[ISHMap-List] Fwd: Stolen rare map returned to Boston Public Library - The Boston Globe
mpedley at umich.edu
Fri Dec 4 16:13:10 CET 2015
A story for posting on the ISHM web site? Mary Pedley
At BPL, sharp eye steers missing map home
[image: Ronald Grim noticed that markings on a map offered for sale for
$285,000 matched those on a digital image made from a negative the BPL had
A rare map advertised in a New York antiques dealer’s summer catalog was
created by explorer Samuel de Champlain in 1612 and provided a description
of the New England coast and what would later become Canada.
But the map had defects. And it was those flaws — slight tears where it had
once been folded and a tiny mark where a hole had been repaired — that
caught the attention of the Boston Public Library’s eagle-eyed map curator,
“I was fairly certain it was ours,” said Grim, who immediately suspected
the Carte Geographique de la Nouvelle France was one of dozens of rare maps
that had been stolen from the Boston Public Library by notorious thief E.
Forbes Smiley more than a decade ago.
[image: This is the book, from which the map was cut.]
Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff
This is the book, from which the map was cut.
The distinctive markings on the map being offered for sale by Cohen &
Taliaferro for $285,000 matched those on a digital image made from a
negative the library kept after photographing the map in 1992 before it
disappeared, according to Grim.
In August, Grim traveled to New York and presented the digital image to the
dealer, hoping to persuade him to return the map.
“I had to contain myself because I knew the dealer didn’t want that to be
the truth,” said Grim, who returned to Boston empty-handed.
It would take several months of legal wrangling and an evaluation by an
independent expert to resolve the matter. The dealer quietly returned the
map to the library just before Thanksgiving.
On Friday, the Champlain map will be placed on display at the Norman B.
Leventhal Map Center at the library’s central branch in Copley Square,
where it will remain through February.
“We were able to do this as colleagues within this industry as a whole,”
said David Leonard, the Boston Public Library’s interim president,
crediting the New York dealer with “doing the right thing” once the library
In announcing the recovery of the Champlain map, the Boston Public Library
did not identify the New York dealer by name — though the company’s catalog
advertising the sale of the Champlain map was posted on its website.
Library officials said the dealer was selling the map for an unidentified
collector. Cohen & Taliaferro did not respond to e-mails or telephone calls
Even as the library celebrates the return of one of its prized possessions,
it is still missing 34 maps. And the recovery of the Champlain map has
renewed questions about whether Smiley, a map dealer with a home on
Martha’s Vineyard, stole more maps than he admitted to, and whether enough
is being done to recover them.
The FBI and the US attorney’s office in Connecticut closed the case against
Smiley after he pleaded guilty to theft in 2006 and was sentenced to three
years in prison. As part of a plea agreement, Smiley confessed to stealing
97 rare maps worth an estimated $3 million from libraries in five cities,
including Boston, New York, and London. He helped return many of the maps
to the libraries. Thirty-four maps were ultimately returned to the Boston
Public Library as a result of the investigation. However, some of the
libraries discovered they were missing more maps than Smiley accounted for
and accused him of failing to admit to all of his misdeeds.
[image: This cartouche (decorative element) is on the map.]
This cartouche (decorative element) is on the map.
Grim, who worked at the Library of Congress before starting at the Boston
Public Library in 2005, inventoried the Boston Public Library’s massive map
collection and discovered that 69 rare maps were missing. Smiley confessed
to stealing only 34 of them. “In the overwhelming majority, [Smiley] was
the only person to look at them,” Grim said.
Smiley did not confess to stealing the Champlain map, yet library records
indicate he was the last person to view it, on Jan. 2, 2003, before it
disappeared, according to Grim. It was one of two maps torn from a book and
the other one remains missing.
[image: Ronald Grim pointed out a repair to the map, on the back side.]
Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff
Ronald Grim pointed out a repair to the map, on the back side.
Efforts by the Globe to reach Smiley for comment Thursday were unsuccessful.
Cohen & Taliaferro was one of a handful of dealers who sold some of
Smiley’s stolen maps and suffered significant losses when the federal case
unfolded. The dealers repaid their customers, who had purchased the stolen
maps and were required to return them to the libraries. Smiley was ordered
to make restitution to the dealers, including $938,400 to Cohen &
Taliaferro and a company it purchased.
Michael Blanding, author of, “The Map Thief,” a book about Smiley published
last year, said that in some cases dealers were not required to return maps
because Smiley didn’t confess to stealing them and the libraries could not
prove ownership. In some cases, many copies of the same map exist.
As for the Champlain map that was recently recovered, Blanding said the
dealer should have done more checking to establish provenance because it
was well known that a copy of that map had been stolen from the Boston
“It certainly raises questions again about just how forthcoming Smiley was
in admitting to all the maps he stole and whether there are other maps that
could come to light in coming years,” Blanding said. “It really points to
the responsibility of dealers in determining provenance.”
Scott Gerson, the New York-based conservation expert who determined that
the Champlain map belonged to the Boston Public Library, said the
photograph the library took of the map in 1992 was “very key with being
able to make that identification.”
The Boston Public Library has a digital image of only one of the remaining
34 maps that are missing, but in recent years has digitized more than 8,000
of its rare maps as part of a project aimed at digitizing about 20,000
maps, according to officials.
[image: The map provided a description of New England’s coast and what
would become Canada.]
Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff
The map provided a description of New England’s coast and what would become
*Shelley Murphy can be reached at shmurphy at globe.com <shmurphy at globe.com>.
Follow her on Twitter @shelleymurph <http://twitter.com/shelleymurph>.*
William L. Clements Library
The University of Michigan
Temporary address (through end 2015):
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Ann Arbor, MI 48108
Campus address (after January 2016):
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Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
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