Rare Book Monthly

Articles - March - 2008 Issue

Transy Book Thieves Appeal; Receive Higher Sentence

Case

The Appeals Court renders a verdict unfavorable to the Transy book thieves.


By Michael Stillman

Be careful what you wish for. Leave well enough alone. Any number of clichés could apply to the hapless Transy book thieves, who somehow managed to make a bad situation worse. These are the four students who stole several valuable books from the rare book room at Kentucky's Transylvania University, in a theft even more comical than their disastrous appeal. A few more appeals and they'll spend the rest of their lives in jail.

This bizarrely foolish rare book heist took place in December of 2004, after almost a year of what is ludicrously described as "planning." Having decided which books to target, they sent an email to Christie's in New York under a false name, claiming they wished to sell some books "worth millions." This was followed up with an email stating, "I have a first addition [yes, these scholars really wrote first "addition"] Origin of the Species by Charles Darwin, manuscripts that date back to the 1500s, and a collection of John James Audubon's QQuadrupeds [sic] and Birds of America. I know that these are worth a lot..."

Next they set up a meeting at the library, pretending to be a collector, to view the books. They dressed up as older men, costumes that apparently looked more like party gags. The librarians ignored them, believing they were students participating in some sort of college prank. They may even have been recognized by a fellow student who asked what they were doing in such costumes. The four hightailed it back home and rescheduled their appointment to the following day, when they returned sans disguises.

On December 17, two of the "perps" entered the library, while two remained on guard and with the getaway car outside. Once in the Special Collections Library, they subdued the librarian and began zapping her with an apparently low voltage stunning device. It reportedly did not cause much pain, but scared the librarian and left a small bruise. With that, they tied her up, and began loading the books she had laid out for them into a sheet.

While the presence of the sheet indicated they were aware that the books would be heavy, they evidently did not bank on just how heavy. So, in a move that showed just how little they knew about rare books, they took two of four volumes of Audubon's elephant folio Birds of America, and two of three volumes of his Quadrupeds. Any real collector would have told them to take one complete set, not parts of two, and only a complete idiot would leave a couple elephant folio volumes of Birds behind to take a couple of volumes of Quadrupeds. But, as we shall see, even this was not the stupidest thing these young men were about do.

With those books they could carry in tow, the thieves headed for the exit. However, they were spotted by another librarian on the way out, which caused them to proceed in even greater haste. The result was that they dropped the heavy Audubon books in the stairwell, and ran out without stopping to retrieve them. They hurried to the waiting getaway van and returned to the home of one of the conspirators. They stashed the books in his secured basement, secured because he grew marijuana plants down there.

While this was not exactly the perfectly executed crime, they probably believed they had pulled it off at least modestly well. They were wrong. The reality was that this theft was doomed before the thieves ever set foot in the library. Of course the concept that Christie's would unquestioningly accept books worth millions of dollars from a group of scraggly young men, supposedly representing a secretive collector, defies imagination, but they committed an even greater blunder. It would not be long before the police were on their trail.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> E.H. SHEPARD, Original drawing for A.A. Milne’s The House at Pooh Corner.<br>$40,000-60,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> BERNARD RATZER, Plan of the City of New York in North America, surveyed in the years 1766 & 1767. $80,000-100,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> THOMAS JEFFERSON, Autograph letter signed comparing Logan, Tecumseh, and Little Turtle to the Spartans. Monticello: 15 February 1821. $14,000-18,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> JOHN C. FREMONT, Narrative of the Exploring Expedition to the Rocky Mountains, in the Year 1842.. Abridged edition, the only one containing the folding map From the Sporting Library of Arnold “Jake” Johnson. $3,000-5,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> ZANE GREY, Album containing 94 large format photographs of Grey and party at Catalina Island, Arizona, and fishing in the Pacific. From the Sporting Library of Arnold “Jake” Johnson. $5,000-$8,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> WILLIAM COMBE, A History of Madeira ... illustrative of the Costumes, Manners, and Occupations of the Inhabitants. produced by Ackermann in 1821; From the Sporting Library of Jake Johnson. $2,000-$3,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> ERIC TAVERNER, Salmon Fishing... One of 275 copies signed by Taverner, published in 1931,From the Sporting Library of Jake Johnson. $2,000-$3,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> JOHN WHITEHEAD, Exploration of Mount Kina Balu, North Borneo. Whitehead reached the high point of Kinabalu in 1888. Part of a major group of travel books from the Sporting Library of Jake Johnson. $2,000-$3,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> JOHN LONG, Voyages and Travels of an Indian Interpreter and Trader, describing the Manners and Customs of the North American Indians... The first edition of 1791. $3,000-$5,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> SAMUEL BECKETT, Stirrings Still. This, Beckett’s last work of fiction with original lithographs by Le Brocquy, limited to 200 copies signed by the author and the artist. From the Estate of Howard Kaminsky.. $1,500-$2,500
  • <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 Apr 26:</b> Jacques-Émile Ruhlmann, wallpaper sample book, circa 1919. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Archive from a late office of the Breuer & Smith architectural team, New York, 1960-70s. $3,500 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> William Morris, <i>The Story of the Glittering Plain or the Land of Living Men,</i> illustrated by Walter Crane, Kelmscott Press, Hammersmith, 1894. $2,500 to $3,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Gustave Doré, <i>La Sainte Bible selon la Vulgate,</i> Tours, 1866. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Gustav Klimt & Max Eisler, <i>Eine Nachlese,</i> complete set, Vienna, 1931. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b><br>Eric Allatini & Gerda Wegener, <i>Sur Talons Rouges,</i> with original watercolor by Wegener, Paris, 1929. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b><br>C.P. Cavafy, <i>Fourteen Poems,</i> illustrated & signed by David Hockney, London, 1966. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Jean Midolle, <i>Spécimen des Écritures Modernes...</i>, Strasbourg, 1834-35. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b><br>E.A. Seguy, <i>Floréal: Dessins & Coloris Nouveaux,</i> Paris, 1925. $3,000 to $4,000.
  • <b>Bonhams: Results from Fine Books and Manuscripts on 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. SOLD for $131,250
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> Violin belonging to Albert Einstein, presented to him by Oscar H. Steger, 1933. SOLD for $516,500
    <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. SOLD for $106,250
    <b>Bonhams: Results from Fine Books and Manuscripts on 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. SOLD for $16,250
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> NEWTON, ISAAC. Autograph Manuscript in Latin, being detailed instructions on making the philosopher's stone. 8 pp. 1790s. SOLD for $275,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> 1869 Inauguration Bible of President Ulysses S. Grant. SOLD for $118,750

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