Over the last couple of years most of us have followed with concern, horror and then anger resulting from the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh thefts criminal actions. The case reminds us of how fortunate we are to be working, collecting, and maintaining the extraordinary and fragile, and often unique, works created through the centuries that illuminate our history and can guide our future. Unfortunately, the Carnegie thefts also highlight what can happen when individuals pursue self-serving greed. The facts of this case demonstrate how easy it is for all of us, both as individuals and as institutions, to trust others. This trust while usually borne out, can be betrayed.
The perpetrators of the Carnegie Library thefts, dealer John Schulman and archivist Gregory Priore, were recently sentenced. For many the result was unsatisfactory. Not just because there was no jail time, but because so many items are lost. Guilty pleas could not return and reconstruct the volumes stolen and cannibalized for the rare illustrations and maps. Over 300 antiquarian books, original drawings, prints, and maps, including many original source materials…. gone. Most of the items, whose total value was appraised at over $8 million, have not been found and returned. Frankly, there is little hope that all will ever be recovered. Among the items stolen was an exceedingly rare copy of Isaac Newton’s Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica as well as a 1615 Breeches Bible. Many of these works bear faked deacquisition stamp impressions. We at the Manuscript Society hope and urge that buyers, unwitting or otherwise, will come forward and return those items they acquired from Schulman and the Caliban Book Shop in Pittsburgh.
What we have learned is that as a collecting community, we must be ever vigilant in protecting the greater good. We must watch for items that may come on the market under suspicious circumstances. We must communicate with each other if there is a question of provenance. Contact library directors about materials from their institution and not just a department head. We must be willing to put into place the checks and balances to not only protect our collections but also all workers who maintain those collections.
Below is the reporting from Pittsburgh TV WPXI with a recent, although incomplete, list of some the items still missing. https://www.wpxi.com/news/top-stories/2-men-who-stole-rare-books-carnegie-library-sentenced-house-arrest-probation/UAKPQC424ZCVLMQFF5ZDKSGSXE/
When we are able to get a complete listing of items still missing, we will add it to our website and we ask that you peruse it and keep the items in mind as you grow your own collections.
Collecting and preserving works of the past is our passion. This theft case has shaken us all. With other organizations, such as the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America, we encourage our members and all other collectors to communicate concerns, share information and be vigilant. But we will not allow these concerns to overshadow our enjoyment in the ongoing search of history.
Douglass F. Rohrman, President, Manuscript Society