Rare Book Monthly

Articles - July - 2016 Issue

Book Theft Is An International Problem


Book theft is not a problem limited to the U.S. or even the West. RAPSI, the Russian Legal Information Agency, reports that three "members of an organized gang" have been sentenced to terms of 3.5 to 5.5 years in prison for thefts from Moscow libraries. It could have been worse for them, as many as 15 years, but that is still a serious amount of time to have to spend in a Russian jail. Last summer, they were charged with stealing "antique books of historical, scientific, artistic and cultural value." One had already been placed in detention and the other two under something resembling house arrest a year earlier. Officials had searched their premises and reported at least ten instances of theft over eight years. One book was estimated to be worth as much as $30,000 on the international market.


RAPSI said investigators had determined that sales were made at "auctions, through resale shops, secondhand bookshop and art centers, as well as to collectors." No mention was made as to whether any of these books found their way into international trade.


In England, an assistant head teacher at a church school in Newark, Nottinghamshire, pleaded guilty to stealing £5,000 worth of books from her school. She was not a collector, but a seller. The case baffled those at the school and in the courtroom. She earned a salary of £58,000 (US $82,000). Why would she risk it all for such a relatively small amount more? She blamed stress for her actions, and her attorney described it as a "cry for help." Of course, if she wanted help from the police, she could have just gone down to the station and asked for it, rather than stealing books from her school and selling them for a profit. The judge was having none of it, saying that she had abused her trust, while the head teacher said that colleagues felt betrayed, noting that teaching suffers when books are stolen during a time of tight budgets.


The theft was tracked down after a colleague purchased a replacement for a missing book and realized it was the one that was missing from the library. The assistant head teacher was given a two-year suspended jail sentence. Undoubtedly, her teaching career is also suspended.


Speaking of selling a book back to the theft victim, a 35-year-old Joplin, Missouri man made that terrible mistake. This one definitely goes down in the less than brilliant criminal category. Evidently, he and two associates stole a book at Books-A-Million on a Sunday afternoon. On Sunday evening, he attempted to sell it back again. He wasn't caught immediately, but two days later he was. That day he was shoplifting again, this time at Cavender's. Police were called in and quickly found all three. One of the suspects was found at Subway, presumably eating rather than shoplifting, while the other two were at Toys R Us, with, we imagine, bad intentions.


Another way too obvious book thief, Andrew Shannon of Dublin, Ireland, is heading to prison. Not exactly heading to prison since he is already there, but he will be staying a little longer thanks to a theft of 57 books from an Irish castle. Shannon was convicted in February of stealing the books from Carton House in Kildare, once the estate of the FitzGerald family. Their crests were on many of the books. The current owners undertook a major renovation project, during which time its books were placed in boxes. When the boxes were reopened, the books were not all there. Instead, they turned up in Shannon's home decorating his shelves. He thought they looked nice.


Shannon claimed he bought them at something akin to a flea market, but the jury was unconvinced. Perhaps his history worked against him. He had earlier been convicted of theft while wandering outside an English castle with several artifacts stuffed under his clothing. He claimed to be looking for a bathroom, but didn't adequately explain why he needed to have estate property under his coat in order to find a bathroom. The fact that he had the locations of six English estates, all of which were missing items, programmed into his GPS was not helpful either. Indeed, Shannon had something between 35 and 48 prior convictions under his belt, depending on which news source you believe. After awhile you lose count. He is either very unlucky or an incorrigible thief.


Despite all of his thievery, Shannon is best known for a crime in which he stole nothing. He is the man who walked into the National Gallery of Ireland in 2012 and after gazing at a $10 million Monet painting for a moment, punched a hole in it. He claimed he suffered some sort of seizure related to his heart condition that caused him to raise his fist and smash the painting with such force that it set off alarms on the other side of the room. He fell to the ground, but quickly recovered. Even his own doctor had trouble explaining how a heart seizure could have caused this, though he tried. The jury didn't buy that one either. Shannon was convicted and sentenced to 6 years in prison, with the final 15 months suspended. That is why he is already in prison. This latest conviction will add a year to that, through the final 6 months are suspended.


In the most serious case relating to collectible books, a federal grand jury in Atlanta indicted Daniel Barrs on charges pertaining to the Bank Secrecy Act. Barrs was a bit too secretive. Those involved in the money transfer business, as was his company, Global Transaction Services, are required to inform federal authorities of questionable transactions. The purpose is to catch money laundering. However, the charges make it clear that the government believes that people were using GTS to transfer money instead of using regular banks because they expected GTS would not file the reports with the government the banks would. The law requires various actions to protect against laundering, including the filing of Suspicious Activity Reports (SAR) with the U. S. Treasury when certain suspicious transfers are made.


The indictment stated that GTS performed hundreds of millions of dollars worth of transfers without ever filing an SAR. Numerous suspicious transfers were cited. It also noted that Barrs had hired people with no experience with the Bank Secrecy Act to monitor compliance, including his teenage grandson. Perhaps the grandson was very precocious, but then again, maybe not.


As to how this involves old books, one of the examples of dubious transactions the U. S. Attorney cited involved antiquarian books. The Attorney stated that an individual in Japan wired money dozens of times to Iraq so as to convert funds into Iraqi dinars. However, the Japanese currency reseller listed the purpose of the wires as "to buy antique books." Now why buying antiquarian books should be regarded as a suspicious activity is not clear, and perhaps unfair. Then again, why a collector in Japan would need to convert his currency to Iraqi dinars to be able to buy "hundreds of thousands of dollars" of old books is also kind of vague. If he actually needed Iraqi dinars so he could buy old books in Iraq, which is surely not what he was doing, then it would undoubtedly have been to buy books looted by ISIS from Iraqi libraries anyway. There is really no good explanation for this, or at least, that is what the U. S. Attorney concluded.

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

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions