Rare Book Monthly

Articles - July - 2015 Issue

Row 14B, Bay 3, Shelf 2: A Most Incredible Story of a Missing $600,000 Print, the Police, FBI, a Resigning Library President, and Lost & Found at the Boston Public Library


Library President Amy Ryan (left) holds the $600,000 Dürer while Conservation Officer Lauren Schott holds the Rembrandt.

In the summer of 2014, some people at the Boston Public Library realized that a valuable print was missing. The missing item was Albrecht Dürer's Adam and Eve (some call it The Fall of Man), estimated at $600,000. The estimate for this 1504 print is no exaggeration, a copy having sold at Christie's in 2013 for $662,500. Additionally, a Rembrandt sketch valued at $30,000 was missing.


However, it was not until April of this year that the head of the library, President Amy Ryan, was informed that the valuable works were missing. The reason for the delay is unclear, but it may well have been a case of officials below Ms. Ryan being embarrassed that such a valuable item under their care had disappeared. Presumably, a lot of searching was conducted during that period of nearly a year.


One can also presume that President Ryan was not pleased. The keeper of the library's special collections, Susan Glover, was soon placed on leave after the loss became known. The Boston Police and FBI were brought in to investigate the case. A few weeks later, Ms. Ryan announced that an outside party would be brought in to thoroughly evaluate the library's security system.


The primary theory behind the items missing, naturally enough, was theft. However, officials were dubious that this was the typical case of an outsider coming into the library and sneaking off with the print tucked under a jacket. Security may not have been perfect, but it wasn't lax at Boston Public either. The works were kept in an alarmed, locked room and could only be seen by visitors with an appointment. The result was that speculation focused on it being an inside job. Only an insider, it was reasoned, would be able to enter the room under cover of authority and make off with the items without raising suspicion.


There was also one other theory. That was that the works were simply misplaced. Of course, after a year of searching, the odds were dimming that this relatively benign explanation would prove correct. Still, it should be noted that there are around 1.3 million items in the Boston Public Library's Print Department. Percentagewise, 2 is not a high number. I misplace things all the time, though I have far fewer than 1.3 million possessions. Then again, I never misplace something worth $600,000. That is likely also true of the police and FBI officers who investigated the case. And, it appears to also be true of Boston's mayor, who was quite displeased with the goings on at Boston Public.


Despite the involvement of the police and FBI, plus the pledge to bring in outside security experts, Mayor Martin Walsh was not placated. After-the-fact investigation was insufficient in his eyes as a response to something he believed never should have happened. That included not just that valuable items were missing, but that the library's president was not informed of this for almost a year. His fear, naturally enough, was theft, and there was more than the loss of a $600,000 print that concerned the Mayor, as bad as that was. It led to the question of was there more missing items, perhaps theft on a much grander scale unrecognized by those in whose care they were placed.


Indeed, it later was recognized that some gold coins were missing. However, it appears these may have been missing for decades, long before Ms. Ryan assumed the role of library president.


In fairness to the officers and workers at the Boston Public Library, we should note that library theft is hardly an isolated incident. It may well be a plague. Considering the size of Boston Public's collection, the sophistication of some thieves, and what has happened at other notable libraries (the British and Swedish national libraries come to mind, along with some very prestigious universities), this is somewhat understandable. Besides which, public libraries aren't granted unlimited resources these days.


Nevertheless, the mayor's office called for a meeting with the library's Board of Trustees. That was held on June 3, and despite the mayor's representative, his Chief of Staff, Dan Koh, requesting President Amy Ryan not be present, Board Chairman Jeffrey Rudman insisted she participate. Koh made it clear he would not hold back criticism for fear of hurting anyone's feelings. Koh stated that he and the Mayor were concerned more items may be missing, that the issues were not being taken with sufficient concern by library officials, and the Board was not acting sufficiently independently of the library's President. Rudman, who strongly supported the work of President Ryan, said that he respectfully disagreed.


Despite Board support, Ms. Ryan evidently felt her position had become untenable considering the dissatisfaction expressed by the city's highest officials. Later that day, she resigned, effective July 3. While expressing her gratitude to the Board of Trustees for their support, Ms. Ryan stated, “I am choosing to step aside at this time to allow the work of the Boston Public Library to continue without distraction.”


What happened next was even more surprising. The following day, Ms. Ryan announced that the two items, missing for almost a year, had been found. They were, so to speak, hiding in plain sight. Perhaps not plain sight, as they were obscured by other works on the shelf, but they were discovered just 80 feet away from the place they should have been. There they were, hidden among the other material in Row 14B, Bay 3, Shelf 2. Conservation Officer Lauren Schott discovered them while conducting another search. Miss Schott was quoted as saying, “I was shocked to find the two prints, but it really was just luck of the draw. Anyone of the team that’s been looking for the Dürer and Rembrandt could have found them.”


President Ryan released a statement in which she said, “We’re thrilled to have found these treasures right here at home. They were found safe and sound, simply misfiled. BPL is still committed to enhanced security and a full inventory, but today is a day of celebration for the entire team at BPL. The staff couldn’t be happier after hundreds of hours of searching. I want to thank the FBI, Boston Police Department, and US Attorney’s Office for their work throughout this period.”


All's well that ends well. Maybe. The sudden turn of events left a few people scratching their heads. However, those at the library are confident the missing prints were there all along, not returned to the wrong shelf more recently. Meanwhile, Ms. Ryan's resignation still stands. A library president has seemingly resigned because a couple of prints were put back on the wrong shelf. Other than this small case of misfiling, Ms. Ryan has a sterling reputation in the field. There are undoubtedly some valuable lessons to be learned from this very strange case at the Boston Public Library, but whatever they are escapes me.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 7. Ritter's unusual sun-dial world map, 1607. Est. $3500 to $4500
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 16. Fascinating Japanese satirical map published prior to WWII, 1932. Est. $1400 to $2000
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 30. Newton's 2" miniature terrestrial globe, 1833. Est. $3500 to $4500
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 318. Braun & Hogenberg's first plan of Moscow in contemporary color, 1575. Est. $2750 to $3500
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 346. One of the most decorative 18th century maps of Malta, 1680. Est. $1200 to $1500
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 412. The first printed map devoted to the Pacific in full contemporary color, 1589. Est. $8000 to $10000
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 425. Rare set of celebrated explorers of the New World, 1592. Est. $1900 to $2300
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 436. Two superb miniature atlases bound in one volume with 98 maps, 1682. Est. $5500 to $7500
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 445. Part IV of de Bry's "Grand Voyages" by Girolamo Benzoni, 1613. Est. $2000 to $2500
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 447. Tallis' "History of the United States of America" in six volumes, 1850. Est. $1500 to $1800
    <b>Old World Auctions (March 21-28):</b> Lot 448. Mallet's miniature military masterpiece, 1672. Est. $1400 to $1700
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29: Printed & Manuscript African Americana</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Malcolm X, Autograph Letter Signed, from prison, 1950. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Letter from Moses Walker, an enslaved Georgia man, to his mother at another plantation, 1854. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Signed cabinet card of Frederick Douglass, albumen photograph, Boston, circa 1879. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29: Printed & Manuscript African Americana</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Placard from the Memphis Sanitation Worker's strike, 1968. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b><br><i>The North Star,</i> volume 1, issue 27, Rochester, NY, 1848. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Hand-tinted tintype of John Brown, circa 1860. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29: Printed & Manuscript African Americana</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Poster signed & inscribed by Huey Newton, circa 1967. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Album of aerial views of the march on Montgomery, taken by federal troops, 1965. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 29:</b> Poster for the SNCC, photograph by Danny Lyon featuring John Lewis, circa 1962. $3,000 to $4,000.
  • <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
  • <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>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

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