Valuable atlases, maps, and large plate books that show the colorful breadth of Western civilization have been stolen from the rare books room of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh in Oakland, right under the gaze of Andrew Carnegie’s portrait.
The theft of 314 items was discovered last April when an appraisal for insurance purposes began of the rare materials in the Oliver Room, library spokeswoman Suzanne Thinnes said. Deemed a crime scene, the room has been closed since April 3, 2017. Since that time, detectives from the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office have been investigating the complex case.
“We’re very saddened by the breach of trust. This theft occurred over an extended period of time” by a knowledgeable individual or individuals, Ms. Thinnes said. She said the library could not provide an exact value of the missing materials.
Michael Vinson, a rare book dealer for 26 years, who reviewed a detailed list of the missing items, was more direct.
“I think the value would easily be $5 million. This is an immense cultural crime,” he said.
Among the missing books is a first edition of Isaac Newton’s “Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica” from London, dated 1687. Mr. Vinson noted that another copy of this book sold for $3.7 million in 2016 at a Christie’s auction in New York City.
Also gone is a first edition of Adam Smith’s book “The Wealth of Nations,” which, Mr. Vinson said, would be worth $150,000. Nine books printed before 1500 were stolen, too. These texts are called incunables because they were printed in the first 50 years after Johannes Gutenberg began printing. Mr. Vinson said the nine incunables would be worth a total of $50,000.
Mr. Vinson received an email earlier this month from a trade association detailing the theft.
Books Stolen from Carnegie Library