Stolen rare maps find their way back to library’s collectionBy Jenna Russell, Globe Staff | January 2, 2008
Not all has been resolved, however. More than 30 other missing maps, losses that have not been linked to confessed map thief E. Forbes Smiley III, have yet to be recovered by the Boston library more than a year after their disappearance was discovered.
Smiley, of Chilmark, admitted stealing close to 100 maps from libraries in Boston, New York, Chicago, and London, and from collections at Harvard and Yale universities, between 1998 and 2005. He sold many of the maps to unsuspecting collectors.
Caught at Yale in June 2005 after he dropped an X-Acto knife blade on the floor, Smiley was sentenced to three years in prison in September 2006. He helped authorities track down most of the stolen maps so they could be returned to their rightful owners.
Margolis said investigators have returned 31 maps that Smiley admitted taking from the Boston library. In addition, Smiley has paid the library $7,000 in restitution for another map he stole that cannot be found, Margolis said. Three other maps have not been located, he said.
Curators at the library inventoried their rare maps after the thefts came to light, and discovered 36 more missing maps worth almost $1 million. Two of those maps have since been returned by collectors in Boston and Maryland, Margolis said, and efforts to uncover the others at auctions are ongoing.
Curators at Harvard’s rare-book library also inventoried their collection and found four missing maps, in addition to the eight Smiley said he took. Beth Brainard, a spokeswoman for Harvard’s Houghton Library, said all but three of the 12 maps, worth about $500,000, have been recovered.
“It’s a pretty happy ending to the story,” Brainard said.
Maps still missing from the university include a map of New England, published in a book by English travel writer Samuel Purchas in 1625, that was one of the first to show Cape Cod, and a 1612 map by Samuel de Champlain that was the first to show a chain of Great Lakes, according to Harvard.
Smiley, who cut rare maps out of the atlases where they were bound, was discovered with stolen maps after a librarian at Yale found an X-Acto knife blade he had dropped.
Margolis said curators are still studying the maps that were cut out of books to determine if they should be replaced in the atlases or left in their freestanding state.
The Boston library has spent about $200,000 on improved security and surveillance systems to prevent future thefts, Margolis said. All visitors to the rare-books room now sign in and out.
But by necessity, the thefts have left the library a less trusting place.
“We always felt we could be open and people would not take advantage,” Margolis said. “We realize now we need to have procedures to keep honest people honest, and to keep dishonest people honest as well.”