Rare Book Monthly

Articles - August - 2009 Issue

Who Bears the Loss from the David Slade Thefts?

David Slade (from the ABA Newsletter).


By Michael Stillman

One of the uglier criminal book theft cases came to its legal conclusion earlier this year when David Slade, Past President of England's Antiquarian Booksellers Association, was sentenced to 28 months in prison. Slade had been hired by the very wealthy Sir Evelyn de Rothschild to catalogue his library. Slade provided "services" beyond those called for in the contract, namely, pilfering at least $340,000 worth of books. He pleaded guilty. The case has been an enormous embarrassment to the ABA and booksellers everywhere, but Slade, whose reputation and finances are in shambles, has paid dearly for his actions. Unfortunately, he is not the only one likely to pay for his crimes, and herein lies one of the uglier side effects of this sordid tale. Which innocent bystanders will also be forced to pay for Mr. Slade's crimes?

The sentencing of Mr. Slade ended the criminal case, but left unresolved who bears the financial losses. Here is the problem. When the stolen books were sold, Mr. Slade received the proceeds. To the extent he still has them, he will be required to return the money to the innocent victims. However, according to the court, Mr. Slade was not so much motivated by greed as by financial difficulties. He needed the money to keep his head above water. In other words, most of the money he received is long gone. Someone is going to be out the ill-gained money he spent. The question is... who?

The answer likely depends on which group of books is considered. There are two: those which can be traced, and those which cannot. Those which cannot be traced beyond Mr. Slade, will almost certainly end up being Mr. Rothschild's loss. Those which can be traced, especially those which are recovered, will likely result in someone else's loss.

The reason those that cannot be traced will likely be Mr. Rothschild's loss is there is simply no one else in the chain, other than the broke Mr. Slade, who can be held accountable. However, for those books that are found, and we are not familiar enough with British law to be certain, but in most American jurisdictions, the loss would probably fall to the first person in the chain who has enough money to repay. First off, since the books are stolen property, Mr. Rothschild is entitled to their return. So, for example, if Bookseller #1 bought a stolen book from Mr. Slade, then sold it to Bookseller #2, who sold it to Mr. Collector, Mr. Collector would be obligated to give the stolen book back to Mr. Rothschild. He would receive nothing from Mr. Rothschild in return, though he may have spent thousands of dollars to buy the book. Too bad. He is out the money. However, Mr. Collector would be entitled to sue Bookseller #2 for selling him a book he did not own, and thereby recover his losses. Bookseller #2 could in turn sue Bookseller #1 on the same grounds. So in this case, it is Bookseller #1 who ends up losing his money. The only person he could sue, Mr. Slade, has no money to repay him. Now if Bookseller #1, like Mr. Slade, is broke, the loss then ends with Bookseller #2, and if he too is broke, Mr. Collector ends up as the loser. Only Mr. Rothschild is safe from loss if the book is found.

Rare Book Monthly

  • 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
  • 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.

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