The Stolen Champlain Map’s Return to the Boston Public Library


After Forbes Smiley was sentenced to 3½ years in prison for stealing nearly 100 maps from a number of different libraries, and maps were returned to the libraries he stole them from, there were still some missing pieces to the puzzle. There were maps in Smiley’s possession that had not been claimed; there were maps missing from libraries that Smiley did not admit to stealing, though he was recorded as the last person to see the map before it went missing.

Several institutions, including Yale, Harvard, the New York Public Library and the Boston Public Library, published lists of their missing maps. First on the BPL’s list was a copy of the Carte géographique de la Nouvelle-France, a map of northeastern North America compiled in 1612 by Samuel de Champlain. (Harvard was also missing a copy of the same map; when one example hit the auction block in 2008 there was some question of it being Harvard’s, but it turned out not to be so.)

Last year, though, the BPL caught a break. A copy of the Champlain map turned up in an antique dealer’s catalogue with identifying marks that matched a digital image of the map made by the BPL in 1992. After some wrangling, the dealer, who’d priced the map at $285,000, returned the map to the library. The news broke last December: read the Boston Globe story and the BPL’s media release.

Since then it’s been on display at the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Central Library in Copley Square. It’ll be there through this month (the 29th according to the website, the 19th according this tweet) so you’ve got until then to have a look for yourself.

map-thiefDuring The Map Room’s first iteration I posted 112 blog entries about map thefts, more than half of which were about the Forbes Smiley affair. For a book-length account of the Smiley case, read The Map Thief by Michael Blanding, which I reviewed when it came out. Amazon (Canada, U.K.) | iBooks (audiobook)