Two precious books stolen by an employee from Sweden’s Royal Library were returned today at a ceremony in New York after the antique book seller in Baltimore who purchased them agreed to hand them over to the FBI.
The chief of the Royal Library’s Manuscript Department, Anders Burius, stole at least 56 rare or one-of-a-kind volumes in his 10 years of employment, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York said in a statement.
The two recovered today were a 1683 description of Louisiana in French written by Louis Hennepin, including maps and produced on the orders of the king; and a 19th-century illustrated volume about the Mississippi valley in German. Their combined value is about $255,000, according to Herrick, Feinstein LLP in New York, a law firm acting for the library.
The books “offered the world some of the first glimpses of the extraordinary American landscape and people,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in today’s statement. “We hope this recovery will prompt others to return antique books in their possession that were stolen from the Library.”
It was an enquiry about the Mississippi book that raised the theft alarm at the Royal Library when it was discovered missing. Burius confessed in 2004, when he learned the library was investigating the disappearances and planned to conduct an inventory.
Shortly after, he committed suicide during a temporary release from custody and severed the gas line to his kitchen stove, causing a major explosion in central Stockholm.
Burius consigned his illegal booty under an alias, and Swedish authorities have been informed that 13 of the books were sold to U.S. buyers, the office said. Stephan Loewentheil, the owner of a book shop in Baltimore, acquired the two volumes in 1998 from the German auction house Ketterer Kunst without knowing they were stolen, the U.S. Attorney’s office said.
He then paid 68,000 deutsche marks ($37,400) for the two books, Urban Rybrink, a spokesman for the Royal Library, wrote in an e-mail.
The Hennepin book contains the first-ever printed map of Louisiana and the first descriptions of Niagara Falls. It once belonged to King Gustav IV and was incorporated into the library in 1796. The Henry Lewis book includes hand-colored lithographs and texts from the author’s exploration of the Mississippi River between the years 1846-1849.
Loewentheil cooperated fully with the U.S. authorities once he discovered the volumes were stolen, the office said.
A year ago, the Royal Library recovered a 415-year-old atlas that had been in its collection for more than three centuries until Burius stole it. It includes the first printed map of California.
The Royal Library has collected books since 1661 and contains 18 million items.
Today’s ceremony was attended by Bharara, Gunilla Herdenberg, the CEO of the Royal Library, and FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge George Venizelos.
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