Rare Book Monthly

Articles - December - 2009 Issue

Book Theft Ring Broken Up in Maryland

Glenivey

States Attorney Glenn Ivey.


By Michael Stillman

Police in Prince George's County Maryland have secured indictments in an alleged ring of book thieves operating at public and university libraries in the area. A dozen people, several related to each other, are said to have stolen 822 books valued at $87,000. Among the victims were several branches of the Prince George's public library system, the University of Maryland Baltimore County, and Harford Community College. The thefts have reportedly been going on for the past year.

These thieves did not target the rare book rooms or collectible works, but they did focus on an expensive category - college textbooks. As anyone who has had to purchase these lately can attest, textbooks these days are as crazily priced as a college education. Most of these books cost $100 and up. However, these thieves were hardly becoming rich on the process. Apparently, they weren't making much more than petty cash, some, evidently, using the money to feed drug habits. They would remove any identifying labels and sell the books to used book stores or online. As such, they were only making pennies on the dollar. These books tend to depreciate faster than an American car when driven out of the dealer's showroom. Unlike the more sophisticated thieves who operate in rare book rooms, this group made their money on volume, not margin.

Public libraries in the Prince George's County system allow their patrons to take out up to 75 books at a time. This group was generally "borrowing" close to the limit, but not returning them. That number may need to be reviewed as it's hard to imagine why anyone would need to take out 75 books at a time.

Mary Eilerman, Chief of Harford Community College Security noted, "Ironically, there were books on ethics and philosophy." Unfortunately, it is unlikely any of the thieves stopped to read these books before they sold them. Glenn Ivey, local States Attorney, noted, "Pardon the pun, but they [the grand jury] really wanted to throw the book at this group." As of the time of the indictments, none of the stolen books had been recovered. The defendants are expected to go on trial sometime next year, though one would imagine in a case like this, if they are responsible, we will see some plea deals before that day arises. Technically, they could be sentenced for as long as 15 years in prison, though that seems way out of line with other book theft cases.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Abraham Lincoln, <i>Emancipation Proclamation by the President of the United States,</i> pamphlet, 1862. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Family papers of the distinguished Ruby-Jackson family, Portland, Maine, 1853-1961. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Family papers of the Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens & the persons who served him, 1866-1907. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Autograph book with inscriptions by orators Moses Roper & Peter Williams, 1821-54. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Archive of letters, postcards, and greeting cards sent by Romare Bearden, 1949-87. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b><br>E. Simms Campbell, <i>A Night-Club Map of Harlem,</i> in inaugural issue of Manhattan, 1933. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Papers of the comedian Nipsey Russell, including a letter from MLK, 1929-2000. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Early German-American anti-slavery broadside, <i>Sclaven-Handel,</i> Philadelphia, 1794. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Edmonia Lewis, prominent sculptor, carte-de-visite by Henry Rocher, c. 1866-71. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b><br><i>The Black Panther: Black Community News Service,</i> 44 issues, San Francisco, 1967-1971. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ernest Withers, <i>I Am A Man, Sanitation Workers Strike,</i> silver print, 1968. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> <i>March For Freedom Now!,</i> poster for the 1960 Republican Convention. $4,000 to $6,000.

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