Rare Book Monthly

Articles - March - 2013 Issue

Two More Ensnared in Massive Library Theft... More Likely to Come

Girolamini stamp

A bookbinder removed the Girolamini Library's identification stamp.

A bookbinder from Bologna has been charged with adding a new dimension to his job description. This is just the latest development in the miserable Girolamini Library theft case. It is now believed around 4,000 books were stolen from the Girolamini Library in Naples, Italy. It is one of the largest book thefts in recent memory. The bookbinder becomes the sixth person arrested in the case with more arrests expected. Next may be a senator and important political figure.

The bookbinder played a minor, though important role in the alleged operation. His job was to remove the library stamps from the books. This enabled the books to move on to their destinations without their illegal origin being known. It is alleged that these 4,000 books made their way all over Europe, South America, even Asia. They ended up with antique sellers, collectors, and auction houses. Along with the bookbinder, a man described as a “runner,” one who transported the books from Naples to their next stop, was recently arrested.

The big fish in the operation was Massimo De Caro. He had been placed in charge of the library, a political appointment with evidently little regard for his qualifications. He began removing books at night and moving them along a network. He is now in jail and said to be cooperating with police. He is also reported to have given the explanation that he was selling the books to raise money for the library, which was definitely in need of repair. However, the stealth he used in removing the books, the lack of any record keeping, his lack of oversight for the library or applying the proceeds for its benefit, and strange behaviors such as the clandestine removal of library markings, makes this explanation suspicious, to say the least.

The operation to remove the books from the library came crashing down last spring when a historian visited the library to conduct research. He found the library in total disarray. Books were stacked haphazardly around the place, sometimes on the floor next to empty soda cans. He wrote about what he found, which led to an investigation and the arrest of De Caro and others, including a priest responsible for security at this church affiliated library.

The next target in the investigation appears to be Marcello Dell'Utri. Dell'Utri is a senator, a member of former premier Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom party. He was a close aid of the former premier, is a bibliophile, and is currently on trial for assisting the Mafia. It has been alleged that he received around 10 of the stolen books for his collection. Dell'Utri's name was removed from his party's list of candidates for the recent election for obvious reasons.

The Girolamini Library case has renewed cries from those concerned with Italy's cultural heritage, recently from the head of the Vatican Museums. Certainly, conditions at the Girolamini were deplorable. However, this case does bring attention to the difficulties a nation like Italy faces in preserving its heritage.

The Girolamini library opened during the 16th century. Americans may not appreciate the difficulty a nation like Italy faces preserving all of its heritage. There was virtually no recorded history of America at the time the Girolamini opened its doors, and yet this is recent times for Italy. Its recorded history goes back to Roman times, over two millennia ago. That is a lot of history to preserve. Meanwhile, Italy is a relatively small nation, and the recession that has hit much of the world has hit Italy harder than most. It does not have lots of money to spread around to preserve libraries, museums, ancient structures, and all of the other artifacts of its long and rich history. This is an enormous challenge the nation faces, and the presence of people like Mr. De Caro and his cohorts does not make the task any easier.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> SMITH, CHRISTOPHER WEBB. 1793-1871. <i>Indian Ornithology.</i> [Patna, India]: 1828. $50,000 to $80,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DUPRÉ, LOUIS. 1789-1837. <i>Voyage à Athènes et à Constantinople, ou Collection de portraits, vues et costumes grecs et ottomans.</i> Paris: Dondey-Dupré, 1825. $60,000 to $90,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> ADAMS, JOHN. Autograph Letter Signed ("J Adams"), [to Dr. Perkins?] while recovering from his small pox inoculation, [late-April, 1764]. $30,000 to $50,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUSTEN, JANE. Autograph Letter Signed ("J. Austen"), to her sister Cassandra, 4 pp, "Thursday – after dinner," [September 16, 1813,] Henrietta St. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUDUBON, JOHN JAMES. 1785-1851. <i>The Birds of America, from Drawings Made in the United States and Their Territories.</i> New York & Philadelphia: J.J. Audubon & J.B. Chevalier, 1840-1844. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DODWELL, EDWARD. 1767-1832. <i>Views in Greece.</i> London: Rodwell and Martin, 1821. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> JAMES, JESSE. Autograph Letter Signed ("Jesse W. James"), to Mr. Flood demanding Flood retract spurious accusations, 3 pp, June 5, 1875. $200,000 to $300,000.
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Textile of the Great White Fleet, with portraits of Theodore Roosevelt, Rear Admiral Robley D. Evans & successor Charles Stillman Sperry, 1908. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> William J. Stone, <i>Declaration of Independence,</i> Force printing, 1833. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Shugart family papers including documentation of the Underground Railroad, 63 items, 1838-81. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Records of the Dickinson & Shrewsbury salt works, over 2000 items, with extensive slave labor correspondence, legal records & receipts, bulk 1820-1865. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Gloria Steinem, typescript for her speech <i>Living the Revolution,</i> with related letters and documents, 1941-77. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> <i>Liberty Triumphant or the Downfall of Oppression,</i> depicting the aftermath of the Boston Tea Party, c. 1774. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Juan Eusebio Nieremberg, <i>Historia naturae, maxime peregrinae, libris XVI distincta,</i> Antwerp, 1635. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Antonio de Mayorga, manuscript map of Mexico City, 1779. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Thomas L. McKenney & James Hall, <i>History of the Indian Tribes of North America,</i> first edition, 3 volumes, Philadelphia, 1842-44. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Samuel Walker, diary of the entire first cruise of the USS Kineo, a gunboat on the Mississippi, 1854-69. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Scrapbook on early Stanford football, with letters from Walter Camp, 1893-95 & 1931. $8,000 to $12,000.
  • <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Roberts, David. Twenty Lithographs of the Holy Land, 19th Century. $2,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Declaration by the Reps. of the United Colonies of N.A. 1775. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Composer Jerome Kern personal Letters, Albums and Other. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Paine, Thomas. <i>Common Sense,</i> London 1776. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Stowe, Harriet Beecher. <i>Uncle Tom’s Cabin,</i> Cleveland 1852. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Hobbes, Thomas. <i>Leviathan,</i> 3rd edition, London 1651. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Anno Regni Georgii III. Intolerable Acts and other Bills, 1774. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Wilberforce, William. An Abstract of the Evidence, 5 Letters, and two books. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Nightingale, Florence. Notes on Nursing and Signed Letters, ca. 1860 $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Tolstov, Leo. <i>War and Peace,</i> 5 volumes, 1886. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Dickinson, John. Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, 1768. $1,500 to $2,500.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Twain, Mark. <i>Tom Sawyer,</i> 1877 [and] <i>Huckleberry Finn,</i> 1885. $4,000 to $6,000.

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