Rare Book Monthly

Articles - March - 2008 Issue

Transy Book Thieves Appeal; Receive Higher Sentence

Case

The Appeals Court renders a verdict unfavorable to the Transy book thieves.


By Michael Stillman

Be careful what you wish for. Leave well enough alone. Any number of clichés could apply to the hapless Transy book thieves, who somehow managed to make a bad situation worse. These are the four students who stole several valuable books from the rare book room at Kentucky's Transylvania University, in a theft even more comical than their disastrous appeal. A few more appeals and they'll spend the rest of their lives in jail.

This bizarrely foolish rare book heist took place in December of 2004, after almost a year of what is ludicrously described as "planning." Having decided which books to target, they sent an email to Christie's in New York under a false name, claiming they wished to sell some books "worth millions." This was followed up with an email stating, "I have a first addition [yes, these scholars really wrote first "addition"] Origin of the Species by Charles Darwin, manuscripts that date back to the 1500s, and a collection of John James Audubon's QQuadrupeds [sic] and Birds of America. I know that these are worth a lot..."

Next they set up a meeting at the library, pretending to be a collector, to view the books. They dressed up as older men, costumes that apparently looked more like party gags. The librarians ignored them, believing they were students participating in some sort of college prank. They may even have been recognized by a fellow student who asked what they were doing in such costumes. The four hightailed it back home and rescheduled their appointment to the following day, when they returned sans disguises.

On December 17, two of the "perps" entered the library, while two remained on guard and with the getaway car outside. Once in the Special Collections Library, they subdued the librarian and began zapping her with an apparently low voltage stunning device. It reportedly did not cause much pain, but scared the librarian and left a small bruise. With that, they tied her up, and began loading the books she had laid out for them into a sheet.

While the presence of the sheet indicated they were aware that the books would be heavy, they evidently did not bank on just how heavy. So, in a move that showed just how little they knew about rare books, they took two of four volumes of Audubon's elephant folio Birds of America, and two of three volumes of his Quadrupeds. Any real collector would have told them to take one complete set, not parts of two, and only a complete idiot would leave a couple elephant folio volumes of Birds behind to take a couple of volumes of Quadrupeds. But, as we shall see, even this was not the stupidest thing these young men were about do.

With those books they could carry in tow, the thieves headed for the exit. However, they were spotted by another librarian on the way out, which caused them to proceed in even greater haste. The result was that they dropped the heavy Audubon books in the stairwell, and ran out without stopping to retrieve them. They hurried to the waiting getaway van and returned to the home of one of the conspirators. They stashed the books in his secured basement, secured because he grew marijuana plants down there.

While this was not exactly the perfectly executed crime, they probably believed they had pulled it off at least modestly well. They were wrong. The reality was that this theft was doomed before the thieves ever set foot in the library. Of course the concept that Christie's would unquestioningly accept books worth millions of dollars from a group of scraggly young men, supposedly representing a secretive collector, defies imagination, but they committed an even greater blunder. It would not be long before the police were on their trail.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Darwin, Charles. <i>On the Origin of Species.</i> Presentation Copy. Sold for $500,075.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Darwin, Charles. Autograph Letter Signed, 3 pp, negotiating the 2nd American edition with Appleton. Sold for $21,325.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Hemingway, Ernest. Autograph Letter Signed, 8 pp, Paris, 1924, to his father discussing Bullfighting, Stories, and his new baby. Sold for $25,075.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Shakespeare, William. <i>Corialanus.</i> London, 1623. 1st printing [Extracted from the First Folio]. Sold for $50,075.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Swift, Jonathan. <i>Gulliver's Travels.</i> London, 1726. 1st edition, Teerink's A edition, fine, large copy. Sold for $21,325.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Fitzroy, Robert. Autograph Letter Signed to agent Thomas Stilwell, informing him of the progress of H.M.S. Beagle. Sold for $17,575.
    <center><b>Bonhams<br> Property from the Collection of Nicole and William R. Keck II</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Shakespeare, William. <i>Sonnets.</i> 1901. 2 volumes. Printed on vellum and illuminated by Ross Turner, bound by Trautz-Bauzonnet. Sold for $13,825.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Beardsley, Aubrey. <i>The Birth, Life, and Acts of King Arthur.</i> 1893-94. 2 volumes. Contemporary painted vellum gilt by Chivers. Sold for $5,325.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Assisi, St. Francis. <i>The Canticle of Brother Sun.</i> Illuminated on vellum, for the Grolier Society. Sold for $7,575.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Rackham, Arthur. <i>Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens.</i> 1/500 copies signed by Rackham. Sold for $4,825.
    <b>Bonhams, Jun 13 results:</b> Proust, Marcel. <i>Du coté de chez Swann.</i> 1st edition, 1st issue. Inscribed by Proust. Sold for $8,825.
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b> Sergio Trujillo Magnenat, <i>Bogotá 1938 / IV Centenario / Juegos Deportivos Bolivarianos,</i> 1938. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b> <i>McQueen Drives Porsche,</i> designer unknown, 1970. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b><br>Joe Bridge, <i>Bignan / A Des Ailes,</i> 1921. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b> Graham Simmons, <i>The Army Isn’t All Work,</i> 1919. $1,000 to $1,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b> Leonetto Cappiello, <i>Je ne fume que le nil,</i> 1912. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b> <i>Attack of the 50 ft. Woman,</i> designer unknown, 1958. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b> Raymond Tooby, <i>Festival Guiness / Have You Tried One Yet?,</i> 1952. $600 to $900.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b> Francisco Tamagno, <i>Terrot & Co. / Dijon / Cycles Motorettes,</i> 1909. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b><br>A. Hori, Oakland / General Motors, circa 1925. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Aug 7:</b> James Montgomery Flagg, <i>Travel? Adventure? Answer – Join the Marines!,</i> circa 1918. $4,000 to $6,000.
  • <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Roberts, David. Twenty Lithographs of the Holy Land, 19th Century. $2,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Declaration by the Reps. of the United Colonies of N.A. 1775. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Composer Jerome Kern personal Letters, Albums and Other. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Paine, Thomas. <i>Common Sense,</i> London 1776. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Stowe, Harriet Beecher. <i>Uncle Tom’s Cabin,</i> Cleveland 1852. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Hobbes, Thomas. <i>Leviathan,</i> 3rd edition, London 1651. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Anno Regni Georgii III. Intolerable Acts and other Bills, 1774. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Wilberforce, William. An Abstract of the Evidence, 5 Letters, and two books. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Nightingale, Florence. Notes on Nursing and Signed Letters, ca. 1860 $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Tolstov, Leo. <i>War and Peace,</i> 5 volumes, 1886. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Dickinson, John. Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, 1768. $1,500 to $2,500.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Twain, Mark. <i>Tom Sawyer,</i> 1877 [and] <i>Huckleberry Finn,</i> 1885. $4,000 to $6,000.

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