UK dealers are being alerted to look out for works stolen fom the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA. Image by Daderot via Wikimedia Commons.

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Two men, a well-known US dealer and a librarian together accused of orchestrating the theft of hundreds of books from the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, are due to appear in court on August 15.

John Schulman, 54, co-founder of Caliban Book Shop and an expert on the US Antiques Roadshow, and Greg Priore, 61, archivist of Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s special collections since 1992, were charged last month with multiple offences.

Court papers allege that between the late 1990s and 2016, Priore used his position to steal books on the advice of Schulman, and then sold them on through auctions and the trade in the US and Europe. Schulman has resigned from the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America.

London book dealers Peter Harrington and Maggs Bros have already returned ex-Carnegie Library items they had purchased in good faith.

According to court papers, the stolen books had forged library de-accessioning stamps or were accompanied by forged official letters from the library.

On the look-out

The president of the UK’s Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association, Angus O’Neill, said: “The UK trade are on the alert for other material which may have crossed the Atlantic." [view a list of stolen items]

Gaps in the library’s inventory had emerged during an audit, the first since 1991, conducted by Pennsylvania firm Pall Mall Art Advisors in April last year.

More than 300 rare books were found to be missing with others (including a copy of Edward Curtis’ monumental work The North American Indian) much diminished by the removal of plates.

The retail value of the losses was estimated at $8m.

Newton’s Principia

In 2013 Harrington and US dealer Bartleby’s Books had innocently bought a copy of Isaac Newton’s Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, 1687, for $95,000.

Pom Harrington of Peter Harrington told ATG: “We had sold the book to a collector in London [for £145,000] and had to give the money back.

“We restituted the book to the authorities at our expense.” In his view, the “library should have audited more frequently – not once in 26 years.”

A copy of the 1520 Biblia Magna purchased in good faith by Maggs from Caliban at the 2012 New York Antiquarian Book Fair was also returned.

Speaking to ATG, Ed Maggs commented: “This has been a very disappointing episode, but we’re glad to have been able to return the two books that unwittingly went through our hands, and we mourn the damage done to other books from this library which had plates removed.”

A police investigation into the books’ disappearance was launched in July 2017. Thus far, thanks to the combined efforts of the US authorities and the international book-dealing community, books with a value of $1.1m have been recovered.

The Antiquarian Booksellers' Association says it and affiliated trade organisations are active in recovering stolen material. It added: “Large-scale book thefts are mercifully rare, but the most destructive book thefts in the recent past have been carried out by some of the people who know just what to steal and who have been in positions of trust”.

Schulman founded Caliban Book Shop in 1991, became a member of the Antiquarian Booksellers' Association of America in 1994 and appeared as an expert on the PBS version of Antiques Roadshow many times since 1997. He has since tendered his resignation from the ABAA – the association saying that it “very much regrets the circumstances that led to this member's resignation, and hopes that justice will be served as the situation plays out.”

View the ABAA’s list of stolen books yet to be recovered.