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The Flagrant Piracy Of Rare, Antique Maps, And Books

Antique Map 1600s

Antique Map 1600s

New York Library

New York Library

The Map Thief by Michael Blanding

The Map Thief by Michael Blanding

Thefts Of Antique Maps And Books

Antique maps have always given the public a glance into the past and are treasured for their beauty. For a map to be considered antique, it must be over one hundred years old. These maps have soared in popularity for private collectors, libraries, and universities. Unfortunately, countless thefts of these works of art were worth millions stolen by unscrupulous thieves.

Every institution housing collections of rare and antique maps and books is vulnerable. Sometimes years go by before a theft is even detected, making it hard to determine when it occurred or by whom. The institutions are reluctant to admit their losses for fear of public outcry or a drop in sponsors and are even more reluctant to press charges.


Thieves Who Stole Priceless Rare Maps And Books

One of the famous of these thieves was Edward Forbes Smiley. Smiley grew up in Bedford, New Hampshire, and attended New Hampshire College he became a dealer in rare maps and was instrumental in building several collections for the New York Public Library, the Norman B. Leventhal Collection, and the Boston Public Library. However, he was deep in debt and began stealing antique maps to resell to dealers and buyers.

Smiley was arrested at Yale University in 2006 after discovering he had dropped his X-acto knife, as the librarian checked the sign-in register, found his name, and realized he was a rare book dealer calling security. He was arrested with three maps on his person matching those missing from books he had just examined. He confessed, pled guilty, then admitted he had stolen 97 antique maps from six institutions. Certainly, he was aware of the sacrilege he admitted to committing such a travesty.

Here is the list of the institutions he stole from:

  • Boston Public Library, 14 maps
  • Harvard University, 8 maps
  • New York Public Library, 31 maps
  • Yale University, 11 maps
  • British Library, London, 1 map
  • and others

Smiley cooperated with the FBI to recover all but ten of those stolen. The judge took his cooperation into consideration at sentencing. Smiley was sentenced to 3 1/2 years and 2.3 million restorations. Smiley lives in Martha's Vineyard with his wife and so. And, there were others

Antique, Rare Map One of 97 Stolen By Smiley

Antique, Rare Map One of 97 Stolen By Smiley

Edward Smiley, Map Thief

Edward Smiley, Map Thief

Gilbert Bland, The Al Capone of Cartography

Gilbert Bland, also known as the "Al Capone of Cartography," was finally caught in 1995. He was skilled at using the alias of James Perry. He and his wife operated a shop selling antique maps in Coral Gables, Florida. After the FBI raided the shop, they found another 150 maps in a storage locker. In total, some 250 maps were valued at $500,000. With his Plea Agreement, he received 17 months in jail and restitution of $70,000. Bland has faded from public view, and attempts to find him have been unsuccessful.

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Map of Thefts by Bland

Map of Thefts by Bland

Gilbert Bland

Gilbert Bland

Stephen C. Blumberg

Although Stephen was, in fact, a thief of antique maps and rare books, he stole to create his collection. Stephen was a bibliomaniac (lover of books) and never sold for profit. He had schizophrenia. When he was arrested in 1991, his home was filled with thousands of books, manuscripts, and antiques. Stephen was sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison and a $200,000 fine. Records show he stole from 268 libraries in 45 states and two Canadian provinces.

Blumberg, Denver Post

Blumberg, Denver Post

Pittsburg Carnegie Library

It was in 2017 when the theft of some 300 rare books and manuscripts worth eight million was discovered. Arrested were Greg Priore and John Schulman. Both pled guilty, with Priore receiving three years house arrest and twelve years probation. Schulman received four years of house arrest with twelve years of probation.

Carnegie Library Thefts

Carnegie Library Thefts

Library of Congress

The Library of Congress holds approximately 5.2 million antique and rare maps with a history of thefts dating back over a hundred years. Some of those thieves include Harry Katz and Berry Goldman. Katz received six years probation and $65,000 restitution. Goldman received six months of prison time with two years probation.

The Library of Congress has increased security, installed detection tags in books, upgraded security cameras, and restricted access to special collections.

Millions of dollars have been lost over the years to thieves of our historical and cultural treasures. Honest dealers or patrons returned stolen items when informed of the theft. The loss of these treasures and the additional security costs to protect future losses is a burdens all of us.

Sources Used

https://bookriot.com/book-thief

https://www.archivists.org/periodicals

https://uvamagazine.org/articles/to-catch-a-thief

https://www.newyorker.com

https://www.maproomblog.com

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