Around 240 have been given back to the dealers who owned them and had used the warehouse for storage ahead of their transportation to The California International Antiquarian Book Fair.
The items, including incunabula, early books and manuscripts, were taken from trunks housed in a storage unit in Feltham, near Heathrow, on the night of January 29, 2017.
After more than three years of investigation the books were recovered in September from a hidden underground store in a rural house in Romania.
Detectives from the Met’s Specialist Crime South travelled to Romania to carry out identification of the books and met with four of the five victims, along with Romanian police officers and the National Library of Romania.
The identification was hosted by experts from the library, who also assisted in the storage of the rescued items.
Unfortunately, 83 of the books had suffered some damage, ranging from slight to severe. This mainly consisted of damage from water and mould because of the way the books had been hidden underground, and broken spines believed to be from poor methods of transportation.
Twenty-eight were assessed as having substantial damage and two were so severely damaged they have been initially assessed as being beyond repair.
However, four of the stolen books have still not been recovered:
- Attavante Degli Attavanti, Illuminated Manuscript on Vellum – Book of Hours (Use of Rome) – Circle of Attavante Degli Attavanti, published in north Italy in 1480, valued at around £24,000.
- Vues Du Honan - Chemin de Fer, by ‘China’ – a photo album of pictures taken in China, published in 1920, valued at around £1500.
- A collection of pressed butterflies by NAWA, valued at around £4000.
- La Saggia Pazzia – by Antonio Maria Spelta, published between 1606-07, valued at around £1500.
Following the three years of investigation of a Romanian organised crime group, 12 men were jailed at Kingston Crown Court in early October for the commission of burglaries at commercial premises in the UK.
Det Insp Andy Durham, who led the investigation, said: “It was lovely to see the joy of each victim being reunited with these irreplaceable books. In particular, the moment when one of the victims - Alessandro Bado – set eyes on the books at the library, and once he had seen the condition of a few of the most important books he said with great gusto: ‘Tonight we drink like Lions.’ This made my day, seeing his reaction and joy.”
Italian book dealer Natalina Bado said: “Reviewing and touching our books three years and nine months after the theft was a profound joy. Every time we were about to view a book we had many expectations regarding the conditions and when we found our works in good condition it was a great happiness for us, just as it was a deep pain to see some damaged books.”
Anyone with information about the whereabouts of the missing books can also contact DI Durham on 07741703053 or call police on 101 quoting Cad 4340/05Nov20 or contact Crimestoppers anonymously via 0800 555 111.