Rare Book Monthly

Articles - April - 2014 Issue

A Library Theft, and a Seemingly Light Sentence

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Criminal Justice at Becker College.

In one of those library theft cases that is something of a head-scratcher, a Leicester, Massachusetts, man has been ordered to pay restitution. Joseph G. Heath, 53, was charged with receiving stolen property, books taken from Becker College, in the fall of 2012. He pleaded to facts sufficient to reach a guilty verdict, which appears to be a legalese way of admitting to guilt without actually doing so.

 

According to the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, Heath stole around 100 books with a value of more than $115,000 from the college's library. The library had moved a collection of books once owned by 19th century minister Samuel May to a “secure area” while the college built new shelving to better display the collection. The area proved not to be so secure, but the library can't really be faulted too much for this. It was an inside job. Heath was a janitor who took care of the library.

 

The theft first came to light when an archivist noticed there had been some “settling” in the bins where the books were stored. A little digging around revealed that many books appeared to be missing. Around this time, campus police learned that Mr. Heath had sold 20 of these books to a Worcester bookstore for $300. The bookseller in turn offered them to the Leicester Historical Society. The Society declined, but one of its members was surprised to see books from the May collection being offered and contacted the Becker Library. That led to an inventory, which confirmed that books were missing.

 

Meanwhile, another book shop, in Boston, purchased 24 books from Mr. Heath for $850. The owner sold three of those before learning they were stolen. Fortunately, they were recovered. However, the bookseller must have been a bit naïve and thought Mr. Heath had been duped by someone else, as he informed Heath that the books he was selling were stolen. At this point, the police decided to quickly arrest Heath for fear he might try to flee.

 

When the police inspected Heath's home, they found some of the missing books. Heath reportedly explained that he and his live-in girlfriend, who was also his supervisor, were often given books free by the librarian. The librarian told him “you could take whatever you wanted.” The librarian, naturally enough, denied the claim, saying that while she did occasionally give away books no longer needed, nothing was ever given from the May collection.

 

Unfortunately, the Telegram reports, some 50 books thought to be worth around $15,000, and one especially valuable one estimated at $100,000, are still missing. It was only those from the “worth more than $115,000” portion that were recovered. There is a first edition of Uncle Tom's Cabin still missing, and most importantly, a book signed by Abraham Lincoln valued at $100,000.

 

Now we come to the part that is hard to understand – the sentence. Sometimes, there is an explanation why a sentence appears inexplicably light, and we can't help but think that is the case here. The Assistant District Attorney requested that Heath pay $15,000 in restitution, covering the value of most of the books, but giving Heath a mulligan on the Lincoln. The judge cut that by 80%, ordering he pay $3,000 in restitution, and suspending payments to the probation department while restitution is being made. He was placed on probation for three years, but that can be reduced to one year if restitution is made. Somehow, restitution of $3,000 with $115,000 worth of books still missing seems a bit light, not exactly a strong message or deterrent. Where is that Lincoln book? Again, we can't help but think there is an unstated explanation for such apparent leniency.

 

There are some interesting connections between this book, Becker the college and Becker the man, Lincoln and May, that we suspect Mr. Heath did not appreciate. Rev. Samuel May, who once owned these books, was an ardent abolitionist, supporter of women's rights, pacifist, and promoter of the temperance movement, who lived from 1810-1899. He should not be confused with his older cousin, Samuel Joseph May, who was also a dedicated abolitionist. Rev. May was a Unitarian minister in Leicester. His father built him a home in that town as a wedding present. That house became a stop on the Underground Railroad, and remained in the May family for several generations before being purchased by Becker College in 1966. It has since been made into a visitor's center and museum. We don't know how Rev. May came into possession of a signed Lincoln book, though we suspect it is connected to May's passionate abolitionism.

 

Becker College is named for E. C. A. Becker, who founded Becker's Business College in Worcester in 1887. It was the first school in the area to teach students how to use a newly developed high-tech device – the typewriter. Becker was born in Peoria, Illinois, in 1855. It was barely six months after a man from a nearby town, none other than Abraham Lincoln, came to Peoria to give his famous Peoria Speech. In a pre-1858 Lincoln-Douglas debate, Lincoln used that speech to resurrect his political career, abandoned six years earlier. Lincoln spoke out against Douglas' Kansas-Nebraska compromise and laid out his opposition to the spread of slavery, saying that, if all men are created equal, then there is no moral right for one man to make a slave of another. Becker College, Mr. Becker, Abraham Lincoln, and Rev. Samuel May are all intertwined in history.

 

In another bit of irony, Becker College just celebrated the 25th anniversary of one of its most respected programs. Becker offers a notable program in the field of criminal justice.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Bonhams, Mar 12:</b> Walt Whitman. <i>Leaves of Grass.</i> First edition, first issue, SIGNED in block letters by Whitman. 1855. $200,000 to $300,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 12:</b> Isaac Newton's copy of John Greave's <i>Pyramidographia,</i> London, 1646. $50,000 to $70,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 12:</b> Colonel John Mosby. Robert E. Lee's autograph letter to Samuel Cooper reporting on Mosby's exploits, with Cooper's autograph note ordering his appointment to Major.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 12:</b> Gyula Halasz Brassai. Large archive of autograph and typed letters, over 260, to his family including his wife Gilberte, 1947-1978. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 12:</b> Archive of drawings and letters from Harper Lee to Charles Carruth, including an inscribed first edition of <i>To Kill a Mockingbird.</i> $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 11:</b> VESALIUS, ANDREAS. 1514-1564. <i>De humani corporis fabrica libri septem.</i> Basel: Johannes Oporinus, June 1543. $300,000 to $500,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 11:</b> HARVEY, WILLIAM. 1578-1657. <i>De motu cordis & sanguinis in animalibus Anatomica Exercitatio.</i> Leiden: Joannis Maire, 1639. $25,000 to $35,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 11:</b> BERENGARIO DA CARPI, GIACOMO. 1460-1530. <i>Isagogae breves perlucide ac uberrimae in Anatomiam humani corporis.</i> Bologna: Benedictus Hectoris, 15 July 1523. $15,000 to $25,000
    <b>Bonhams NY, Mar 11:</b> FRANKLIN, BENJAMIN. 1706-1790. <i>Experiments and Observations on Electricity, made at Philadelphia in America…</i> London, 1769. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams NY, Mar 11:</b> BENIVIENI, ANTONIO. 1443-1502. <i>De abditis nonnullis ac mirandis morborum et sanationum causis.</i>Florence: Filippo Giunta, 1507. $8,000 to $12,000
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, <i>El Ingenioso Hildalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha . . . Nueva Edición,</i> first Ibarra edition, Madrid, 1780. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Illuminated Prayer Book in Latin and French, France, 1530-40s. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Illuminated Book of Hours in Latin, France, mid-15th century. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b><br><i>Die Ernsthaffte Christenpflicht,</i> earliest known edition of the first complete Mennonite prayer book, 1708. $300 to $500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Georg Agricola, <i>De ortu & causis subterraneorum Lib V.,</i> first edition, Basel, 1546. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Frederick Ruysch, <i>Icon durae matris in concava [convexa] superficie visae,</i> with 2 mezzotints by Jan Ladmiral, first edition, Amsterdam, 1737. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen, <i>Eine Neue Art von Strahlen,</i> Würzburg, 1895. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Pietro Carrera, <i>Il Gioco de gli Scacchi,</i> first edition, Militello, 1617. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> William Lithgow, <i>The Totall Discourse, of the Rare Adventures</i> [etc.], London, 1632. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Michel de Nostradamus, <i>The True Prophecies or Prognostications,</i> first complete edition in English, London, 1672. $2,500 to $3,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Pseudo-Methodius, <i>De revelatione facta . . . beato Methodio,</i> Basel, 1504. $2,500 to $3,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, Mar 7:</b> Hrabanus Maurus, <i>De laudibus sancte crucis opus,</i> Pforzheim, 1503. $1,000 to $2,000.
  • <b>Chiswick Auctions: Autographs & Memorabilia. February 28, 2019</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 28:</b> Autograph album featuring signatures by prominent actors, politicians, musicians and authors, including Rudolph Valentino. £1,000 to £1,500
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 28:</b> An extremely rare working radio script for Crazy People No 29, the first series of <i>The Goon Show.</i> £600 to £800
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 28:</b> Manuscript prayer book, in German. 8vo, 1755 £800 to £1,200
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 28:</b> Italian Manuscript on Geometry, with diagrams, 18th century. £500 to £700
    <b>Chiswick Auctions: Ornithology, Zoology & Voyages. February 27, 2019</b>
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 27:</b> Thorburn (Archibald). Sparrowhawk, original watercolour & gouache, signed & dated lower right, 1917. £1,500 to £2,000
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 27:</b> Burton (Sir Richard Francis). <i>Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to El-Medinah and Meccah.</i> 3 vol., FIRST EDITION, 1855-56. £1,000 to £1,500
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 27:</b> [Mount (Richard) & Page (Thomas)]. <i>The English Pilot. Describing the Sea-Coasts…</i> 31 engraved maps, W. & J. Mount, T. Page, 1756 £4000 to £6000
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    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 27:</b> D’apres De Mannevillette (Jean-Baptiste Nicolas Denis). <i>Le Neptune Oriental.</i> Paris & Brest, [1775 – 1781]. £10,000 to £15,000
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 27:</b> Loring (Josiah). Terrestrial Globe Containing all the Late Discoveries and Geographical Improvements. Boston, Gilman Joslin, 1846, £800 to £1,200
    <b>Chiswick Auctions, Feb 27:</b> Shelley (G. E., Capt.). <i>A Monograph of the Nectariniidae, or Family of Sun-birds,</i> FIRST EDITION, by the Author, 1876-80. £4,000 to £6,000
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    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Early, full printing of the Star-Spangled Banner in The Yankee, October 7, 1814. $8,000 to $12,000.
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    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Earliest known newspaper coverage of Babe Ruth, "a St Mary's schoolboy," Baltimore, April 4, 1914. $6,000 to $9,000
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    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Smith, Joseph. <i>The Book of Mormon.</i> Palmyra: Printed by E.B. Grandin for the Author, 1830. First printing. $40,000 to $60,000
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