There’s something inherently fascinating—although I’ve never quite been able to put my finger on it—about those mysterious and supposedly intellectual fine art thieves who seem to make international headlines every few years. It’s very James Bond, I guess.
It turns out that stealing rare maps is also a thing. According to a fantastic book by Miles Harvey I recently read about this surprisingly odd underworld, map thieves in the United States tend to ply their trade in rickety old Eastern Seaboard university libraries, where they use X-Acto blades to remove maps from bound books.
And of course, historic bound volumes themselves are stolen all the time, it seems. Hell, I’d venture to guess that just about everyone reading this post has stolen at least a book or two at some point in their lives, rare or not. But you want to know who has a serious—and I mean serious—no-joke addiction to stealing rare books? The former staffer of the Lambeth Palace Library in London, who’s written about in this New York Post piece. That’s who.
This story is just ridiculous. Apparently, “as long ago as 1975, the palace’s librarian realized that there were gaps on the library’s shelves and estimated that around 60 volumes were missing,” according to the Post. Then, in February 2011, a letter written by a former staffer arrived at the library; it had apparently been written just prior to the staffer’s death, and it “revealed the whereabouts of many of the library’s precious books.”
That sounds like a pretty good end to a rather unfortunate story. But it gets better: When the former staffer’s home was eventually searched, they didn’t find only the 60 rare books—some 1,400 books were discovered. One of them was worth nearly a quarter of a million dollars alone.