Museum Security Network

insider theft: Bristol bookseller stole £230,000 from Rothschilds; jailed for 28 months

Wednesday, February 04, 2009.

(February 5 addition: A well-known book dealer who stole rare books worth more than  £230,000 from the private library of the Rothschild family has been  jailed for 28 months.)

A bookseller from Bristol has pleaded guilty to stealing rare books worth more than £230,000 from one of the world’s most powerful financiers.

David Slade, 59, of Boston Road, Horfield, admitted taking 68 books from Sir Evelyn de Rothschild over a seven year period.

Slade, who worked for George’s bookshop which later became Blackwells in Park Street, was hired by the Rothschilds in 2001 to catalogue the family book collection.

The dealer, who has sold books around the world since the age of 17, visited Rothschild’s home, Ascott country estate in Buckinghamshire, up to three times a week from January 2001.

He has admitted removing books from the family library and then selling them on at auction.

Each book he stole was extremely valuable and crafted by one of the private book presses which operated in the late 19th and early 20th century.

The total theft was worth a staggering £232,880, Aylesbury Crown Court was told.

It wasn’t until a routine audit was carried out last year that Rothschild noticed his books had gone missing.

Slade, the head of Georges and later Backwells’ antiquarian department, is a former president of the UK’s Antiquarian Booksellers Association (ABA), the senior trade body for dealers in rare and fine books and manuscripts.

George’s of Park Street was a well known landmark in the city.

But when Blackwells abandoned antiquarian bookselling in Bristol, Slade left and set up as an independent bookseller.

Alan Shelley, ABA’s current president, released a statement to the organisation’s members this week.

It read: “The ABA is shocked to learn of David Slade’s conviction and probable imprisonment for book theft.

“The scale of his activities, and the appalling breach of the trust placed in him, render this a very serious offence, and while we are deeply sorry to see a former member in such a situation, we unhesitatingly deplore his crimes.

“Theft of books, whether from public or private collections, or indeed from members of the trade, is a very serious matter, and the vast majority of honest booksellers are anxious to be given full particulars of any missing items or suspicious transactions without delay.”

While major international libraries often alert each other about rare books which have been stolen, not all libraries admit to having fallen victim to theft.

Mr Shelley added: “The only way we can eradicate the trafficking of stolen books is by working closely with librarians, collectors, auctioneers and our fellow booksellers; the one positive aspect of these recent lamentable cases is that they do suggest that the problem of book theft is being taken seriously at last.”

Sir Evelyn and Lady de Rothschild are ranked as the 150th richest couple in the world, worth £527 million.

Slade was due to be sentenced at Aylesbury Crown Court on Wednesday afternoon.

The sentencing had originally been scheduled to be heard earlier this week, but had to be cancelled because snow prevented lawyers from getting to court.

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