One-of-a-Kind Harry Potter Manuscript Stolen

An 800-word prequel to the Harry Potter series written on the front and back of an A5-sized postcard by J.K. Rowling has been stolen from its owner. The owner purchased the unique piece of Potter literature in 2008 for £25,000 at a charity auction benefiting Enlgish PEN. The theft, which seems to be incidental to a burglary of other valuables kept in the victim’s safes, occurred in Birmingham, UK, between April 13 and 24.

Since the theft was announced by West Midlands Police earlier today, J.K. Rowling has asked that people do not purchase the manuscript. The owner of the manuscript said his biggest fear is that opportunistic thieves will be more interested in the jewelry and other valuables stolen and will not realize the value of the small postcard, possibly discarding it as trash.

You can find more about this story from the Telegraph or BBC News.

Missing in Action: Libraries, Archives, and Rare Book Dealers Working with Each Other to Combat Theft

It is becoming increasingly beneficial to rely on our professional networks than to exist in silos when it comes to theft. I recently read articles in the New York Times and The Guardian which speak to the interconnectedness of our world, ‘We Are a Big Family’: Dealers Unite Against Thefts of Rare Books and Rare book experts join forces to stop tomb raiders British Library conference highlights rise in thefts from heritage libraries around the world, with tens of thousands of manuscripts missing.

Archivists, librarians, rare book dealers, and specialists from around the world have always been rightly concerned about this issue. Everyone is affected by the loss of an item, from the patron to the librarian or archivist to the rare book dealer who may unknowingly end up with the book in her collection.

nypl.digitalcollections.892afe6c-a708-a150-e040-e00a1806202c.001.rBecoming more connected can also build trust and obligation.  In 1997, there was a discussion on this topic in The Christian Science Monitor, which notes in Lessons on Catching Bandits of Rare Books: OFF-THE-SHELF SECURITY, “Dealers and collectors, who say the public probably doesn’t realize just how small their community is, have developed a system for notifying one another about missing works.”   Cultivating our relationships and networks could increasingly mitigate theft, which will help to minimize or perhaps one day halt the buying and selling of stolen cultural heritage materials.

Everything comes back to the foundations we build, beyond the safety of brick and mortar. Clearly, electronic book tags, bag checks, surveillance cameras, security meetings, among other policies and procedures can be effective, but, can also miss the mark. We must think past the usual to imagine new possibilities of securing our collections.



*Spencer Collection, The New York Public Library. “The very curious and wonderful picture book of Pagan history” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1890.

Stolen Abraham Lincoln Sculpture Returned to Kankakee County Museum

Barnard’s Sculpture, from Kankakee Daily Journal

Last year, news was made when a sculpture of President Lincoln’s hand by George Grey Barnard was stolen from the Kankakee County Museum in Kankakee, Illinois. The SAA Issues and Advocacy blog published a post about various thefts of Lincolniana, including the theft of this sculpture. This crime highlights the difficulties that all cultural heritage institutions, but particularly smaller museums, libraries, and archives, have in balancing providing access to materials and protecting them from criminals.

Sometimes, stories of crimes in archives and museums have a nice resolution, and the story of Barnard’s sculpture is one such story. Fourteen months after the crime, it has been reported by the Kankakee Daily Journal that, on the 208th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth (February 12), the sculpture was anonymously left at the Saint Rose of Lima Parish Church in Kankakee. It was then returned to the Kankakee County Museum, which, since the theft, has stepped up their security.

Read more on the CBS Chicago website or the Association for Research into Crimes Against Art blog.

UPDATE: Parisian Art Thief and Accomplices Sentenced to Prison

still-life-with-candleWe mentioned on this blog earlier this month that Verjan Tomic was on trial in Paris for his role in the 2010 theft of five works of art from the Musée d’Art Moderne in Paris. To this day, none of the art has ever been recovered. Today, a judge sentenced Tomic to eight years in prison for his role in the crime. In addition to Tomic, Jean-Michel Corvez was sentenced to seven years in prison and Yonathan Birn was sentenced to six years in prison for their involvement in the crime. Beyond jail time, the three were ordered to pay restitution of €104 million, the estimated value of the paintings.

Corvez was an art dealer who supposedly commissioned the heist for €40,000 because he was interested in Ferdinand Léger’s Still Life with a Candlestick, 1922 (pictured) on behalf of an international collector. Tomic, who had a reputation for breaking and entering skills, carried out the crime for Corvez. When Tomic broke a window and a padlock to access the museum, he found that he did not trip the security system – the security system had been turned off due to false alarms as a result of over-sensitivity – so he had more time in the gallery than he expected. With this extra time, he decided to take other peices that caught his eye. In addition to the Léger, he took four other paintings including works by Braque, Matisse, Modigliani, and Picasso.

After the theft, Tomic relied on Birn, a watch dealer, who agreed to hide the paintings. When the investigation into the theft began to enclose on Birn, he panicked and supposedly destroyed the canvases to get rid of any evidence of a crime. During sentencing, it is reported that Birn broke down and stated that if he knew where the canvases were today, he would return them. Investigators doubt this and believe that the art is in the hands of unscrupulous dealers or collectors overseas.

Read more about this case in the Guardian, on the BBC News Website, or in Le Figaro (in French, with video).