Rare Book Monthly

Articles - December - 2006 Issue

British Justice Not So Tough On Book Theft After All

Manchester

Manchester Central Library (from their website).


By Michael Stillman

"Like a drop of oil on a still pond, the number of his victims spreads with time. Smiley's victims include students, scholars, academics, the general public and individuals yet to be born who will not have the opportunity to sit at a desk, open a leather bound volume, and see the world as Archbishop Cranmer and others saw it in the 16th Century."

The British Library made an emotional appeal to the U.S. District Court a little while back in the Forbes Smiley case, seeking stiffer punishment for the admitted map thief. It fell on deaf ears. The court looked at Smiley's plea and the surrounding circumstances, and sentenced him to 3 1/2 years in prison, roughly half of what the British Library thought appropriate. It is easy to understand their distress. The theft of old treasures from the public trust inflicts a greater loss on society then, say, the theft of a six-pack from Seven-Eleven. Budweiser (unfortunately) will quickly produce another. Old books and maps are irreplaceable treasures of our culture and history. The British librarians returned home from their trip to America depressed and disappointed. It is understandable.

So, it is hard not to miss the irony of a British court's sentence when a similar case crossed its docket a few weeks back. One Norman Buckley, a librarian at the Manchester Central Library, stole books from its collection. Buckley was more prolific than Smiley by a factor of 5-1, stealing some 500 books. However, they were not quite so valuable, the estimated total being 175,000 British pounds (around $335,000 in U.S. dollars). Smiley's haul was around $2 million. Nothing was on the level of Smiley's best maps, though Buckley's plunder included a 16th century Chaucer valued at 35,000 pounds (US $67,000). One suspects that the lesser value of Buckley's haul reflects what was available to him, rather than a conscious decision to leave more valuable material behind. In other words, I doubt that Buckley was on a substantially higher moral plain than Smiley, though the latter may have better understood the cultural damage he was inflicting. Nevertheless, some of the broadsides relating to Manchester history he took imply a comparable disregard for that community's preservation of its history and culture.

Unlike Smiley, who sold his wares to rich collectors and institutions, Buckley chose the modern route -- eBay. Naturally, his activities also came to a halt in the modern way. Smiley was caught when he dropped a razor blade on the floor; Buckley was caught when a book expert noticed an antiquarian title with the Manchester Library stamp offered for sale on eBay. Smiley was careful to bleach any such library connections from his maps, so he was not caught until a bit of carelessness. Buckley was caught by abject stupidity.

Like Smiley, Buckley pleaded guilty and cooperated in effecting the return of as many books as possible. Again like Smiley, he made some lame excuse about personal problems being the motive, rather than greed. In Buckley's case, it was supposedly because his girlfriend left him. A wise woman.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <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>
  • <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 Jan 28:</b> Joseph F. Kernan, <i>College Football,</i> oil on canvas, <i>The Saturday Evening Post</i> cover, 1932. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Jan 28:</b> Joseph C. Leyendecker, <i>Golfer Lighting a Cigarette,</i> oil on canvas, c.1920. $7,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Jan 28:</b> Howard Chandler Christy, <i>In the Field,</i> charcoal & watercolor, published in <i>Scribner’s,</i> 1902. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Jan 28:</b> N.C. Wyeth, <i>Standish Reading,</i> pen & ink, for <i>The Courtship of Miles Standish,</i> 1920. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Jan 28:</b> Johnanna Stewart Mapes, <i>A Fairy Book,</i> conté crayon, for <i>St. Nicholas Magazine,</i> 1907. $2,500 to $3,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Jan 28:</b> Arnold Lobel, pen & ink, for <i>The Frog & Toad Coloring Book,</i> 1981. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Jan 28:</b> Antonio Lopez, <i>Today’s Fashions,</i> study for <i>The New York Times,</i> 1981. $2,500 to $3,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Jan 28:</b> Charles Schulz, <i>“I’ll have to go back to the house…I forgot my rubbers…”</i> pen & ink, original 4-panel <i>Peanuts comic,</i> 1960. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Jan 28:</b> Constantin Alajalov, <i>Family Tree,</i> watercolor and gouache, cover for <i>The New Yorker,</i> 1938. Estimate $3,000 to $4,000.

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions