Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 3, No. 167. Thursday, 9 July 1992.
From: Hardy M. Cook <
Date: July 9, 1992
Subject: Arrest at Folger Library
The article below appeared in last Friday's *WASHINGTON POST*. It is of
interest for many reasons, especially in that Ex Libris (an electronic
conference like SHAKSPER) played a role in the apprehension of the thief.
Hardy M. Cook
FBI Arrests Suspect in Folger Theft:
Man Accused of Stealing
Historical Signed Documents
By Judith Weinraub
The FBI has arrested a subject in the theft of four documents from two rare
books at the Folger Shakespeare Library, Folger Director Werner Gundersheimer
said yesterday. The arrest was made at the Library during its regular teatime
The stolen documents, which have all been located, were apparently taken in
late May or early June from two 19th-century "extra-illustrated" books in the
library's collection, said Gundersheimer. He estimated their total value at
"not exceeding $20,000."
The missing pages are documents (called autographs) signed by historical
figures: Voltaire, Sir Isaac Newton, Sir John Burgoyne and one signed by
Charles II and Samuel Pepys, said Gundersheimer. In the "extra-illustrated"
manuscript tradition, each autograph had been bound -- scrapbook style -- into
two 19th-century English books ("The Life of David Garrick" by Arthur Murphy
and "Burnet's History of His Own Time" by Gilbert Burnet, bishop of Salisbury,
England) as a commentary or embellishment upon them.
"It wasn't a big heist," said Gundersheimer, "but rather a breach of a system
of trust and service to the scholarly community on which institutions like
Once the documents' disappearance was discovered, said Gundersheimer, their
speedy relocation was an outstanding example of cooperation among libraries,
dealers and the FBI, with an assist from Ex Libris, a computer-generated
electronic mail system used by libraries.
No one had noticed the documents were missing until last week when a
Philadelphia dealer called Gundersheimer with questions about an autograph she
had been offered that she suspected might have come from a Washington library.
The Folger staff soon identified it as one of their own, and observed that the
name of the man offering it for sale was the same as that of a man who in late
May had studied the book from which the document was taken. The man
identified himself to the Folger as an assistant lecturer at Trinity College,
in Cambridge, England. He told the dealer he was a private collector having
hard times, said Gundersheimer.
The Philadelphia dealer immediately contacted other autograph dealers and the
FBI, said Gundersheimer, who then used Ex Libris to notify a number of
libraries that the alleged thief was at large.
Last week the man made another appointment with the Philadelphia dealer, said
Gundersheimer, but did not keep it. A second appointment, which was also no
kept, was made with another Philadelphia dealer. Both places had been staked
out by the FBI.
Then Wednesday the man appeared at the Folger just before 3 p.m. Initially
Gundersheimer was out of the building at a lunch meeting in Baltimore that had
been delayed by crowds at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The Folger 's
registrar recognized the suspect's name and notified her supervisor, Betty
Walsh, the head of the Reading Room.
"When I came back just after 3, my office had turned into a command post,"
said Gundersheimer. "By 3:30 the suspect was in handcuffs. . . . Our staff
reacted with enormous professionalism and coolness."
"The suspect, who was charged with transporting stolen goods across state
lines, was described by Gundersheimer as 54, with curly grayish hair, a
mustache and glasses. FBI investigators could not be reached yesterday to
confirm the identity.
"The courts have tended to look at this kind of thing as a victimless crime,"
said Gundersheimer. "But it is an assault on the national patrimony, and
there <f t=i>are</f> victims -- the dealers who get badly burned, the
collectors whose hopes have been aroused, the institutions from which the
thefts are made and the generations of scholars who must anticipate working
under a totally different kind of security.
"It's a case of all's well that ends well."
THE WASHINGTON POST, Friday, July 3, 1992, D1, D11.