Rare Book Monthly

Articles - October - 2008 Issue

Arrests Made in Theft of First Book Printed in the American West

Max

The copy of the Maxwell Code sold last year at Cowen's.


By Michael Stillman

Thefts of rare and valuable books from institutional libraries almost seem to be becoming commonplace these days. Such a theft, and thankfully, concomitant arrest, hit the wires from the battleground state of Ohio last month. Stolen was a copy of the cumbersomely named The Laws of the Territory of the United States North-West of the Ohio. It is more commonly referred to as the Maxwell Code, or Maxwell's Code for its printer, William Maxwell. What makes this item remarkable is that it was the first book printed in the great American Northwest, and in 1796, Ohio was still considered part of the Northwest. There are around 15 copies of this Cincinnati first edition still known to exist. However, most of these copies have serious defects, with the stolen copy being one of the best around. This item, especially in good condition, is so rare it is hard to imagine how the thieves could have hoped to fence it, but they were probably unaware how difficult this would be. They are not antiquarians.

The victim of this theft was the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library in Fremont. There is some irony here in that many believe Hayes "stole" his election, but that is an issue for another day. Hayes was never prosecuted for theft, but these three other Ohioans surely will be.

Charged in this case are Joshua McCarty, 31, his reputed girlfriend Angela Bays, 19, both of Columbus, and Zachary Scranton, 21, of Marysville. Along with the Maxwell Code, they are also accused of stealing a copy of the slightly later Freeman Code. According to an FBI affidavit, the theft came down something like this. On June 27, McCarty and Bays asked to view the Maxwell Code, which was kept in a box with the 1798 Freeman Code. When a library employee discovered McCarty emerging from a women's bathroom with the Maxwell Code in hand, the employee retrieved the book and sent McCarty on his way. The employee put this book and the Freeman Code back in the box from whence they came and returned it to the shelf. However, what went unnoticed was that the Freeman Code had been ripped from its binder. It had been bound with many extra blank leaves, so the librarian did not notice at the time it was missing.

Two months later, on August 25, Zachary Scranton entered the library and asked to see the Maxwell Code. According to the FBI, McCarty had offered him $300 to steal it. McCarty is not a generous man, considering the Maxwell Code's value of $100,000-plus. Scranton could not provide the library with any ID, but amazingly, he was given the rare book in return for handing over his backpack as collateral. Scranton later left the building saying he needed to make a telephone call, but never returned. The librarians then noticed the Maxwell Code was missing, and when they looked in Scranton's backpack, all they found were paper towels.

Once the Hays Library realized what had happened, they sent out emails to various booksellers and auction houses concerning the missing Maxwell Code. Several dealers indicated that they had been contacted by McCarty, and that he had sold a copy of the Freeman Code to a bookseller earlier. That dealer in turn sold it to a British collector for $35,000. This led the librarians to check on their copy of the Freeman Code, which they soon learned was also missing. With this information in hand, the FBI tracked down McCarty, who had been arrested in 2007 for stealing $20,000 worth of maps from an Illinois bookstore. He also had other arrests on his record. Cell phone records indicated numerous calls between McCarty and Scranton from the vicinity of the Hays Library on the day of the Maxwell theft, and library workers identified Scranton as the suspect. Scranton reportedly then implicated McCarty. With all of this evidence in hand, the FBI had sufficient cause to bring the charges.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Luis de Lucena, <i>Arte de Ajedres,</i> first edition of the earliest extant manual on modern chess, Salamanca, circa 1496-97. Sold for $68,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Carte-de-visite album with 83 images of prominent African Americans & abolitionists, circa 1860s. Sold for $47,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Gustav Klimt, <i>Das Werk,</i> Vienna & Leipzig, 1918. Sold for $106,250.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Man Ray, <i>[London Transport] – Keeps London Going,</i> 1938. Sold for $149,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Thomas Jefferson, Letter Signed, to Major-General Nathanael Greene, promising reinforcements against Cornwallis, 1781. Sold for $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Nicolas de Fer, <i>L’Amerique Divisee Selon Letendue de ses Principales Parties,</i> Paris, 1713. Sold for $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Russell H. Tandy, <i>The Secret in the Old Attic,</i> watercolor, pencil & ink, 1944. Sold for $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ernest Hemingway, <i>Three Stories & Ten Poems,</i> first edition of the author's first book, Paris, 1923. Sold for $23,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Walker Evans, <i>River Rouge Plant,</i> silver print, 1947. Sold for $57,500.
  • <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Ernst, Max. <i>Mr. Knife and Miss Fork</i>. Paris, 1932. DELUXE EDITION. Sold for $15,625
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Cage, John. Autograph musical leaf from his Concert for Piano and Orchestra, NY, 1958. Sold for $18,750
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Cage, John. Autograph musical leaf from his Concert for Piano and Orchestra, NY, 1958. Sold for $18,750
    <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Einstein, Albert. Signed Passport Photo for his US citizenship application. Bermuda, 1935. Sold for $17,500
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Verard, Antoine. Illuminated printed Book of Hours. Paris, 1507. Sold for $7,500
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Wetterkurzschlussel. German Weather Report Codebook - for Enigma use. Berlin, 1942. Sold for $225,000
    <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Morelos y Pavon, Jose Maria. Autograph letter signed to El Virrey Venegas, February 5, 1812. Sold for $6,250
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Milne, A.A. Complete set of <i>Winnie-the-Pooh</i> books. 4 volumes. All first issue points. London, 1924-1928. Sold for $5,250
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> A 48-star American Flag, battle worn flown at Guadalcanal and Peleliu, 1942-1944. Sold for $35,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Locke, John. Autograph Letter Signed mourning the death of his friend, William Molyneaux, 2 pp, October 27, 1698. Sold for $20,000
  • <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>

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions