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

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Francis Scott Key, <i>Star Spangled Banner,</i> first printing, c. 1814-16. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> William Sydney Porter, a.k.a. “O. Henry,” archive of drawings made to illustrate a lost mining memoir, c. 1883-84. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> [Bay Psalm Book], printed for Hezekiah Usher of Boston, Cambridge, c. 1648-65. $50,000 to $75,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Book of Mormon, first edition, Palmyra, 1830. $40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> <i>Noticia estraordinario,</i> probable first announcement in Mexico City of the fall of the Alamo, 1836. $40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Patrick Gass, first edition of earliest first-hand account of the Lewis and Clarke expedition, Pittsburgh, 1807. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Diploma from the Princeton Class of 1783, commencement attended by Washington & Continental Congress. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> <i>Sprague Light Cavalry!</i> color-printed broadside, NY, 1863. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> <i>The Lincoln & Johnson Union Campaign Songster,</i> Philadelphia, 1864. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Lucy Parsons, labor organizer, albumen cabinet card, New York, 1886. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Daniel L.F. Swift, journal as third mate on a Pacific Whaling voyage, 1848-1850. $3,000 to $4,0000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 10:</b> Two photos of Thomas Moran, Grand Canyon, silver prints, 1901. $1,500 to $2,500.
  • <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Helvelius. Two Autograph Letters Signed to Francis Aston, Royal Society Secretary, noting his feud with Robert Hooke, 5 pp total, 1685. $70,000 to $100,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Newton, Isaac. Autograph manuscript on God, 4 pp, c.1710, "In the beginning was the Word...."?$100,000 to $150,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. First edition, first issue. Untrimmed copy in contemporary boards. $30,000 to $50,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Lincoln, Abraham. Signed photograph, beardless portrait with Civil War provenance. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> IMPEACHMENT. Original engrossed copy of the first Andrew Johnson impeachment resolution vote. $120,000 to $180,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Mucha, Alphonse. 11 original pencil drawings for?<i>Andelicek z Baroku,</i> "Litte Baroque Angel," Prague, 1929. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Einstein, Albert. Annotated Galley Proofs for <i>The Meaning of Relativity.</i> 1921. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Silverstein, Shel. Original maquette for <i>The Giving Tree,</i> 34 original drawings. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Roth, Philip. Typed Manuscript with substantial autograph corrections for an unpublished sequel to <i>The Breast.</i> $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> Taupin, Bernie. Autograph Manuscript, the original draft of lyrics for Elton John's "Candle in the Wind," 2 pp, 1973. $100,000 to $150,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> HARVEY, WILLIAM. <i>De Motu Cordis et Sanguinis in Animalibus Anatomica Exercitatio.</i> Padua: 1643. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 6:</b> CESALPINO, ANDREA. <i>Peripateticarum Quaestionum Libri Quinque.</i> Venice: 1571. $30,000 to $40,000.

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