Rare Book Theft

Sandra Laville has the story in today’s Guardian of a number of rare book thieves, including David Slade, who is due to be sentenced today:

Today at Aylesbury crown court, another member of this band of thieves faces a custodial sentence after admitting the theft of £232,880-worth of extremely rare books from one of the most powerful financiers in the world, Sir Evelyn de Rothschild. It is a case that has until now received no publicity. Like Jacques, 59-year-old David Slade is a well-educated and highly knowledgeable loner, but also the former president of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association in the UK, and a dealer who has sold internationally since he was 17. 
Slade was hired by Rothschild to catalogue the family book collection. As he did his work, visiting Rothschild’s home, Ascott house in Buckinghamshire, two or three times a week, Slade discreetly removed the odd book, each of which was an extremely valuable and beautifully crafted production by one of the private presses that operated in the late 19th and early 20th century.
He took them to an auction house where his reputation was unquestioned and sold them for significant sums. It was during a routine audit that Rothschild noticed the books, 68 in all, had gone missing. Slade’s guilty plea went unnoticed, but the ABA has now decided to speak out.
Alan Shelley, current president, said the only way to eradicate the trafficking of rare books was to work closely with libraries, auctioneers and dealers. 
The British Library has led the way by admitting when it is the victim of theft. But while major international libraries alert each other to details of stolen books or descriptions of thieves, these do not always reach the antiquarian book trade and not all libraries are honest about falling victim to theft. 
“We all need to be a bit more grown up,” said Jolyon Hudson, from Pickering and Chatto antiquarian bookseller. “[Libraries] are the curators of the nation’s knowledge, and when they lose it they are somewhat embarrassed to admit that.”

This again echoes the same difficulties that plague the art trade and the antiquities trade.  There is insufficient scrutiny of the chain of title when these objects are transferred, bought and sold.  Relying on a seller’s reputation does not provide a meaningful check on the process.  

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

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