Monday, July 24, 2006

Missing Yale Maps Posted

While I was away, some movement on the rare map front; Yale University libraries have posted a list of the nearly 100 maps they believe are missing from their Sterling Library collections following a full survey in the wake of the E. Forbes Smiley arrest and subsequent plea deal.

Alice Prochaska, a librarian at Yale, wrote in a statement "We believe this list is as complete as possible, and we hope it will be helpful to the map community, including dealers, collectors and librarians. If additional material is recovered, or more items are discovered missing, this list will be edited accordingly. Missing maps from the Beinecke Library will be posted soon."

The missing maps range from a 1562 chart of Russia by D. Henrico Sydneo to several maps by Mercator and Ortelius from the 1590s all the way through the late nineteenth century.

A Hartford Courant story from July 20 provides some more details, and also notes "By making its list public, Yale has set a precedent among the libraries that inventoried their collections after Smiley's arrest. If other libraries follow, it could bring about a sea change in how maps are bought and sold, as dealers and collectors start to insist on proof of clear title."

Reputable map dealers seem to be wholeheartedly embracing Yale's action, as well they should. Harry Newman notes "This is what we need. If you realize something is missing, don't keep it quiet, let us know." William Reese adds "The more institutions make people aware of these problems, the further we come to solving them. The vast majority of people are selling maps conscientiously, but we have to understand that potential thieves like Forbes Smiley are at work. Anyone shopping in these markets has to be conscious of provenance."

Libraries and other institutions are often reluctant to admit that they've been the victims of theft, to avoid embarrassment. This must end. Yale's action is a good one, and I hope other libraries that have lost materials will follow suit; it is the best way to combat people like Smiley (although stronger penalties certainly wouldn't hurt either).

In a related story, the Boston Globe reported yesterday that the eight maps Smiley admitted to stealing from Harvard University libraries will be returned to Cambridge in September.