Rare Book Monthly

Articles - May - 2015 Issue

20,000 Books Are Seized from Italian Politician Now in Prison for Mafia Ties

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Marcello Dell'Utri.

Italian authorities have seized 20,000 books from a private library, charging many had been stolen over an extended number of years. The books themselves were published from the 15th through the 19th century. The collection has been valued at some unspecified number of millions of dollars.

 

The owner of the library was a former Senator and influential associate of three-time Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, a man with a checkered past himself. However, former Senator Marcello Dell'Utri did not stand in front of the cameras to proclaim his innocence. He couldn't. Senator Dell'Utri was already in prison, serving a seven-year sentence for Mafia ties.

 

Mr. Dell'Utri has long been associated with the former Prime Minister, and was instrumental in his rise to power two decades ago. Dell'Utri was connected. While his conviction covered a number of charges such as tax and accounting fraud, the major crime involved his Mafia connections. Many believe that these connections helped Mr. Berlusconi rise to power. Indeed, the former Prime Minister himself has been charged many times over the years with a variety of offenses, but despite the many prosecutorial attempts, the only conviction ever to be upheld was for the same crime that sent Al Capone to prison – tax evasion.

 

It turns out that Senator Dell'Utri was not only an influential politician but also an avid bibliophile. While he may have trafficked on occasion in stolen books for financial gain, he clearly had a great passion for collecting old books. Most were kept at a private foundation library he operated in Milan, but 3,000 were held in his “sanctum sanctorum” (holy of holies) personal library.

 

The seizure of Dell'Utri's library arose out of Italy's other enormous book theft case. Some 2,000-4,000 books were stolen from the Girolamini Library in Naples. The Director of that library, Massimo De Caro, was convicted of using his position to steal thousands of its books, which were then filtered to a network of associates to sell overseas. Mr. De Caro was seemingly absent of any qualifications for the position to which he was appointed. It appears unlikely he could have reached that position without important political help, and that help likely came from his powerful friend, Senator Dell'Utri. Mr. De Caro seems to have returned the favor by giving a few antiquarian books to Mr. Dell'Utri, ones removed from the Girolamini Library. This is what friends are for.

 

What Mr. Dell'Utri received from Mr. De Caro was insignificant to his collection, which makes this minor act of corruption most ironic. It was the former Senator's possession of a few books taken from the Girolamini Library that led police to delve more deeply into the source of his entire collection, and eventually seize it all. Mr. Dell'Utri, naturally enough, quickly claimed ignorance of the source of the books he received from Mr. De Caro and returned all but one. However, officials were less than convinced that that the ethically-challenged Mr. Dell'Utri was so naive when it came to gifts from the ethically-challenged Mr. De Caro. In another bit of irony, both Senator Dell'Utri and Mr. De Caro are now each serving seven-year prison sentences, Dell'Utri for his Mafia connections, De Caro for stealing books.

 

Officials, who seized the books over a year ago (but only announced it recently), are still trying to trace their origin. They believe the books, or at least a substantial portion, were stolen. They have not named any of the places victimized by the thefts, other than to say they include both church and public libraries. Police are trying to reconstruct the books' history, but this will be an enormous task. There are so many books, taken over a lengthy period of time, from what appears to be many sources. It is hard to imagine they will ever be able to put all of the pieces to this puzzle back together again.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <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>
  • <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.

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