is why the FBI is involved, but the underlying crime alleged is the taking of material from the Buffalo History Museum, and possibly other institutions in the area.

Charged in the crime is Daniel J. Witek, 50 years old of Buffalo, who was associated with the History Museum and several libraries as a volunteer. According to the complaint, around May 13, Witek, using the name “Walter Payne,” contacted David Lowenherz of Lion Heart Autographs in New York City, saying he had some items to sell. Witek allegedly faxed copies of numerous letters and postcards to Lowenherz. Witek said they had been passed down through his family. Lowenherz agreed to purchase five of the documents for a price of $2,750. Witek shipped those items to him, along with photocopies of additional letters.

Evidently, when Lowenherz was able to examine the material more closely he became suspicious. On May 21, he sent an email to Cynthia Van Ness, Director of Library and Archives at the Buffalo History Museum, with a list of 42 items Witek was offering for sale. He wanted to make sure they were his to sell. Many of the items pertained to Anson Conger Goodyear, a Buffalo area industrialist who became the first President of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Goodyear died in 1964. The Buffalo History Museum has a collection of his papers.

Staff at the museum immediately went to work researching their archives. Eventually, they determined that 30 of the 42 documents Witek was offering were missing from their A. Conger Goodyear Papers Collection. Melissa Brown, Executive Director of the Buffalo History Museum, relayed their preliminary findings to Lowenherz. Based on the complaint, it appears that Witek must have learned of or suspected there would be communications as he arrived at the museum and asked to speak to Brown. Brown knew him from his volunteer activities, which included work in the Goodyear Collection. Sign in records show Witek and a friend accessed the collection numerous times. Witek allegedly told Brown and Van Ness repeatedly that he had been contacted by a dealer in New York because he was selling copies of letters, but that he would never take anything from the museum. Witek warned them that they might be contacted by the dealer. He also said there was not a complete listing of the collection so it would be impossible to know whether something was missing.

Later that evening, Witek sent a fax to Lowenherz demanding payment, and the next day left several voice messages making the same demands. However, by then Lowenherz had heard from the museum that Witek had no authority to sell the documents. The complaint ends here, but we will presume that Lowenherz never made any payments and the next people Witek heard from were the FBI.

No claims have been made about other material, but the complaint states that Witek was also “associated with” the Swan Library in Albion, The Barker Free Library, the Middleport Free Library, and the Rare Book Collection at the Central Branch of the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library.

The charges alleged carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and/or a $250,000 fine. Witek was released on personal recognizance, but a condition of his release is that he not visit the Buffalo Historical Museum or any other public or private establishment possessing rare books.

The FBI has requested that anyone in the area who believes rare books, letters or artwork are missing from their collection contact them at 716-856-7800.

Rare Book Monthly

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    <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: 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
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    <b>Leland Little, Mar. 3:</b> Copper Printing Plate for "Marshall's Household Engraving of Washington." $500 to $1000
    <b>Leland Little, Mar. 3:</b> Important Documentary Painting Showing Baseball Great Ty Cobb in Cuba. $1,000 to $2,000
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    <b>Leland Little: Important Spring Auction. March 3, 2018</b>
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    <b>Leland Little, Mar. 3:</b> Maurice Dufrène (French, 1876-1955), <i>Rayon des Soieries</i>. $400 to $800
    <b>Leland Little, Mar. 3:</b> William Pope.L (American, b. 1955), <i>Intimacy Project</i>. $2,000 to $4,000
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    <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
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