Rare Book Monthly

Articles - March - 2017 Issue

Over $2 Million Worth of Rare Books Destined for California Book Fair Stolen from London Warehouse

93e1ea03-ec7b-40f6-aaec-18dad8154cd4

Title page from a different copy of Copernicus' groundbreaking book.

In what must be the most audacious book theft since the Director of Italy's Girolamini Library stole thousands of antiquarian books under his care, thieves broke into a London warehouse on the night of January 29-30 and made off with 160 books destined for the California International Antiquarian Book Fair. The estimated value of the books is $2-$3 million. The books were in a temporary stop near Heathrow Airport, being transported by three European dealers to the fair in Oakland. They never made it.

 

The method by which the books were stolen was most remarkable. It also raises all sorts of questions. Three thieves climbed onto the warehouse roof and proceeded to cut an opening around a skylight. They then rappelled down ropes 40 feet to the floor below. The advantage of this unusual method of entry was that they were able to evade the security motion sensors by doing so.

 

Next they went to four particular containers which they pried open. From there, they began pulling out books and running them against a list. The ones on the list were set aside, the others discarded. The ones they wanted were then placed in boxes which were hauled back up to the roof by the ropes. Then, the books were lowered from the roof via ropes and placed in a van. Once the job was complete, the van drove away.

 

Police know the sequence of events because it was all captured by security cameras. That video has not yet been released to the public.

 

One dealer lost an estimated $850,000 worth of books. The book with the highest estimate is a second edition of Nicolaus Copernicus' De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium, published in 1566. This book is notable for first espousing the theory that the earth revolves around the sun, not the other way around. It was estimated to be worth around $270,000. That might be a bit generous, but it is a very valuable book. Other valuable books included early editions by Galileo, Newton, and Dante.

 

A complete list of the missing books can be downloaded from the ILAB website by clicking here.

 

Two things immediately struck police and the victims about this theft. One is that the thieves had a list of precisely what they wanted. They took nothing from the warehouse but books, and showed no interest in anything else. And, from the containers of books, they followed a specific list, taking only a pre-selected group of books. Others, many of which were likely to have been of value too, were left behind. They knew what they wanted and took nothing else.

 

Next, the dealers were well aware of the difficulty the thieves would have in reselling these books. Stolen book databases are readily available to dealers and collectors at a high level. No dealer or collector is going to buy a $200,000 book from someone off the street without performing the kind of research that would quickly reveal the book to be stolen. They are too rare to readily be shopped, even to a dealer in another country. Any thief with the knowledge to be so selective would surely be aware of that. Police did not publicize the theft widely at first, evidently hoping the books might show up at a shop, but that has not happened.

 

Speculation is they were stolen on behalf of a particular collector, who obviously plans to keep his collection secret. It seems that would take much of the fun out of collecting, being unable to share the collection with friends, but there have been people who have built collections of stolen books they never shared with anyone, the truth only discovered after they died. One such case was revealed in England only a few months ago where a man who recently died was discovered to have some books in a locked cabinet stolen from the London Library in the 1950's (click here to see the story). However, these books were not nearly as valuable as the ones destined for California.

 

Not yet publicly discussed to our knowledge is that this must in some way be an inside job. Someone associated with either one or more of the dealers, the warehouse, the shipper, perhaps an insurer of the books or someone with knowledge of what was planned to be displayed, must have been involved. The thieves didn't break into a random warehouse and grab some stuff. They knew exactly what would be in there and when. That must have come from someone with knowledge, either accidentally or intentionally revealed. It also would appear that someone must have had knowledge of the inside of the warehouse to know where to find the books and how to evade the motion sensors. Perhaps the fact that there must be some sort of inside connection is what will eventually lead to their downfall. Police have a starting point.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <center><b>California International Antiquarian Book Fair<br>February 10-12, 2023<br>Pasadena Convention Center<br> abaa.org/cabookfair
    <center><b>California International Antiquarian Book Fair<br>February 10-12, 2023<br>Pasadena Convention Center<br> abaa.org/cabookfair
    <center><b>California International Antiquarian Book Fair<br>February 10-12, 2023<br>Pasadena Convention Center<br> abaa.org/cabookfair
    <center><b>California International Antiquarian Book Fair<br>February 10-12, 2023<br>Pasadena Convention Center<br> abaa.org/cabookfair
    <center><b>California International Antiquarian Book Fair<br>February 10-12, 2023<br>Pasadena Convention Center<br> abaa.org/cabookfair
    <center><b>California International Antiquarian Book Fair<br>February 10-12, 2023<br>Pasadena Convention Center<br> abaa.org/cabookfair
    <center><b>California International Antiquarian Book Fair<br>February 10-12, 2023<br>Pasadena Convention Center<br> abaa.org/cabookfair
    <center><b>California International Antiquarian Book Fair<br>February 10-12, 2023<br>Pasadena Convention Center<br> abaa.org/cabookfair
    <center><b>California International Antiquarian Book Fair<br>February 10-12, 2023<br>Pasadena Convention Center<br> abaa.org/cabookfair
    <center><b>California International Antiquarian Book Fair<br>February 10-12, 2023<br>Pasadena Convention Center<br> abaa.org/cabookfair
    <center><b>California International Antiquarian Book Fair<br>February 10-12, 2023<br>Pasadena Convention Center<br> abaa.org/cabookfair
  • <b><center>Swann Auction Galleries<br>View Our Record Breaking Results</b>
    <b>Swann:</b> Gideon Welles, <i>Extensive archive of personal and family papers of Lincoln’s Secretary of the Navy,</i> 1791-1914. Sold September 29 — $281,000.
    <b>Swann:</b> Charles Addams, <i>Rock Climbers,</i> cartoon for <i>The New Yorker,</i> watercolor, ink and gouache, 1954. Sold December 15 — $37,500.
    <b>Swann:</b> Charlotte Brontë, <i>Jane Eyre. An Autobiography. Edited by Currer Bell,</i> three volumes, first edition, 1847. Sold June 16, 2022 — $23,750.
    <b>Swann:</b> Geoffrey Chaucer, <i>The Workes of Geffray Chaucer Newlye Printed,</i> London, 1542. Sold October 13 — $106,250.
    <b><center>Swann Auction Galleries<br>View Our Record Breaking Results</b>
    <b>Swann:</b> Dorothea Lange, <i>Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California (Destitute pea pickers in California. Mother of seven children. Age 32),</i> silver print, 1936. Sold October 20 — $305,000.
    <b>Swann:</b> George Washington, Autograph Document Signed, with two manuscript plat maps in holograph, 1751. Sold October 27 — $37,500.
    <b>Swann:</b> Winfred Rembert, <i>Winfred Rembert and Class of 1959,</i> dye on carved & tooled leather, 1999. Sold October 6 — $233,000.
    <b>Swann:</b> M.C. Escher, <i>Relativity,</i> lithograph, 1953. Sold November 3 — $81,250.
  • <b><center>Sotheby’s<br>Original Film Posters<br>27 January - 10 February 2023</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s, Jan. 27-Feb. 10:</b> Vertigo (1958), poster, US. The ultimate poster on this classic Hitchcock title, one of three known examples. £40,000 to £60,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, Jan. 27-Feb. 10:</b> Lawrence of Arabia (1962), roadshow poster, US. £8,000 to £12,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, Jan. 27-Feb. 10:</b> Star Wars (1977), style C poster, printer's proof, US. £7,000 to £10,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, Jan. 27-Feb. 10:</b> The Navigator/ La Croisiere du Navigator (1924), re-release poster (1931), French. £5,000 to £8,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, Jan. 27-Feb. 10:</b> Bullitt (1968), special test poster, US. £3,000 to £5,000.
  • <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 8):</b> Lot 817. Bellin's complete five-volume maritime atlas with 581 maps & plates (1764). $24,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 8):</b> Lot 325. An early and important map of the Republic of Texas (1837). $11,000 to $14,000.
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 8):</b> Lot 45. De Bry's early map of North Pole depicting Willem Barentsz' expedition (1601). $3,500 to $4,250.
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 8):</b> Lot 154. Poignant map of the United States documenting lynchings (1931). $250 to $325.
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 8):</b> Lot 457. Extremely rare matching set of pro-German propaganda from WWI (1914). $2,000 to $2,400.
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 8):</b> Lot 815. Homann's world atlas featuring 110 maps in contemporary color (1751). $14,000 to $16,000.
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 8):</b> Lot 60. Miniature pocket globe based on Herman Moll (1785). $3,500 to $4,500.
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 8):</b> Lot 8. Visscher's rare carte-a-figures world map (1652). $14,000 to $16,000.
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 8):</b> Lot 158. Matching satirical maps of the US by McCandlish: "Ration Map" & "Bootlegger's Map" (1944). $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 8):</b> Lot 820. One of the finest English atlases of the early 19th century (1808). $4,750 to $6,000.
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 8):</b> Lot 59. Important milestone in preparation for 1969 moon landing (1963). $750 to $900.
    <b>Old World Auctions (Feb 8):</b> Lot 805. Superb bible leaf with image of crucifixion of Jesus with gilt highlights (1518). $800 to $950.
  • <center><b>Potter & Potter Auctions<br>Fine Books & Manuscripts,<br>including Americana<br>February 16, 2023</b>
    <b>Potter & Potter, Feb. 16:</b> [KELMSCOTT PRESS]. CHAUCER, Geoffrey. <i>The Works…now newly imprinted.</i> Edited by F.S. Ellis. Hammersmith: Kelmscott Press, 1896. $100,000 to $125,000.
    <b>Potter & Potter, Feb. 16:</b> [EINSTEIN, Albert (1879–1955)]. –– ORLIK, Emil (1870–1932), artist. Lithograph signed (“Albert Einstein”). N.p., 1928. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Potter & Potter, Feb. 16:</b> TOLKIEN, John Ronald Reuel. <i>[The Lord of the Rings trilogy:] The Fellowship of the Ring.</i> 1954. –– <i>The Two Towers.</i> 1954. –– <i>The Return of the King.</i> 1955. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Potter & Potter, Feb. 16:</b> CLEMENS, Samuel Langhorne ("Mark Twain") and Charles Dudley WARNER. <i>The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today.</i> Hartford and Chicago, 1873. $6,000 to $8,000.
    <b>Potter & Potter, Feb. 16:</b> LOVECRAFT, Howard Phillips. <i>Beyond the Wall of Sleep.</i> Collected by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei. Sauk City, WI: Arkham House, 1943. $2,000 to $3,000.

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions