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

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

  • Sotheby’s
    Modern First Editions
    Available for Immediate Purchase
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Winston Churchill. The Second World War. Set of First-Edition Volumes. 6,000 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: A.A. Milne, Ernest H. Shepard. A Collection of The Pooh Books. Set of First-Editions. 18,600 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Salvador Dalí, Lewis Carroll. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Finely Bound and Signed Limited Edition. 15,000 USD
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    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Ian Fleming. Live and Let Die. First Edition. 9,500 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: J.K. Rowling. Harry Potter Series. Finely Bound First Printing Set of Complete Series. 5,650 USD
    Sotheby’s, Available Now: Ernest Hemingway. A Farewell to Arms. First Edition, First Printing. 4,200 USD
  • Forum Auctions
    Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper
    30th May 2024
    Forum, May 30: Potter (Beatrix). Complete set of four original illustrations for the nursery rhyme, 'This pig went to market', 1890s. £60,000 to £80,000.
    Forum, May 30: Dante Alighieri.- Lactantius (Lucius Coelius Firmianus). Opera, second edition, Rome, 1468. £40,000 to £60,000.
    Forum, May 30: Distilling.- Brunschwig (Hieronymus). Liber de arte Distillandi de Compositis, first edition of the so-called 'Grosses Destillierbuch', Strassburg, 1512. £22,000 to £28,000.
    Forum, May 30: Eliot (T.S.), W. H. Auden, Ted Hughes, Philip Larkin, Robert Lowell, Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes, & others. A Personal Anthology for Eric Walter White, 60 autograph poems. £20,000 to £30,000.
    Forum, May 30: Cornerstone of French Enlightenment Philosophy.- Helvetius (Claude Adrien). De l'Esprit, true first issue "A" of the suppressed first edition, Paris, 1758. £20,000 to £30,000.
    Forum Auctions
    Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper
    30th May 2024
    Forum, May 30: Szyk (Arthur). The Haggadah, one of 125 copies, this out-of-series, Beaconsfield Press, 1940. £15,000 to £20,000.
    Forum, May 30: Fleming (Ian). Casino Royale, first edition, first impression, 1953. £15,000 to £20,000.
    Forum, May 30: Japan.- Ryusui (Katsuma). Umi no Sachi [Wealth of the Sea], 2 vol., Tokyo, 1762. £8,000 to £12,000.
    Forum, May 30: Computing.- Operating and maintenance manual for the BINAC binary automatic computer built for Northrop Aircraft Corporation 1949, Philadelphia, 1949. £8,000 to £12,000.
    Forum, May 30: Burmese School (probably circa 1870s). Folding manuscript, or parabaik, from the Court Workshop at the Royal Court at Manadaly, Burma, [c.1870s]. £8,000 to £12,000.
  • Ketterer Rare Books
    Auction May 27th
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    K. Marx, Das Kapital,1867. Dedication copy. Est: € 120,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    Latin and French Book of Hours, around 1380. Est: € 25,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    Theodor de Bry, Indiae Orientalis, 1598-1625. Est: € 80,000
    Ketterer Rare Books
    Auction May 27th
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    Breviary, Latin manuscript, around 1450-75. Est: € 10,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    G. B. Piranesi, Vedute di Roma, 1748-69. Est: € 60,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    K. Schmidt-Rottluff, Arbeiter, 1921. Orig. watercolour on postcard. Est: € 18,000
    Ketterer Rare Books
    Auction May 27th
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    Breviarium Romanum, Latin manuscript, 1474. Est: € 20,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    C. J. Trew, Plantae selectae, 1750-73. Est: € 28,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    M. Beckmann, Apokalypse, 1943. Est: € 50,000
    Ketterer Rare Books
    Auction May 27th
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    Ulrich von Richenthal, Das Concilium, 1536. Est: € 9,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    I. Kant, Critik der reinen Vernunft, 1781. Est: €12,000
    Ketterer Rare Books, May 27:
    Arbeiter-Illustrierte Zeitung (AIZ) / Die Volks-Illustrierte (VI), 1932-38. Est: €8,000
  • ALDE, May 28: KIPLING (RUDYARD). Le Livre de la Jungle. – Le IIe livre de la Jungle. Paris, Sagittaire, Simon Kra, 1924-1925. €3,000 to €4,000.
    ALDE, May 28: NOAILLES (ANNA DE). Les Climats. Paris, Société du Livre contemporain, 1924. €50,000 to €60,000.
    ALDE, May 28: MILTON (JOHN). Paradis perdu. Quatrième chant. S.l., Les Bibliophiles de l'Automobile-Club de France, 1974. €2,000 to €3,000.
    ALDE, May 28: LEBEDEV (VLADIMIR). Russian Placards - Placard Russe 1917-1922. Saint-Petersbourg, Sterletz, 1923. €1,000 to €1,200.
    ALDE, May 28: MARDRUS (JOSEPH-CHARLES). Histoire charmante de l'adolescente sucre d'amour. Paris, F.-L. Schmied, 1927. €1,500 to €2,000.
    ALDE, May 28: TABLEAUX DE PARIS. Paris, Émile-Paul Frères, 1927. €2,000 to €3,000.
    ALDE, May 28: LA FONTAINE (JEAN DE). Les Fables illustrées par Paul Jouve. S.l. [Lausanne], Gonin & Cie, 1929. €4,000 to €5,000.
    ALDE, May 28: SARTRE (JEAN-PAUL). Vingt-deux dessins sur le thème du désir. Paris, Fernand Mourlot, 1961. €1,500 to €2,000.
    ALDE, May 28: [BRAQUE (GEORGES)]. 13 mai 1962. Alès, PAB, 1962. €3,000 to €4,000.
    ALDE, May 28: MIRÓ (JOAN). Je travaille comme un jardinier. Avant-propos d'Yvon Taillandier. Paris, Société intenationale d'art XXe siècle, 1963. €1,000 to €2,000.
    ALDE, May 28: MAGNAN (JEAN-MARIE). Taureaux. Paris, Michèle Trinckvel, 1965. €3,000 to €4,000.
    ALDE, May 28: PICASSO (PABLO). Dans l'atelier de Picasso. 1960. €15,000 to €20,000.

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