Rare Book Monthly

Articles - June - 2013 Issue

Buffalo Man Arrested for Theft of Letters from Museum Collection

Buffalohistory museum

The Buffalo History Museum (from their website).

A breach of trust has been charged by the FBI in a case of stolen historical letters from the Buffalo, New York, area. The technical charge is mail fraud, which is why the FBI is involved, but the underlying crime alleged is the taking of material from the Buffalo History Museum, and possibly other institutions in the area.

Charged in the crime is Daniel J. Witek, 50 years old of Buffalo, who was associated with the History Museum and several libraries as a volunteer. According to the complaint, around May 13, Witek, using the name “Walter Payne,” contacted David Lowenherz of Lion Heart Autographs in New York City, saying he had some items to sell. Witek allegedly faxed copies of numerous letters and postcards to Lowenherz. Witek said they had been passed down through his family. Lowenherz agreed to purchase five of the documents for a price of $2,750. Witek shipped those items to him, along with photocopies of additional letters.

Evidently, when Lowenherz was able to examine the material more closely he became suspicious. On May 21, he sent an email to Cynthia Van Ness, Director of Library and Archives at the Buffalo History Museum, with a list of 42 items Witek was offering for sale. He wanted to make sure they were his to sell. Many of the items pertained to Anson Conger Goodyear, a Buffalo area industrialist who became the first President of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Goodyear died in 1964. The Buffalo History Museum has a collection of his papers.

Staff at the museum immediately went to work researching their archives. Eventually, they determined that 30 of the 42 documents Witek was offering were missing from their A. Conger Goodyear Papers Collection. Melissa Brown, Executive Director of the Buffalo History Museum, relayed their preliminary findings to Lowenherz. Based on the complaint, it appears that Witek must have learned of or suspected there would be communications as he arrived at the museum and asked to speak to Brown. Brown knew him from his volunteer activities, which included work in the Goodyear Collection. Sign in records show Witek and a friend accessed the collection numerous times. Witek allegedly told Brown and Van Ness repeatedly that he had been contacted by a dealer in New York because he was selling copies of letters, but that he would never take anything from the museum. Witek warned them that they might be contacted by the dealer. He also said there was not a complete listing of the collection so it would be impossible to know whether something was missing.

Later that evening, Witek sent a fax to Lowenherz demanding payment, and the next day left several voice messages making the same demands. However, by then Lowenherz had heard from the museum that Witek had no authority to sell the documents. The complaint ends here, but we will presume that Lowenherz never made any payments and the next people Witek heard from were the FBI.

No claims have been made about other material, but the complaint states that Witek was also “associated with” the Swan Library in Albion, The Barker Free Library, the Middleport Free Library, and the Rare Book Collection at the Central Branch of the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library.

The charges alleged carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and/or a $250,000 fine. Witek was released on personal recognizance, but a condition of his release is that he not visit the Buffalo Historical Museum or any other public or private establishment possessing rare books.

The FBI has requested that anyone in the area who believes rare books, letters or artwork are missing from their collection contact them at 716-856-7800.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b><center>Potter & Potter Auctions<br>Fine Books & Manuscripts<br>October 20, 2022</b></center>
    <b>Potter & Potter, Oct. 20:</b> JOYCE, James. <i>Ulysses.</i> London: John Lane the Bodley Head, 1937. PRESENTATION COPY OF THE FIRST ENGLISH EDITION PRINTED IN ENGLAND. $50,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Potter & Potter, Oct. 20:</b> [SHACKLETON, Ernest]. –– BROWNING, Robert. <i>Poetical Works of…</i> London: Smith and Elder, 1906. PRESENTED TO SHACKLETON AND THE OFFICERS OF THE NIMROD BY A MEMBER OF THE ROYAL GEOGRAPHICAL SOCIETY. $40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Potter & Potter, Oct. 20:</b> AUDUBON, John James. <i>The Birds of America, from Drawings Made in the United States and Their Territories.</i> New York: George R. Lockwood, [1870]. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b><center>Potter & Potter Auctions<br>Fine Books & Manuscripts<br>October 20, 2022</b></center>
    <b>Potter & Potter, Oct. 20:</b> ARISTOTLE. Opera, in Greek, parts one and two only: Organon and Natural Philosophy I. Edited by Aldus and others. Venice: Aldus Manutius, 1 November 1495–February 1498. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Potter & Potter, Oct. 20:</b> COOK, James, Capt. [Collected Voyages]. First and Second Voyages: London: W. Strahan; and T. Cadell, 1773, 1777; Third Voyage: London: H. Hughes for G. Nicol and T. Cadell, 1785. $14,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Potter & Potter, Oct. 20:</b> CLEMENS, Samuel Langhorne (“Mark Twain”). <i>The Writings of…</i> Hartford: American Publishing Co., 1899–1900. $12,000 to $16,000.
    <b><center>Potter & Potter Auctions<br>Fine Books & Manuscripts<br>October 20, 2022</b></center>
    <b>Potter & Potter, Oct. 20:</b> [KELMSCOTT PRESS]. SHAKESPEARE, William. <i>The Poems of…</i> Edited by Frederick S. Ellis. Hammersmith: William Morris for the Kelmscott Press, 1893. $12,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Potter & Potter, Oct. 20:</b> LONDON, Jack. <i>The Call of the Wild.</i> New York: The Macmillan Company, 1905. PRESENTATION COPY INSCRIBED BY LONDON. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Potter & Potter, Oct. 20:</b> CROWLEY, Aleister (1875–1947). <i>The Winged Beetle.</i> London: privately printed, 1910. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b><center>Potter & Potter Auctions<br>Fine Books & Manuscripts<br>October 20, 2022</b></center>
    <b>Potter & Potter, Oct. 20:</b> WILDE, Oscar (“C.3.3.”). <i>The Ballad of Reading Gaol.</i> London: Leonard Smithers, January 1898. $6,000 to $8,000.
    <b>Potter & Potter, Oct. 20:</b> DRYDEN, John. <i>Fables Ancient and Modern; translated into verse from Homer, Ovid, Boccace, & Chaucer: with original poems.</i> London: John Tonson, 1700. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Potter & Potter, Oct. 20:</b> [MAP]. LINSCHOTEN, Jan Huygen van. <i>Delineatio Orarum Maritimarum…</i> London: John Wolfe, 1598. $3,000 to $4,000.
  • <b><center>Sotheby’s<br>Antiquarian Books<br>Including a series of views of Milan<br>September 27 to October 4</b></center>
    <b>Sotheby’s, Sep. 27 – Oct. 4:</b> Livius, Historia Romanae decades, Venice, Vindelinus de Spira, 1470, contemporary Morocco. €30,000 to €40,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, Sep. 27 – Oct. 4:</b> Blaeu, Nieuw Stedeboeck van Italien (Piemont), The Hague, 1724-1725, 8 volumes, marbled calf gilt. €70,000 to €90,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, Sep. 27 – Oct. 4:</b> Baysio, Rosarium decretorum, Venice, 1481, later vellum. €10,000 to €15,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, Sep. 27 – Oct. 4:</b> [Niccolò da Poggibonsi], Viaggio da Venetia al santo Sepulchro, Venice, 1529, later half calf. €2,000 to €3,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, Sep. 27 – Oct. 4:</b> Hieronymus, Epistole [Italian], Ferrara, 1497, blue crushed morocco with the Rocco di Torrepadula arms. €12,000 to €15,000.
  • <center><b>Swann Auction Galleries<br>Printed & Manuscript Americana<br>September 29, 2022</b>
    <b>Swann September 29:</b> Extensive archive of papers of Lincoln’s Secretary of the Navy, Gideon Welles. $60,000 to $90,000.
    <b>Swann September 29:</b> George Catlin, <i>North American Indian Portfolio,</i> 1844. $40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Swann September 29:</b> The Twenty-Four Books of the Holy Scriptures, Carefully Translated…after the Best Jewish Authorities, Philadelphia, 1853-54. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <center><b>Swann Auction Galleries<br>Printed & Manuscript Americana<br>September 29, 2022</b>
    <b>Swann September 29:</b> Wedding book of Eleanor Roosevelt’s bodyguard, Earl Miller, signed by the Roosevelts, 1932. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann September 29:</b> Textile titled <i>The Resignation of Pres’t Washington,</i> Scotland, circa 1800. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann September 29:</b> Gideon Welles, Pass for President Lincoln’s White House funeral, 1865. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann September 29:</b> Confirmation of arms and nobility in favor of the Diez y Mora family, Madrid, 1710. $2,500 to $3,500.

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions