Rare Book Monthly

Articles - October - 2006 Issue

Smiley Sentenced to 3 1/2 Years

Smiley1

Forbes Smiley's mug shot.


By Michael Stillman

The verdict is in. The United States District Court for Connecticut pronounced its sentence on map seller and admitted thief E. Forbes Smiley on September 27, and when it was over, Smiley must have been smiling just a little. He was sentenced to three and one-half years in prison, essentially what he was hoping for, though not what all of his victims wished. Earlier this year, Smiley reached an agreement with federal authorities to plead guilty to charges with sentencing guidelines of six years imprisonment. However, with prosecutors' tacit approval, the judge reduced the actual sentence on the grounds that Smiley had been cooperative in helping to locate missing maps. In addition, Smiley will be required to pay almost $2 million in restitution, which will necessitate selling much of his property.

When confronted with the evidence, Smiley admitted to taking 97 maps from various rare book libraries, Harvard, two at Yale, New York Public, Boston Public, the British, and Newberry. Over a period of at least several years, he had been going into rare book rooms, razor in hand, and slicing valuable maps out of old books. The procedure came to an end when he dropped a blade on the floor and a sharp-eyed librarian discovered it.

The admission was part of a plea bargain. The prosecution agreed to charge him only for theft of the 18 maps they could clearly prove he stole in return for his telling them about the rest. The FBI came away convinced Smiley told all he knew. Consequently, the prosecution did not push for the full six years recommended in the sentencing guidelines. Some of the American institutions felt the same. However, others, notably the British Library, were less than convinced. Although Smiley admitted to taking one of their maps, three others are still missing, and they came from books Smiley checked out. They evidently do not subscribe to the theory that Smiley told all.

Furthermore, the British Library felt even the sentencing guidelines fell short of the mark. In a brief filed with the court two weeks earlier, they pointed to the many collateral damages emanating from Smiley's theft. For example, irreplaceable items of great historic value are either lost or will never be returned to original shape, their having been sliced out of books and in some cases "cleaned" to disguise their original source. Libraries will be forced to spend more on security to stop "copycats," institutions will have a harder time obtaining donations as donors will fear their gifts will be stolen, morale at libraries has been damaged, legitimate researchers will now have a more difficult time getting access to material. The list goes on. In a poetic comment, the British Library states, "Like a drop of oil on a still pond, the number of his victims spreads with time." The British Library recommended he be given eight years, not the guidelines' six. The Judge did not agree.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Announcing a new Books for Sale platform hosted by Biblio</b>
    <b>List your books simultaneously on Rare Book Hub and Biblio</b>
  • <b>19th Century Shop’s Catalog 170 Great Books and Photos. Please inquire for a copy.</b>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Exodus 10:10 to 16:15. Complete Biblical scroll sheet in Hebrew, a Torah scroll panel. Middle East, ca. 10th or 11th century.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Copernicus Refuted. (Astronomy.). Scientific manuscript of a course of studies at Collège de la Trinité, Lyon. 1660s.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Israel’s War of Independence and the Early Days of the IDF. 58 photographs presented to Israel Ber, IDF officer and later convicted spy.
    <b>19th Century Shop’s Catalog 170 Great Books and Photos. Please inquire for a copy.</b>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Early Unpublished Darwin letter on the races of man. Autograph Letter Signed [to Henry Denny]. Down, Kent, June 1, [1844].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Classic Image of American Slavery. Kimball, M. H. <i>Emancipated Slaves</i>. New York: George Hanks, 1863.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> (Underground Railroad.) Scaggs, Isaac. Important Runaway Slave Poster: $500 Reward Ran away, or decoyed from the subscriber…
  • <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Newton. <i>Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica</i>. London, 1687.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Josephus. <i>De antiquitate Judaica.</i> Lubeck, 1475-76.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Carlerius. <i>Sporta fragmentorum, Sportula fragmentorum</i>. Brussels, 1478-79.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Fridolin. <i>Der Schatzbehalter</i>. Nuremberg, 1491.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Pinder. <i>Der beschlossen gart des rosenkrantz marie</i>. Nuremberg, 1505.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Isidorus Hispalensis. <i>Synonyma de Homine</i>. Nuremberg, 1470-71.
    <b>Bonhams, inviting consignments for Sep 27:</b> Durer. Sammelband including <i>Underweysung der messing</i>. Nuremberg, 1525-29.
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries: Fall 2017 Auction Schedule</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 19: 19th & 20th Century Prints & Drawings</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 28: Printed & Manuscript Americana</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 5: African-American Fine Art</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries: Fall 2017 Auction Schedule</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 17: Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 19:<br>Art & Storytelling: Photographs & Photobooks</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 26: Rare & Important Travel Posters</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries: Fall 2017 Auction Schedule</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Nov 2:<br>Old Master Through Modern Prints</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Nov 7: Autographs</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Nov 14: 19th & 20th Century Literature</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries: Fall 2017 Auction Schedule</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Nov 16: Contemporary Art</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Dec 5:<br>Maps & Atlases, Natural History & Color Plate Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Dec 14: Illustration Art</b>

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions