Rare Book Monthly

Articles - May - 2012 Issue

Tragic End to the Life of Shakespearean Book Thief


Raymond Scott and “assistant” arrive at court for earlier hearing.

The decision was hardly unexpected, but the sentence was somewhat surprising. England has not been noted for unduly harsh punishment since they closed the Tower, but Scott was sentenced to eight years in prison. The high value of the book didn't help, nor did his past history, though petty. Perhaps his flamboyant style was unhelpful as well. Nonetheless, we have seen much lighter sentences for larger and more destructive book thefts in America, normally the harsher, more “law and order” jurisdiction. Eight years is a long time.

At first, Scott seemed to adjust to prison life fairly well. Several months in, he spoke about how they had him working in the prison library. He was learning bookkeeping, but “not the extended borrowing type,” he joked. He had earned a certain status among his fellow prisoners for his audacity and celebrity. Scott was planning an appeal, at least of the length of his sentence if not the conviction, and was working on an autobiography he dubbed “Shakespeare and Love.” All seemed well, considering the circumstances.

Sadly, it did not turn out so well for Scott. Society determined his debt to it, and like his debt to Mastercard, it was more than he could handle. Scott became depressed. The length of his sentence became unbearable. He became particularly down when another birthday passed for his elderly mother, and he was not there to share it. In February of this year, Scott wrote a letter to the Sunday Sun newspaper. The humor was gone. It was that of a desperate man, seeking the one type of salvation not available to a prisoner, at least not in this world – freedom. He revealed that he had been placed on suicide watch. “Thought last night it’d be nice to die peacefully in my sleep no more pain, a panacea,” he wrote.

Scott wrote disparagingly of the days when he made his flamboyant appearances in court. “The drunken buffoon attending court. Yuk. The ludicrous enterprise with the folio surely THAT person was mentally ill deluded not real in cloud cuckoo land.” he wrote the Sun. The desperation grows deeper in his words: “Just had the absolute worst week of my life. Total breakdown pacing round the cell all night shaking. The scales have fallen from my eyes it’s a waking nightmare. Not eating. Not sleeping. Mother came up on Wednesday - difficult visit she left worried naturally. How did I get into all this? Rescue me somebody please give me a second chance. Can’t cope. On suicide watch 'the orange book'. Dear me what a disaster, when I think what I had, now look at me living like an animal in a cage.”

No one rescued Scott. No one gave him a second chance. Perhaps no one could. Scott was colorful, eccentric, outrageous, a personality waiting for five decades to be released from a Walter Mitty body. For a year, it was. He had an elongated 15 minutes of fame. However, Scott was no hardened criminal. He was not prepared for the life after crime. The self-confidence melted under the reality of prison bars. His lawyer at trial attempted to paint Scott as a “naive mummy's boy” and an “old fool,” taken in by the charms of a young Cuban dancer. “He’s someone who genuinely believes a 21-year-old dancer is his fiancee,” the lawyer explained. It was almost certainly an accurate portrayal of Scott, even if it didn't help to get him off. He entertained us, provided us with a year of comic relief, but in reality, Raymond Scott was a man out of his element. It truly is sad. Scott could have been a minor celebrity, at least in his home town, if he had just have been able to express his colorful, underlying personality without resorting to crime. He could not, and as a result, Raymond Scott is with us no more, a victim of his own hand.

The Durham First Folio, however, is back where it belongs.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Darwin, Charles. <i>On the Origin of Species.</i> Presentation Copy. Sold for $500,075.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Darwin, Charles. Autograph Letter Signed, 3 pp, negotiating the 2nd American edition with Appleton. Sold for $21,325.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Hemingway, Ernest. Autograph Letter Signed, 8 pp, Paris, 1924, to his father discussing Bullfighting, Stories, and his new baby. Sold for $25,075.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Shakespeare, William. <i>Corialanus.</i> London, 1623. 1st printing [Extracted from the First Folio]. Sold for $50,075.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Swift, Jonathan. <i>Gulliver's Travels.</i> London, 1726. 1st edition, Teerink's A edition, fine, large copy. Sold for $21,325.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Fitzroy, Robert. Autograph Letter Signed to agent Thomas Stilwell, informing him of the progress of H.M.S. Beagle. Sold for $17,575.
    <center><b>Bonhams<br> Property from the Collection of Nicole and William R. Keck II</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Shakespeare, William. <i>Sonnets.</i> 1901. 2 volumes. Printed on vellum and illuminated by Ross Turner, bound by Trautz-Bauzonnet. Sold for $13,825.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Beardsley, Aubrey. <i>The Birth, Life, and Acts of King Arthur.</i> 1893-94. 2 volumes. Contemporary painted vellum gilt by Chivers. Sold for $5,325.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Assisi, St. Francis. <i>The Canticle of Brother Sun.</i> Illuminated on vellum, for the Grolier Society. Sold for $7,575.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Rackham, Arthur. <i>Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens.</i> 1/500 copies signed by Rackham. Sold for $4,825.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Proust, Marcel. <i>Du coté de chez Swann.</i> 1st edition, 1st issue. Inscribed by Proust. Sold for $8,825.
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ian Fleming, <i>Goldfinger,</i> first edition, inscribed to Sir Henry Cotton, MBE, London, 1959. Sold for $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Joseph Brant, Mohawk Chief, ALS, writing after pledging support to King George III against American rebels, 1776. Sold for a record $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Sonia Delaunay, <i>Ses Peintures</i> . . ., 20 pochoir plates, Paris, 1925. Sold for a record $13,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Diana, Princess of Wales, 6 autograph letters signed to British <i>Vogue</i> editor, 1989-92. Sold for $10,400.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Alexander Hamilton, ALS, as Secretary of the Treasury covering costs of the new U.S. Mint, 1793. Sold for $12,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Benjamin Graham & David L. Dodd, <i>Security Analysis,</i> first edition, inscribed by Graham to a Wall Street trader, NY, 1934. Sold for $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> George Barbier & François-Louis Schmied, <i>Personnages de Comédie,</i> Paris, 1922. Sold for $9,375.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Alphonse Mucha, <i>Ilsée, Princesse de Tripoli,</i> Paris, 1897. Sold for a record $13,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ralph Waldo Emerson, <i>The Dial,</i> first edition of the reconstituted issue, Emerson’s copy with inscriptions, Cincinnati, 1860. Sold for a record $3,250.

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