The ABAA has got its eye on book thieves.

The ABAA has got its eye on book thieves.

By Alex Dalenberg

March 25, 2013

A few weeks ago I stumbled on the literary world’s version of the old MISSING notices that used to be printed on the side of milk cartons. Or maybe a better analogy would be the AMBER Alert.

Kidnapping is (obviously) in a different league than book theft, but, if an antique text goes missing, there’s a good chance that an alert will be posted to the Missing and Stolen Books Blog maintained by the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America.

Perusing the pilfered book listings, it struck me as something of a mournful chronicle.

A few examples.

Stolen: ‘Habits of Monks’, 36 Hand Colored plates.

This piece, circa 1850, was taken from the Pennsylvania Rare Books & Manuscripts Company and contains illustrations of the various ordained and non ordained members of various orders.

Stolen: 1611 Bible

Taken from Staniland Booksellers in the U.K.

Stolen: First Edition of Huckleberry Finn.

The entry describes it as an original 1885 copy with a green pictorial cover, taken from Lost Horizon Bookstore in Santa Barbara.

Items Missing from the San Francisco Fair

These included a First Annual Report of Central Park and Plain Facts about North Dakota, 1888.

And the listings go on.

When I talked with Susan Benne, executive director at ABAA, she told me that, because the collecting world is so small, the blog has actually been effective in helping owners track down their stolen goods. Benne said, in one case, a thief attempted to sell an antique book stolen from one side of Manhattan to a bookseller across the park on the other.

The blog itself is the evolution of a database that the trade group has maintained for years. And this isn’t the only stolen book database online. The International League of Antiquarian Booksellers keeps its own, as well as the Rare Books and Manuscripts Section of the Association of College and Research Libraries.

So I guess the point is, don’t steal books.

Also worth checking out is ABAA’s regular blog, regularly updated with news in the book collecting world, including information about conferences and fairs. We’ll be checking out the New York Antiquarian Book Fair in April, hosted by ABAA.