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Carnegie Library Robbery Sees Rare Titles Recovered, Most Lost Forever


Carnegie Library Robbery Sees Rare Titles Recovered, Most Lost Forever

Carnegie Library robbery includes Pilgrams’ Bible and Groundbreaking Work by Isaac Newton Among Stolen Works

A Carnegie Library robbery in Pittsburgh, in the spring of 2017, cost curators more than 300 books.

The communications manager, Suzanne M. Thinnes, shared that “The missing and damaged items were discovered last spring during an insurance appraisal as part of a multi-year effort to enhance and preserve our unique collections. This theft occurred over an extended period of time by knowledgeable individual(s).”

On January 13th, 2020, two men pleaded guilty to the Carnegie Library robbery, valued at more than $8 million. The sole archivist in the library’s rare book room, Greg Priore, was passing rare books to John Schulman, owner of Caliban Book Shop. Schulman would then sell the books to collectors.

“The shock, the anger and the hurt we feel that individuals who were close to us, who were trusted by us, who were considered friends and colleagues to many of us at the Library, would abuse the faith we had in them for personal gain will be with us for a very long time,” Carnegie Library leadership said in a statement.

Here is a list of some of the most interesting stolen works.

1) Isaac Newton’s Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica

This book, which in English is Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, details some of Newton’s most important discoveries. It describes Newton’s laws of motion, which laid the foundation for classical mechanics, and Newton’s law of universal gravitation.

It also includes a derivation of German astrologer Johannes Kepler’s law of planetary motion, which Kepler observed empirically.

In 2008, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy wrote, “By the 1790s Newton’s theory of gravity had become established among those engaged in research in orbital mechanics and physical geodesy, leading to the Principia becoming the exemplar of science at its most successful.”

Fortunately, the book is now safe.

The Oliver Room in Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is closed to the public. But Greg Priore, the library’s archivist, had unfettered access to the room. [Courtesy of Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh]

2) 1615 Breeches Bible

The Leiden American Pilgrim Museum in the Netherlands bought the book in June 2015 for $1,200. However, the director of the library read about the theft at the Carnegie Library and contacted them.

The FBI recovered the rare Bible and returned it to Pittsburgh.

The Bible is a priceless piece of history because it’s part of what the pilgrims brought with them when they first arrived in America. It is the first mass-printed Bible in the English language.

3) John Adams’ A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America

A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America, a 1787 work of John Adams, is missing. It’s extremely culturally important in the United States, and is part of the knowledge base of civilization in the modern era.

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Adams wrote this while he was a U.S. minister to the UK and it played an important role in the development of American politics. It calls for the separation of powers, checks and balances, and a two-house legislature. Later, Adams was the second president of the United States from March 1797 to March 1801.

4) Carnegie Library Robbery – Historic Maps and Plates

Aside from the whole books that Priore stole, he also destroyed many very valuable works by removing pages that contained rare maps and plates.

Several 1787-1789 volumes by Thomas Anburey titled Travels Through the Interior Parts of America in a Series of Letters are missing important maps and plates, likely sold individually or compromised.

Other maps came from Thomas Ashe’s Travels in America from 1808. Dozens of other books are comprimised in this way. Some are missing over half of their maps.

In the end, the Carnegie Library robbery is a tragic loss to the literary world and to American and world culture. While the culprits are in custody, many works are likley lost forever.

As for Priore and Schulman, sentencing will to occur in an Allegheny County, PA, court on April 17.

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