Writing at Atlas Obscura, Jeffrey Arlo Brown has the frustrating story of a German map thief—the extraordinarily slippery eel Norbert Schild—and the decades-long attempts by librarians to catch him, or when caught convict him, or when released stop him from stealing again.
All over Germany, librarians waited for the Bonn state prosecutor’s investigation to proceed. But they never filed charges against Schild. The evidence was largely circumstantial: While libraries could show that Schild used the damaged books, they couldn’t necessarily prove that he was the one cutting out the pages. A search warrant executed at Schild’s home on November 22, 2002, turned up “tools of the trade,” such as bibliographies and lists of historical materials at Germany libraries, but no actual stolen maps. Prosecutors in Bonn were busy, and the stakes may have seemed low—old books, not human lives. The charges in Trier—where Schild was caught red-handed—were dropped due to negligibility, after damages were estimated at just €500. A spokesman for the prosecutor’s office in Bonn declined to comment.
Yesterday Priore and Schulman pled guilty: Priore to one count of theft by unlawful taking and receiving stolen property, Schulman to a charge of forgery and another of theft by deception and receiving stolen property. (They were facing a total of 10 and 20 charges respectively, but the remaining charges were dismissed as part of a plea agreement.)
Sentencing is scheduled to take place on April 17; each man faces up to 20 years in prison (the plea deal does not include sentencing).
Three men have been arrested for stealing approximately €20,000 worth of maps from municipal libraries in France, Le Parisien reports (in French). The men were arrested near Béziers after an investigation that began after an aborted attempt at stealing from Avignon’s municipal library. Between late 2018 and early 2019 the men managed to steal at least five 15th- or 16th-century maps from libraries in Limoges, Auxerre and Le Mans; the maps have not yet been recovered. [Tony Campbell]
Colby Bartlett “took a chance” on a water-stained 1841 map of Lafayette, Indiana he found at a pawn shop, where the asking price was $80. But his research into the map’s origins took a completely unexpected turn. The Lafayette Journal and Courier has the story about how Bartlett inadvertently discovered the Tippecanoe County Public Library’s missing copy of the map before the library realized it had gone missing. Believe me, you want to read this. [Tony Campbell]
I missed some news stories published in August about the case of the rare books and maps stolen from the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh. The Caliban Book Shop’s accounts were frozen once owner John Schulman was charged; as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported on 2 August, a judge granted Schulman access to the store accounts to enable him to pay his bills and employees’ wages; neither Schulman nor his wife, who co-owns the store, can take money from those accounts, though. Meanwhile the New York Times looks at the impact the arrests of Schulman and former Carnegie Library archivist Gregory Priore has had on the rare books community—especially the buyers who may find themselves in possession of stolen goods. [WMS/WMS]
Arrests have been made in the case of the rare books and maps stolen from the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh, the New York Times and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette report. Former library archivist Gregory Priore and John Schulman, the owner of the Caliban Book Shop, are accused of stealing some $8 million in items from the library over a 20 year period, about $1 million of which has since been identified and returned.
They both face numerous charges, including theft, receiving stolen property, conspiracy, retail theft and forgery; Priore has also been charged with library theft and criminal mischief, while Schulman is also facing charges of dealing in the proceeds of illegal activity, theft by deception and deceptive business practices.
Both men turned themselves in last Friday and were released on their own recognizance; a preliminary hearing is scheduled for 1 August. For his part Priore seems to be cooperating with the investigation.
The former archivist of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s rare book collection told investigators he conspired with the owner of an Oakland bookseller since the 1990s to steal and resell items taken from there.
Gregory Priore, who was terminated from the library on June 28, 2017, and John Schulman, who co-owns Caliban Book Shop, are under investigation for theft, receiving stolen property and criminal mischief, according to hundreds of pages of documents unsealed Thursday in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court.
Charges have not yet been laid. A search warrant was executed at the Caliban Book Shop’s warehouse last August and several of the items reported stolen from the library were apparently recovered.
Note the timeline: we first heard about this in April 2018, but the searches had already been executed the previous August. The thefts had apparently been going on for decades but were only discovered in April 2017. We’re not finding things out in real time. [WMS]
“French prosecutors on Thursday sought prison terms of up to seven years for a group of Hungarians on trial over accusations they stole rare maps worth millions of euros from a string of French libraries,” Agence France-Presse reported yesterday (Expatica France, The Local). The group of seven reportedly cut maps from books in libraries in cities like Lille, Nancy and Toulouse; they were caught when one of them was stopped by Hungarian customs officials. We usually talk about map thieves as single, even singular individuals, but a gang of map thieves? Move aside, Smiley. [Tony Campbell/WMS]
In April 2017, the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh made a shocking discovery in the course of a routine insurance appraisal of its rare book holdings in the library’s main Oakland branch: some 314 rare books, folios, maps and plates were missing. News of the thefts was finally made public last month: see coverage from CBS Pittsburgh, Hyperallergic, Library Journal, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and Smithsonian magazine, among others. The police do have suspects in the thefts, which had apparently taken place over a long period of time; the total value of the stolen items is around $5 million. A full list of the stolen items (PDF) has been posted, and includes maps by Hondius, Jefferys, Ogilby and Ortelius, as well as two copies of the Italian translation of Ptolemy’s Geography. Make no mistake: as thefts of rare maps and books go, this is a staggeringly large incident. [Tony Campbell]
After Forbes Smileywas 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.
E. Forbes Smiley III was a well-known and well-connected map dealer, an expert who helped build the Slaughter and Leventhal map collections. Then in 2005 he was caught—on videotape—stealing maps from Yale University’s Beinecke Library. Libraries he had frequented scrambled to check their own holdings and found additional maps missing. Smiley, who cooperated with the authorities, would eventually be sentenced to 3½ years for stealing nearly 100 maps from the British, Boston Public, New York Public, Harvard and Yale libraries, among others. The libraries believed he stole many more.
With The Map Thief, Michael Blanding presents a book-length exploration of the Forbes Smiley affair, which stunned map collectors and map libraries alike in 2005. Its publication, coming nine years after Smiley’s arrest and four years after his release from prison, is something of an anticlimax, especially for those of us who followed the case so closely as it unfolded (I blogged about it more than 60 times, myself).
Map thieves fascinate us, even if they themselves are not that fascinating (see, for example, the essential blandness of Gilbert Bland, the subject of a previous book about map thefts, Miles Harvey’s Island of Lost Maps), because of what they steal. As stolen goods, antique maps are a curiosity: like art, but more stealable, because there are few copies, not just one.
In 2005 and 2006 my map blog, The Map Room, was full of posts about one E. Forbes Smiley III, who had been caught stealing rare maps from the Beinecke Library at Yale University. As is often the case with map thieves, Smiley was found to be responsible for many other map thefts from other libraries, and suspected in other thefts. Smiley was sentenced to 30 months in prison. (I posted a lot about the Smiley case: see The Map Room’s Map Thefts category archives.)
I knew there would have to be a book on the Smiley case at some point, and one is coming out next month: The Map Thief, whose author, Michael Blanding, has managed to interview Smiley himself, and promises new information about the case. I’m really looking forward to seeing how well Blanding has managed to tell this particular tale, which consumed so much of my attention seven or eight years ago.