Saturday, June 24, 2006

Map Dealer Stole from Famous Libraries

A leading dealer in rare maps was found guilty of stealing about 100 maps from libraries worth a total of about $3 million.

E. Forbes Smiley III, the thief, apparently used an X-Acto knife to cut the maps out of books, and was discovered when he dropped the knife at a Yale library. Other libraries he "patronized" included Harvard, NYPL and the British Library.

The article says Smiley's crimes started in 1998, but another dealer is quoted:

"It's your gut," said Arader, who said he warned others that Smiley might be stealing. "The guy was buying stuff and selling it to my customers for 70 percent of the wholesale auction price, and he was doing it for 20 years."

Smiley seems to have been giving his customers an extremely good price for many years. And those no doubt extremely knowledgeable customers interested in buying old maps must have known they were getting a deal too good to be true.

But the customers looked the other way and didn't ask too many questions, I wuld surmise, because they wanted the maps at an impossible price while probably knowing they were stolen. It seems a common theme in stolen artwork. Criminals are tough to catch because they provide collectors with a fabulous bargain and the customers pretend they see nothing amiss in the deal.

It also indicates continuing security problems for rare materials in libraries. My first library job was in a rare book room and we kept a close watch on users, who were limited in where and how they could use the materials. But this article doesn't make clear if the maps were in a rare book/map room or in a more open collection where thieves could easily cut out pages without much trouble. I would hate to see the rare book room where a user could do this unnoticed!

Are these famous libraries mentioned in the story taking adequate precautions for protecting such valuable items? Doesn't sound like it to me. Lucky for them Smiley dropped the knife where it was noticed!

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