Rare Book Monthly

Articles - March - 2017 Issue

Over $2 Million Worth of Rare Books Destined for California Book Fair Stolen from London Warehouse

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Title page from a different copy of Copernicus' groundbreaking book.

In what must be the most audacious book theft since the Director of Italy's Girolamini Library stole thousands of antiquarian books under his care, thieves broke into a London warehouse on the night of January 29-30 and made off with 160 books destined for the California International Antiquarian Book Fair. The estimated value of the books is $2-$3 million. The books were in a temporary stop near Heathrow Airport, being transported by three European dealers to the fair in Oakland. They never made it.

 

The method by which the books were stolen was most remarkable. It also raises all sorts of questions. Three thieves climbed onto the warehouse roof and proceeded to cut an opening around a skylight. They then rappelled down ropes 40 feet to the floor below. The advantage of this unusual method of entry was that they were able to evade the security motion sensors by doing so.

 

Next they went to four particular containers which they pried open. From there, they began pulling out books and running them against a list. The ones on the list were set aside, the others discarded. The ones they wanted were then placed in boxes which were hauled back up to the roof by the ropes. Then, the books were lowered from the roof via ropes and placed in a van. Once the job was complete, the van drove away.

 

Police know the sequence of events because it was all captured by security cameras. That video has not yet been released to the public.

 

One dealer lost an estimated $850,000 worth of books. The book with the highest estimate is a second edition of Nicolaus Copernicus' De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium, published in 1566. This book is notable for first espousing the theory that the earth revolves around the sun, not the other way around. It was estimated to be worth around $270,000. That might be a bit generous, but it is a very valuable book. Other valuable books included early editions by Galileo, Newton, and Dante.

 

A complete list of the missing books can be downloaded from the ILAB website by clicking here.

 

Two things immediately struck police and the victims about this theft. One is that the thieves had a list of precisely what they wanted. They took nothing from the warehouse but books, and showed no interest in anything else. And, from the containers of books, they followed a specific list, taking only a pre-selected group of books. Others, many of which were likely to have been of value too, were left behind. They knew what they wanted and took nothing else.

 

Next, the dealers were well aware of the difficulty the thieves would have in reselling these books. Stolen book databases are readily available to dealers and collectors at a high level. No dealer or collector is going to buy a $200,000 book from someone off the street without performing the kind of research that would quickly reveal the book to be stolen. They are too rare to readily be shopped, even to a dealer in another country. Any thief with the knowledge to be so selective would surely be aware of that. Police did not publicize the theft widely at first, evidently hoping the books might show up at a shop, but that has not happened.

 

Speculation is they were stolen on behalf of a particular collector, who obviously plans to keep his collection secret. It seems that would take much of the fun out of collecting, being unable to share the collection with friends, but there have been people who have built collections of stolen books they never shared with anyone, the truth only discovered after they died. One such case was revealed in England only a few months ago where a man who recently died was discovered to have some books in a locked cabinet stolen from the London Library in the 1950's (click here to see the story). However, these books were not nearly as valuable as the ones destined for California.

 

Not yet publicly discussed to our knowledge is that this must in some way be an inside job. Someone associated with either one or more of the dealers, the warehouse, the shipper, perhaps an insurer of the books or someone with knowledge of what was planned to be displayed, must have been involved. The thieves didn't break into a random warehouse and grab some stuff. They knew exactly what would be in there and when. That must have come from someone with knowledge, either accidentally or intentionally revealed. It also would appear that someone must have had knowledge of the inside of the warehouse to know where to find the books and how to evade the motion sensors. Perhaps the fact that there must be some sort of inside connection is what will eventually lead to their downfall. Police have a starting point.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> E.H. SHEPARD, Original drawing for A.A. Milne’s The House at Pooh Corner.<br>$40,000-60,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> BERNARD RATZER, Plan of the City of New York in North America, surveyed in the years 1766 & 1767. $80,000-100,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> THOMAS JEFFERSON, Autograph letter signed comparing Logan, Tecumseh, and Little Turtle to the Spartans. Monticello: 15 February 1821. $14,000-18,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> JOHN C. FREMONT, Narrative of the Exploring Expedition to the Rocky Mountains, in the Year 1842.. Abridged edition, the only one containing the folding map From the Sporting Library of Arnold “Jake” Johnson. $3,000-5,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> ZANE GREY, Album containing 94 large format photographs of Grey and party at Catalina Island, Arizona, and fishing in the Pacific. From the Sporting Library of Arnold “Jake” Johnson. $5,000-$8,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> WILLIAM COMBE, A History of Madeira ... illustrative of the Costumes, Manners, and Occupations of the Inhabitants. produced by Ackermann in 1821; From the Sporting Library of Jake Johnson. $2,000-$3,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> ERIC TAVERNER, Salmon Fishing... One of 275 copies signed by Taverner, published in 1931,From the Sporting Library of Jake Johnson. $2,000-$3,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> JOHN WHITEHEAD, Exploration of Mount Kina Balu, North Borneo. Whitehead reached the high point of Kinabalu in 1888. Part of a major group of travel books from the Sporting Library of Jake Johnson. $2,000-$3,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> JOHN LONG, Voyages and Travels of an Indian Interpreter and Trader, describing the Manners and Customs of the North American Indians... The first edition of 1791. $3,000-$5,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> SAMUEL BECKETT, Stirrings Still. This, Beckett’s last work of fiction with original lithographs by Le Brocquy, limited to 200 copies signed by the author and the artist. From the Estate of Howard Kaminsky.. $1,500-$2,500
  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Jacques-Émile Ruhlmann, wallpaper sample book, circa 1919. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Archive from a late office of the Breuer & Smith architectural team, New York, 1960-70s. $3,500 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> William Morris, <i>The Story of the Glittering Plain or the Land of Living Men,</i> illustrated by Walter Crane, Kelmscott Press, Hammersmith, 1894. $2,500 to $3,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Gustave Doré, <i>La Sainte Bible selon la Vulgate,</i> Tours, 1866. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Gustav Klimt & Max Eisler, <i>Eine Nachlese,</i> complete set, Vienna, 1931. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b><br>Eric Allatini & Gerda Wegener, <i>Sur Talons Rouges,</i> with original watercolor by Wegener, Paris, 1929. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b><br>C.P. Cavafy, <i>Fourteen Poems,</i> illustrated & signed by David Hockney, London, 1966. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Jean Midolle, <i>Spécimen des Écritures Modernes...</i>, Strasbourg, 1834-35. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b><br>E.A. Seguy, <i>Floréal: Dessins & Coloris Nouveaux,</i> Paris, 1925. $3,000 to $4,000.
  • <b>Bonhams: Results from Fine Books and Manuscripts on March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> BEETHOVEN, LUDWIG VAN. Autograph Manuscript sketch-leaf part of the score of the Scottish Songs, "Sunset" Op. 108 no 2. [Vienna, February 1818]. Inscribed by Alexander Wheelock Thayer. SOLD for $131,250
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> Violin belonging to Albert Einstein, presented to him by Oscar H. Steger, 1933. SOLD for $516,500
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> EINSTEIN, ALBERT. Autograph Letter Signed ("Papa") to his son Hans Albert, discussing his involvement with the atomic bomb, September 2, 1945. SOLD for $106,250
    <b>Bonhams: Results from Fine Books and Manuscripts on March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> HAMILTON, ALEXANDER. Autograph Letter Signed, to Baron von Steuben, with extensive notes of Von Steuben's aide Benjamin Walker, June 12, 1780. SOLD for $16,250
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> NEWTON, ISAAC. Autograph Manuscript in Latin, being detailed instructions on making the philosopher's stone. 8 pp. 1790s. SOLD for $275,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> 1869 Inauguration Bible of President Ulysses S. Grant. SOLD for $118,750

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