Two of the rare books stolen from Sweden's Royal Library were returned today during a ceremony in New York. The two books recovered today were purchased in 1998 by Stephan Loewentheil, a bookshop owner in Baltimore who'd sold the books, but bought them back in order to return them to the library. A lawyer with the firm representing the library estimates the value of the two volumes at $255,000.
"Although as a bona fide purchaser, I didn't have any legal liability, from a moral standpoint it bothered me," Loewentheil told AFP. "So I tracked them down and fortunately the people I had sold them to were willing to sell them back to me, and I repurchased them at my own expense.
The books, "a 1683 description of Louisiana in French written by Louis Hennepin, including maps and produced on the orders of the king; and a 19th-century illustrated volume about the Mississippi valley in German," according to Bloomberg, were part of a list of 56 other rare volumes stolen by library employee Anders Burius between 1995 and 2004.
Burius, also known unimpressively as the "Royal Library Man," confessed to his crimes after the library realized that its inventory of one-of-a-kind books was looking a little light, and committed suicide soon after his arrest. Since then, there's been a miniseries (Bibliotekstjuven, the Swedish term for—again, unimpressively—Library Thief) and the library has been working to recover the books, which Burius sold to various dealers.
Last year, the library had its first bit of luck in recovering the missing works when another dealer discovered his 1597 Wytfliet atlas was part of Burius' haul. W. Graham Arader III, a New York map dealer, bought the map from Sootheby's in London for $100,000 in 2003. Arader didn't realize the atlas belonged to the library until a librarian came across him selling the map nine years later.
Today there's more good news, and the New York District Attorney Preet Bharara returned the books to the library's CEO Gunilla Herdenberg during a ceremony in Manhattan. The moral of the story here is that, if you happened to have come across a rare, half millennium old book or map in the last decade, maybe check and see if anyone is missing one before you spend six figures on it. Here's a list of everything that's missing from the Royal Library.
(Image via AP.)
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