Rare Book Monthly

Articles - January - 2023 Issue

What Do You Do After Being Caught Stealing Over 100,000 Books? Steal Some More!

Xiao Wenja on video before his 2015 arrest.

If you somehow manage to steal over 100,000 books before getting caught, what is it you are good at? Presumably, that is the question Xiao Wenjia of Taiwan contemplated after being let out of prison in 2018. Various sources have placed the number of books he stole at 120,000 and 200,000. Evidently, 80,000 books more or less is a rounding error at this level.

 

Xiao's modus operandi was to go into bookstores wearing a large backpack. He was able to fit 20 books at a time in it. Why that backpack didn't raise suspicions is a mystery. He picked stores that didn't have much of a security system. Obviously, he picked well. He filled the shelves from which he had taken books with others in the store to reduce suspicion. Sometimes, he would reenter the store several times to pick up more. Then he moved on, first to other stores and then to other cities. Spreading thefts around made it less likely anyone would focus on him. He visited around 50 different bookstores during a seven-year career.

 

Xiao filled up his house and then found warehouses to store them. He hired helpers who didn't know the nefarious source of his books. Not even his wife knew the source. She believed he was a legitimate wholesaler. She has since divorced him so she must not have been impressed when she found out. Xiao put his stolen books for sale online, generally at a 40% discount from the prices at which the stores sold them.

 

It all came crashing down one day in 2015 when he stole books from a store that was checking its inventory that night. They noticed the missing books, checked out security camera images, and identified a suspect. When police paid him a visit, they found thousands of books in his house. That made them particularly suspicious since he had been charged with shoplifting from bookstores in the past. Xiao confessed and was sentenced to 1 ½ years in prison.

 

Once he got out, Xiao returned to his old ways. Book stores were suspicious of him when books went missing, but they had no evidence to justify an arrest. Then he made another mistake. He shoplifted a couple of bottles of Corona beer, lemons, pistachios, and tomatoes, from a grocery market. Again he was captured on surveillance video. When police went to his home, they discovered he had stolen 3,000 more books. That might seem insignificant compared to the previous theft, but this time he was sentenced as a repeat offender. That landed the now 41-year-old book thief back in prison for another 4 years. He won't be able to resume his trade until he is 45.

Rare Book Monthly

  • Fonsie Mealy’s
    Summer Rare Book
    & Collectors’ Sale
    July 30-31, 2024
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: U.S. / European Shipping Archive 1800-1814. The Widow Bermingham & Sons Collection. €7,000 to €10,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: Bunreacht na hÉireann. Constitution of Ireland. An important copy of the First Printing of De Valera’s new Constitution, approved in 1938. Signed by the Constitution Cabinet. €7,000 to €9,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: A Rare Complete Run of the Cuala Press Broadsides. €7,000 to €9,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s
    Summer Rare Book
    & Collectors’ Sale
    July 30-31, 2024
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: Grose (Francis). The Antiquities of Ireland, 2vols. folio London (for S. Hooper) 1791. Magnificent Hand-Coloured Copy - Only 25 Copies. €3,000 to €5,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: Cantillon (Richard). Essai sur la Nature du Commerce en General, Traduit de l'Anglois, Sm. 8vo London (Fletcher Gyles) 1756. €3,000 to €4,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: Gregory, (Lady Augusta). Spreading the News: The Rising of the Moon: The Poorhouse (with Douglas Hyde). Being Vol. IX of the Abbey Theatre Series. €3,000 to €4,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s
    Summer Rare Book
    & Collectors’ Sale
    July 30-31, 2024
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: Lavery (Lady Hazel). A moving series of three A.L.S. and a Telegram to Gen. Eoin O'Duffy, July-August 1927, expressing her grief at the death of Kevin O'Higgins. €3,000 to €4,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: Dampier (Wm.) Nouveau Voyage Autour du Monde, ou l'on descrit en particulier l'Isthme de l'Amerique…, 2 vols. in one, Amsterdam, 1698. €800 to €1,200.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: Howell (James). Instructions for Forreine Travel Shewing by what Cours, and in what Compasse of Time…, London, 1642. €800 to €1,200.
    Fonsie Mealy’s
    Summer Rare Book
    & Collectors’ Sale
    July 30-31, 2024
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: Rowling (J.K.) Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, 8vo, L. (Bloomsbury) 1999, First Edn., First Printing of Deluxe Collectors Edn. Signed. €800 to €1,200.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: James (Wm.) A Full and Correct Account of the Military Occurrences of The Late War Between Great Britain and The United States of America. 2 vols. Lond. 1818. €650 to €900.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: The Laws of the United States, Published by Authority, 3 vols. Philadelphia (Richard Folwell) 1796. €600 to €800.
  • Sotheby’s, July 11: Galileo, Document annotated and signed by Galileo, dated Padua, 1595. £500,000 to £700,000.
  • Bonhams, July 15-25: THE AUTOGRAPH COLLECTION OF ISRAEL WITKOWER. $8,000 - $12,000
    Bonhams, July 15-25: GEORGE WASHINGTON SIGNED DISCHARGE. June 9, 1783. $8,000 - $12,000
    Bonhams, July 15-25: "Shhhhh!" A DAVID SHANNON ILLUSTRATION FROM DAVID GETS IN TROUBLE. $2,500 - $3,500
    Bonhams, July 15-25: PICASSO, PABLO. Le Carmen des Carmen. Paris, 1964. $2,000 - $3,000
    Bonhams, July 15-25: RARE AUTOGRAPH OF AMERICAN NAVAL HERO CAPTAIN JAMES MUGFORD. $2,000 - $3,000
    Bonhams, July 15-25: KARA WALKER SILHOUETTES FOR TONI MORRISON'S FIVE POEMS. $2,000 - $3,000
    Bonhams, July 15-25: FIRST APPEARANCE OF PINOCCHIO IN ENGLISH. COLLODI, CARLO.New York, 1892. $2,000 - $3,000
    Bonhams, July 15-25: BONAPARTE, JOSEPHINE. Autograph Note (unsigned) in French. $1,000 - $1,500
    Bonhams, July 15-25: FROST ON MATTHEW ARNOLD.Autograph Letter Signed to Adams, July 27, 1934. $800 - $1,200
    Bonhams, July 15-25: ELIAS BOUDINOT'S COPY OF BARLOW'S COLUMBIAN EPIC. $800 - $1,200
    Bonhams, July 15-25: A SIGNED HART CRANE BROOKLYN BRIDGE POSTCARD TO EDWARD DAHLBERG. $600 - $800
    Bonhams, July 15-25: A STOCK CERTIFICATE SIGNED BY THE "QUEEN OF WALL STREET," HETTY GREEN. $700 - $900

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