Rare Book Monthly

Articles - July - 2015 Issue

Row 14B, Bay 3, Shelf 2: A Most Incredible Story of a Missing $600,000 Print, the Police, FBI, a Resigning Library President, and Lost & Found at the Boston Public Library

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Library President Amy Ryan (left) holds the $600,000 Dürer while Conservation Officer Lauren Schott holds the Rembrandt.

In the summer of 2014, some people at the Boston Public Library realized that a valuable print was missing. The missing item was Albrecht Dürer's Adam and Eve (some call it The Fall of Man), estimated at $600,000. The estimate for this 1504 print is no exaggeration, a copy having sold at Christie's in 2013 for $662,500. Additionally, a Rembrandt sketch valued at $30,000 was missing.

 

However, it was not until April of this year that the head of the library, President Amy Ryan, was informed that the valuable works were missing. The reason for the delay is unclear, but it may well have been a case of officials below Ms. Ryan being embarrassed that such a valuable item under their care had disappeared. Presumably, a lot of searching was conducted during that period of nearly a year.

 

One can also presume that President Ryan was not pleased. The keeper of the library's special collections, Susan Glover, was soon placed on leave after the loss became known. The Boston Police and FBI were brought in to investigate the case. A few weeks later, Ms. Ryan announced that an outside party would be brought in to thoroughly evaluate the library's security system.

 

The primary theory behind the items missing, naturally enough, was theft. However, officials were dubious that this was the typical case of an outsider coming into the library and sneaking off with the print tucked under a jacket. Security may not have been perfect, but it wasn't lax at Boston Public either. The works were kept in an alarmed, locked room and could only be seen by visitors with an appointment. The result was that speculation focused on it being an inside job. Only an insider, it was reasoned, would be able to enter the room under cover of authority and make off with the items without raising suspicion.

 

There was also one other theory. That was that the works were simply misplaced. Of course, after a year of searching, the odds were dimming that this relatively benign explanation would prove correct. Still, it should be noted that there are around 1.3 million items in the Boston Public Library's Print Department. Percentagewise, 2 is not a high number. I misplace things all the time, though I have far fewer than 1.3 million possessions. Then again, I never misplace something worth $600,000. That is likely also true of the police and FBI officers who investigated the case. And, it appears to also be true of Boston's mayor, who was quite displeased with the goings on at Boston Public.

 

Despite the involvement of the police and FBI, plus the pledge to bring in outside security experts, Mayor Martin Walsh was not placated. After-the-fact investigation was insufficient in his eyes as a response to something he believed never should have happened. That included not just that valuable items were missing, but that the library's president was not informed of this for almost a year. His fear, naturally enough, was theft, and there was more than the loss of a $600,000 print that concerned the Mayor, as bad as that was. It led to the question of was there more missing items, perhaps theft on a much grander scale unrecognized by those in whose care they were placed.

 

Indeed, it later was recognized that some gold coins were missing. However, it appears these may have been missing for decades, long before Ms. Ryan assumed the role of library president.

 

In fairness to the officers and workers at the Boston Public Library, we should note that library theft is hardly an isolated incident. It may well be a plague. Considering the size of Boston Public's collection, the sophistication of some thieves, and what has happened at other notable libraries (the British and Swedish national libraries come to mind, along with some very prestigious universities), this is somewhat understandable. Besides which, public libraries aren't granted unlimited resources these days.

 

Nevertheless, the mayor's office called for a meeting with the library's Board of Trustees. That was held on June 3, and despite the mayor's representative, his Chief of Staff, Dan Koh, requesting President Amy Ryan not be present, Board Chairman Jeffrey Rudman insisted she participate. Koh made it clear he would not hold back criticism for fear of hurting anyone's feelings. Koh stated that he and the Mayor were concerned more items may be missing, that the issues were not being taken with sufficient concern by library officials, and the Board was not acting sufficiently independently of the library's President. Rudman, who strongly supported the work of President Ryan, said that he respectfully disagreed.

 

Despite Board support, Ms. Ryan evidently felt her position had become untenable considering the dissatisfaction expressed by the city's highest officials. Later that day, she resigned, effective July 3. While expressing her gratitude to the Board of Trustees for their support, Ms. Ryan stated, “I am choosing to step aside at this time to allow the work of the Boston Public Library to continue without distraction.”

 

What happened next was even more surprising. The following day, Ms. Ryan announced that the two items, missing for almost a year, had been found. They were, so to speak, hiding in plain sight. Perhaps not plain sight, as they were obscured by other works on the shelf, but they were discovered just 80 feet away from the place they should have been. There they were, hidden among the other material in Row 14B, Bay 3, Shelf 2. Conservation Officer Lauren Schott discovered them while conducting another search. Miss Schott was quoted as saying, “I was shocked to find the two prints, but it really was just luck of the draw. Anyone of the team that’s been looking for the Dürer and Rembrandt could have found them.”

 

President Ryan released a statement in which she said, “We’re thrilled to have found these treasures right here at home. They were found safe and sound, simply misfiled. BPL is still committed to enhanced security and a full inventory, but today is a day of celebration for the entire team at BPL. The staff couldn’t be happier after hundreds of hours of searching. I want to thank the FBI, Boston Police Department, and US Attorney’s Office for their work throughout this period.”

 

All's well that ends well. Maybe. The sudden turn of events left a few people scratching their heads. However, those at the library are confident the missing prints were there all along, not returned to the wrong shelf more recently. Meanwhile, Ms. Ryan's resignation still stands. A library president has seemingly resigned because a couple of prints were put back on the wrong shelf. Other than this small case of misfiling, Ms. Ryan has a sterling reputation in the field. There are undoubtedly some valuable lessons to be learned from this very strange case at the Boston Public Library, but whatever they are escapes me.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Bonhams: Treasures from the Eric C. Caren Collection: How History Unfolds on Paper, Part VII (Online). March 6-14, 2019</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Albert Einstein A remarkable letter on God in English, one of his most eloquent and quoted, 1 p, July 2, 1945. $100,000 to $150,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Benjamin Lincoln's commission as Major General in the Continental Army, February 19th, 1777. $60,000 to $90,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Broadside. A Poem Upon the Bloody Engagement That Was Fought on Bunker's-Hill. 1775. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <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.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Paul Revere. Engraving, “The Boston Massacre Perpetrated on March 5, 1770," in <i>Massachusett's Calendar 1772.</i> $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Bonhams: Treasures from the Eric C. Caren Collection: How History Unfolds on Paper, Part VII (Online). March 6-14, 2019</b>
    <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
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Franklin, Benjamin. <i>The Independent Whig.</i> First Magazine Published in America, Philadelphia: Keimer, 1723-4. $15,000 to $20,000
    <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
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Last Words of Joseph Smith. Autograph Letter Signed from a Mormon disciple, conveying a contemporary account of the Prophet's final words, Nauvoo, July 27, 1844. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> John Brown's Body. Autograph Letter Signed from the daughter of John Brown attempting to arrange the return of her father's body, North Elba, Essex Co, NY, November 29, 1859. $4,000 to $6,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar 6-14:</b> Powell Expedition. Autograph diary of Rhodes C. Allen kept during the Powell Expedition of 1868, June 29, 1868 - November 16, 1868. $20,000 to $40,000
  • <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
    <b>Chiswick Auctions: Ornithology, Zoology & Voyages. February 27, 2019</b>
    <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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