Rare Book Monthly

Articles - February - 2005 Issue

Barrage Of Thefts Hits Rare Book Rooms

A254

Grainy surveillance viedo captured Peter Bellwood "checking out" library books


By Michael Stillman

On December 17, 2004, several rare and quite valuable books were stolen from Transylvania University. That's Transylvania U. as in Transylvania, Kentucky, not Dracula's old hometown. These were not ordinary volumes. According to the Lexington Herald-Leader, there was a first edition of Darwin's Origin of the Species, a collection of twenty sketches or pencil drawings by Audubon in preparation for the 1856 edition of his Birds of America, an "exceedingly rare" 16th century natural history with hand-painted woodcuts, and a 1425 illuminated manuscript. They were reportedly valued for insurance purposes at "several hundred thousand dollars," but likely would bring more in the open market. Certainly a 1425 illuminated manuscript sounds like one that could break the bank. Transylvania University offered a $5,000 reward for their return, but that is unlikely to move the thief if he or she has any familiarity with the going market for these items.

On December 22, 2004, Peter Bellwood was sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison for thefts from the National Library in Wales, according to the BBC. This was not the first time Bellwood's interest in rare books has resulted in trouble with the law, and his arrest has led to investigations at other libraries in Europe. Bellwood's activities were particularly nefarious as he carried a razor with him to "work." No, he didn't slice up any librarians, but he did cut up quite a few rare old books. Bellwood's modus operandi was to cut maps out of old books and apparently sell them on the black market. No one suspected him, despite the presence of security cameras and the fact that Bellwood, who signed into the library under his own name, had recently been released from prison for similar activities. He disarmed any suspicions of his honesty early on by handing a bill worth around $50 he claimed to have found in a book over to a librarian. It was not until a warning came from the National Library of Denmark, which discovered Bellwood's activities too late to apprehend him, that the Wales Library realized what was on its surveillance videos. Denmark still wants to prosecute him, and others may as well. The Royal Library of Stockholm, having discovered that Bellwood was a visitor there as well, has also found maps missing from its books.

All in all, Bellwood apparently made off with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of maps. Maps were taken from atlases produced in the 16th and 17th centuries by the likes of Mercator, Blaeu, Jansson and Speed. What is even more tragic is that almost none of the maps has been found, and it appears unlikely that all that many will be recovered. Great books and atlases are probably destroyed forever. And as for his illicit gains, it appears that Bellwood lost most of it betting on horses.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <center><b>Swann Auction Galleries<br>Edward Hopper & His Contemporaries:<br>Making a Modern American Art<br>June 30, 2022
    <b>Swann June 30:</b> Edward Hopper, <i>The Railroad,</i> etching, 1922. $70,000 to $100,000.
    <b>Swann June 30:</b> Edward Hopper, <i>Sheet of Studies with Men in Hats and a Saloon Keeper,</i> pen, ink & pencil, circa 1900-05. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann June 30:</b> Edward Hopper, <i>Night Shadows,</i> etching, 1921. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <center><b>Swann Auction Galleries<br>Edward Hopper & His Contemporaries:<br>Making a Modern American Art<br>June 30, 2022
    <b>Swann June 30:</b> John Marin, <i>Woolworth Building, No. 2,</i> etching & drypoint, 1913. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann June 30:</b> Charles Demuth, <i>Tulips,</i> watercolor & pencil, 1924. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Swann June 30:</b> Edward Hopper, <i>Under Control,</i> gouache, ink & wash, circa 1907-10. $30,000 to $50,000.
  • <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> JESSE JAMES. Autograph Letter Signed on the attack at his home which maimed his mother and killed his nephew Archie, 6 pp, March 23, 1875. THE MOST IMPORTANT JESSE JAMES LETTER EXTANT. $300,000 to $500,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> THE LETTER THAT ARRIVED TOO LATE: An important letter from Robert E. Lee to Ulysses S. Grant across the battlefield at Cold Harbor, June 6, 1864. $120,000 to $180,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> DAVY CROCKETT. Autograph Letter Signed on his political philosophy and his dispute with Andrew Jackson, "at home Weakley County," August 18, 1831. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> GEORGE WASHINGTON. Letter Signed to Colonel Richard Gridley, the first engineer of the American Army, Morris Town, January 9, 1777. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> SCOTT FITZGERALD. <i>Tender is the Night.</i> FIRST EDITION, INSCRIBED to H.A. Swanseid. $30,000 to $50,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS. <i>Tarzan of the Apes.</i> FIRST EDITION. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> J.R.R. TOLKIEN. <i>The Hobbit, or There and Back Again.</i> FIRST EDITION. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> NATHANAEL WEST. <i>The Day of the Locust.</i> PRESENTATION COPY, inscribed to director Richard Wallace in the year of publication. $6,000 to $8,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> FRANCIS PICABIA. Archive of 17 Autograph Letters signed to Jennie Thiersch on art and life, 1948-1951. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> JOHN HANCOCK. Autograph Letter Signed to his wife Dolly from the Continental Congress, 4 pp, Philadelphia, March 10-11, 1777. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 28:</b> NIGHTGOWN WORN BY CHARLOTTE CARDEZA DURING THE TITANIC DISASTER AND RESCUE. $40,000 to $60,000

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