Rare Book Monthly

Articles - August - 2005 Issue

30,000 Books Missing From French National Library

Flibrary

Architect Dominique Perrault's book on the new French National Library.


By Michael Stillman

Over 30,000 books have disappeared from the French National Library. Somewhere between lost and stolen, these books have vanished. Between one and two thousand of them are considered to be very valuable.

It has also been reported that a curator for the library, Michel Garel, has been accused of stealing books. An anonymous letter concerning a 13th century Pentateuch sold at Christie's in 2001 led to the charges against the former curator. Reportedly, Garel at first confessed, but has since retracted the confession and attributed it to coercion. He is now professing complete innocence.

As interesting as the Garel case might be, it is but the tip of the iceberg. He is suspected in the cases of some 100 to 200 of the books. That leaves another 29,800 books, more or less, that no one knows where they have gone. Well, someone knows, but those who do aren't talking.

Evidently, the problem first became known when the Paris library moved to a new location in 1996. It's not clear why this is just coming to light now, but perhaps this is something library officials weren't in any particular hurry to mention. It really doesn't sound that good.

This is not necessarily a recent occurrence. The last major inventory prior to 1996 was conducted in 1947. These books could have disappeared anytime within that range. No one may ever know. It has been pointed out that a labyrinth of tunnels under the old library building led to some bookshops. I think that sounds a bit too convenient, but who knows? Most people who remove books from a library without checking them out have financial, rather than literary, motives in mind.

In fairness to the French National Library, they house an enormous number of books, something like 30 million. On a percentage basis, that is one-tenth of one percent. For a library of 30,000 books, that would be the equivalent of 30, or less than one a year. When you look at it that way, their performance looks fairly good. It's just the one or two thousand missing valuable books, which presumably were better protected, that does not appear so commendable.

However, what the French Library is facing is hardly unique to France. Book theft appears to be becoming more common as the immense value of certain very rare antiquarian titles is known. A particular problem arises from the cutters, who go in and snip valuable plates and maps from old books. These are easier to sneak by security, but they end up leaving rare old works permanently defaced. This matters not at all to those who engage in these atrocities.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <center><b>Forum Auctions<br>Fine Books, Manuscripts<br>and Works on Paper<br>28 January 2021</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Jan. 28:</b> Schedel (Hartmann). <i>Liber Chronicarum,</i> first edition, Nuremberg, Anton Koberger for Sebald Schreyer and Sebastian Kammermeister, 1493. £30,000 to £50,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Jan. 28:</b> [Greek Orthodox Church].- <i>Menaion,</i> manuscript in Greek, on paper, in Greek letters, [Eastern Mediterranean], [c. 1400]. £5,000 to £7,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Jan. 28:</b> American Revolution.- Loyalist's cow powder horn, engraved with the cypher "GR" for George III surmounted by a crown, an inscription, and on reverse an engraving of the "North River" [Hudson River], 1777. £5,000 to £7,000.
    <center><b>Forum Auctions<br>Fine Books, Manuscripts<br>and Works on Paper<br>28 January 2021</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Jan. 28:</b> Illuminated prayer book.- <i>Maria Carcer y Trigueros... Santa Misa y Oraciones,</i> illuminated manuscript in Spanish, on paper, [c. 1850]. £5,000 to £7,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Jan. 28:</b> Hardy (Thomas). <i>The Mayor of Casterbridge,</i> 2 vol., first edition in book form, original cloth, 1886. £2,000 to £3,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Jan. 28:</b> [Austen (Jane)]. <i>Emma: A Novel,</i> first edition, Printed for John Murray, 1816. £7,000 to £10,000.
    <center><b>Forum Auctions<br>Fine Books, Manuscripts<br>and Works on Paper<br>28 January 2021</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Jan. 28:</b> Brontë (Charlotte). <i>Jane Eyre. An Autobiography,</i> 3 vol., first edition, Smith, Elder and Co., 1847. £10,000 to £15,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Jan. 28:</b> Cruikshank (George). <i>The Road to the Derby,</i> one of two proof copies, Raphael Tuck & Sons, 1882. £600 to £800.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Jan. 28:</b> Meunier (Charles, binder).- Gruel (Leon). <i>Manuel Historique et Bibliographique de l'Amateur de Reliures,</i> 2 vol., Paris, 1887.-1905. £3,000 to £4,000.
    <center><b>Forum Auctions<br>Fine Books, Manuscripts<br>and Works on Paper<br>28 January 2021</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Jan. 28:</b> Burne-Jones (Sir Edward). <i>The Work of Edward Burne-Jones,</i> edited by Philip Burne-Jones, one of 200 copies, [c.1900]. £4,000 to £6,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Jan. 28:</b> Nazraeli Press.- <i>Six by Six,</i> 36 vol. [a complete set], one of 100 sets, each with signed photograph, Portland, Or., 2010-16. £10,000 to £15,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Jan. 28:</b> Australasia.- Péron (Francois) and Freycinet. <i>Voyage de Découvertes aux Terres Australes,</i> 5 vol. including Atlas, second edition, Paris, 1824. £6,000 to £8,000.
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 18:</b> Manuel Orazi, <i>La Maison Moderne,</i> 1900. $40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 18:</b> Maxfield Parrish, <i>The Century, Midsummer Holiday Number,</i> 1897. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 18:</b> Alphonse Mucha, <i>Medee, Sarah Bernhardt,</i> 1898. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 18:</b> H.A. Volodimer, <i>Grand Prix d’Endurance de 24 Heures,</i> 1923. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 18:</b> Aldo Mazza, <i>Vini d’Italia,</i> circa 1920. $7,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 18:</b> Leonetto Cappiello, <i>l’Oie d’Or,</i> circa 1930. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 18:</b> <i>James Bond Does It Everywhere in “Thunderball!”</i> designer unknown, 1965. $1,500 to $2,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 18:</b> Emil Cardinaux, <i>Palace Hotel, St. Moritz,</i> 1920. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 18:</b> Joseph C. Leyendecker, <i>“Contour” Arrow Form-Fit Collars,</i> 1917. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Feb 18:</b> Sascha Maurer, <i>Ski at Lake Placid,</i> 1938. $2,500 to $3,500.
  • <center><b>Case Antiques<br>Two-Day Winter Auction<br>Jan. 30 & 31, 2021</b>
    <b>Case Antiques, Jan. 30-31:</b> Rare 1778 Engraved map of Colonial Philadelphia after George Heap (1714-1752) and Nicholas Scull (1687-1761). $10,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Case Antiques, Jan. 30-31:</b> Author signed and inscribed <i>THE FOUNTAINHEAD,</i> stated First Edition, by Ayn Rand, published by The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Indianapolis, New York, 1943. $2,000 to $2,400.
    <b>Case Antiques, Jan. 30-31:</b> John James Audubon (American, 1785-1851) hand-colored aquatint engraving, "Yellow-billed Magpie, Stellers Jay, Ultramarine Jay and Clark's Crow," Plate Number CCCLXII. $1,800 to $2,200.
    <center><b>Case Antiques<br>Two-Day Winter Auction<br>Jan. 30 & 31, 2021</b>
    <b>Case Antiques, Jan. 30-31:</b> Andrew Jackson (1767-1845) autograph letter, signed, as President, to Nathan Reid detailing Jackson’s intervention on behalf of Reid's grandson. $1,800 to $2,200.
    <b>Case Antiques, Jan. 30-31:</b> Edward Steichen (Luxembourg/American, 1879-1973) portfolio of photographs, "The Early Years 1900-1927, 12 Hand-Gravure Prints" #41/1000, printed in 1981. $1,400 to $1,600.
    <b>Case Antiques, Jan. 30-31:</b> President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, TLS, one-page typed letter on The White House, Washington, D.C., stationary to John Marshall Butler. $1,400 to $1,600.
    <center><b>Case Antiques<br>Two-Day Winter Auction<br>Jan. 30 & 31, 2021</b>
    <b>Case Antiques, Jan. 30-31:</b> Two Pre-Civil War slave related letters, including one written by Mariah, a female domestic slave of James Vincent Musgrove (1814-1890) to her daughter. $1,000 to $1,200.
    <b>Case Antiques, Jan. 30-31:</b> Two author signed and inscribed Ayn Rand related books, including one Rand signed <i>WE THE LIVING,</i> London 1940 edition. $1,000 to $1,200.
    <b>Case Antiques, Jan. 30-31:</b> PLAN DE LA VILLE DE MEMPHIS (ETATS-UNIS) 40,000 HABITANTS pen and ink with watercolor hand drawn drainage system map, circa 1870. $700 to $900.
    <center><b>Case Antiques<br>Two-Day Winter Auction<br>Jan. 30 & 31, 2021</b>
    <b>Case Antiques, Jan. 30-31:</b> Scarce Mezzotint portrait of Thomas Pownall, Colonial Governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay (1757-1760) and South Carolina (1760). $600 to $700.
    <b>Case Antiques, Jan. 30-31:</b> VIEW OF NORFOLK FROM COSPORT, VIRGINIA, John Hill, engraver, after John Shaw (U.K., 1776-1832). $600 to $700.
    <b>Case Antiques, Jan. 30-31:</b> THE BURNING OF THE MERCHANT'S EXCHANGE, NEW YORK CITY -THE GREAT FIRE OF DECEMBER, 1835. Scarce color lithograph, a 1909 reissue of the original 1836 print. $500 to $700.
  • <b><center>Christie’s<br>Paul Destribats:<br>Une Bibliothèque des Avant-gardes<br>Part III<br>2-3 and 4 February 2021</b>
    <b><center>Christie’s<br>Paul Destribats:<br>Une Bibliothèque des Avant-gardes<br>Part III<br>2-3 and 4 February 2021</b>
    <b><center>Christie’s<br>Paul Destribats:<br>Une Bibliothèque des Avant-gardes<br>Part III<br>2-3 and 4 February 2021</b>
    <b><center>Christie’s<br>Paul Destribats:<br>Une Bibliothèque des Avant-gardes<br>Part III<br>2-3 and 4 February 2021</b>

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