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Twas mine, tis his, and has been slave to thousands
July 20, 2008 2:48 PM   Subscribe

How did this man end of with a copy of the most iconic book in the English language? He says he got it from a friend in Cuba, but the Folger Library has identified it as the copy of Shakespeare's First Folio stolen from Durham University in 1988. Turns out that stealing the book is much easier than selling it.
posted by Horace Rumpole (17 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
Her name is Rios and she dances on the sand.

Come on, now ...
posted by Donnie VandenBos at 2:59 PM on July 20, 2008


Her name is Rios and she dances on the sand.

I flinched too. And to be pedantic, the Tropicana is nowhere near any beach, and while the lovely Hotel Nacional does overlook the gulf, there's no sand there either.

"She dances on the slippery rocks" would have been more accurate on a couple of levels.
posted by rokusan at 3:43 PM on July 20, 2008


Wait a minute, Bono has a shakespeare manuscript?
posted by jonmc at 3:44 PM on July 20, 2008 [2 favorites]


"If I had been the person who had stolen this book, the last thing in the world I would do is to openly walk into the Folger Shakespeare Library, under my own name, showing them my passport -- the great center of Shakespeare learning -- and say, 'What have I got here?'

"It's like taking a revolver with six chambers, loading five chambers, spinning, putting it to your head and pulling the trigger. It just doesn't make sense," he said.
Yeah... but for a batshit crazy dude who seems to have money out of nowhere and history of petty crime, it makes perfect sense that you would want to be the hero of the day who returned a stolen folio or discovered a new one.

I generally hate to jump to conclusions of guilt or innocence prior to any legal hearings... but in this case, i'll make the exception and say that there is no way this guy Isn't guilty.

That Slate article was hilarious, though.
posted by vertigo25 at 3:58 PM on July 20, 2008


Love the Slate article, thanks.

It gets even worse for folio fiends.

He went there!
posted by The Straightener at 4:16 PM on July 20, 2008 [1 favorite]


I've often wondered much the same thing about art thieves, though. Every year or two we hear about another successful high-profile art theft (oftentimes involving The Scream) but I've never heard where these thieves are expecting to sell their goods. I mean, it's not like you can simply fence something like that, as it will be immediately identifiable as soon as it enters open market, so I guess I've just always assumed that there are contacts with people who want to buy the art for their own reasons, and have no plans to sell it. Of course, in many if not most of these cases, the art is recovered without having been successfully sold at all, but still, something keeps the art thieves going.

So why wouldn't it be the same for a Folio? Or even more so, really? I mean, surely there are rich bastards out there who wouldn't mind buying their very own hot copy of the "most important text in the English language," and it could be freely displayed on one's coffee table of in a display case to wow visitors with far more easily than pointing up to the Munch on your wall and not expecting educated people to remember that the painting is still missing from Oslo. On the off chance that anyone ogling the book mentions the theft of the Durham copy, you can just chuckle and laugh about how silly it is to try to steal these, because there are less than three hundred of them, and all of their distinguishing marks have been catalogued, etc. etc. You can even direct them to the Slate article, and then who's going to suspect that yours is the stolen copy?

I mean, anyone likely to be in the presence of "The Scream" in an opulent private residence is also highly likely to recognize it (even if they don't know that there are several different versions of it by Munch himself) and be highly suspicious. Only a handful of people, however, know how to recognize where a particular Folio came from, and if you have one, you know who those people are and you're not inviting them into your home. You certainly aren't walking into their place of business with your stolen merchandise saying, "can you tell me where this came from?"

Unless, I guess, that you're hoping that in the absurdity of the circumstances you simply can't be blamed for it, which might be this dude's plan. Still, it seems far more likely to me that he was offered a Folio, which he knew as little about as any normal person would, and then had it appraised after he bought it. I don't know. I just doubt he was the guy who stole it, or even the first person it changed hands to after the theft. He's just the one dumb/naive enough to let himself be caught with it.
posted by Navelgazer at 5:08 PM on July 20, 2008


I've heard that high profile hot art ends up as collateral for criminal enterprise.
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:32 PM on July 20, 2008


Boy, I bet the people at WFMU were totally surprised by this! Did Irwin Chusid have anything to say about it?

Oh... not that Raymond Scott?

posted by not_on_display at 6:46 PM on July 20, 2008


the most iconic book in the English language

We have to do something about this word "iconic." How can something be the "most" iconic? Also, an icon (even in the loose way it has come to be used in our degenerate times) is a visual symbol. A book whose appearance is virtually unknown by the entire English speaking world outside of a few experts is not iconic. It may be important, well-known, revered, sought-after, frequently written about, but it ain't iconic.
posted by Faze at 6:52 PM on July 20, 2008 [2 favorites]


It's literally the most iconic.
posted by danb at 7:07 PM on July 20, 2008 [4 favorites]


Every year or two we hear about another successful high-profile art theft (oftentimes involving The Scream) but I've never heard where these thieves are expecting to sell their goods.

The logical thing would be for the person who wants the piece to commission the theft. Why wait for some random dude to steal the piece of artwork you are willing to buy?
posted by smackfu at 7:27 PM on July 20, 2008


That begs the question of how to describe a book like this, that is extremely unique.
posted by Flashman at 10:26 PM on July 20, 2008


Wait a minute, Bono has a shakespeare manuscript?

Surely even jonmc can tell Bono from LeBon?!
posted by dhartung at 10:35 PM on July 20, 2008


When the First Folio was stolen from Durham in 1998, I was a lecturer at Durham University. I remember it well -- indeed, I was nearly suspected of the theft myself, as I shall now relate.

In retrospect, it seems extraordinary that Durham should have been so complacent about the possibility of theft. The First Folio was left in an unsupervised exhibition room, with no alarm fitted to the display case, no toughened glass, and no security cameras. The thief simply smashed the glass, stuffed the books into a carrier bag or rucksack, and walked out of the building. It was some time before the theft was even discovered. I don't want to criticise the librarians at Durham, but I think they had been slow to adjust to the massive rise in rare-book prices that had taken place during the 1980s and 1990s. Putting a First Folio on display without elaborate security precautions was just asking for trouble, like hanging a Picasso on the wall of an empty corridor.

Several weeks after the theft I was having tea, one Sunday afternoon, with a dear friend of mine who was at that time a PhD student in Durham and is now an Anglican priest. (Afternoon tea and Sunday evensong .. yes, Durham is that kind of place.) In the middle of tea there was a ring at the doorbell; Michael went to answer it and found two police officers standing there. Could they ask him a few questions about the recent theft of the 'old book' from the University Library? (The 'old book', that was all they called it; I don't know whether they realised that the old book was worth several million pounds.) Michael invited them in. He had actually been working in the Rare Books Reading Room on the day the theft took place (which is presumably why the police had been given his name) but had seen nothing. They soon lost interest in what he had to say, and switched their attention to the cake. 'That looks like a nice cake' said one of them, 'mind if I have some?' -- reaching out and helping himself to a large slice.

As they got up to go, they said: 'We think the thief must be an obsessive book collector, probably living in the Durham area. Do you know anyone of that description?' It suddenly struck me how well I would fit the police profile. (At that time I did freelance cataloguing for one of the main London rare-book dealers, and my house in Durham was full of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century volumes.) Michael was obviously thinking the same thing. We carefully avoided looking at each other. 'Oh no, officer', he said at last, 'I don't know anyone like that.' There were no further questions. Afterwards I thanked him for keeping me out of prison.

The special feature of the Durham First Folio is that it has belonged to Cosin's Library in Durham since the seventeenth century. There are very few copies of the book whose provenance can be traced back that far -- and fewer still which have remained in the same library (indeed the same building) for over three hundred years. However, I was speaking to one of the Durham librarians today, who said that the book is in a 'very sorry state' and will need a lot of conservation. Presumably it was damaged or defaced to conceal the Durham provenance.
posted by verstegan at 4:26 AM on July 21, 2008 [17 favorites]


And the other unfortunate circumstance about theft of high-profile art and cultural artifacts is that they're sometimes destroyed by the thieves when they become too hot to sell on.

I read Museum of the Missing the last chapter is a gallery of lost works, intended to help people recognize them and get them recovered.

There's also an Art Loss Register now to track stolen works - I wish you could just browse it to see pictures, but I gather you have to be registered for it.
posted by electrasteph at 8:30 AM on July 21, 2008


Wow, that last comment should be:

"I read Museum of the Missing recently and found it very interesting. The last chapter is a gallery of lost works, intended to help people recognize them and get them recovered."
posted by electrasteph at 8:33 AM on July 21, 2008


Every year or two we hear about another successful high-profile art theft (oftentimes involving The Scream) but I've never heard where these thieves are expecting to sell their goods... Of course, in many if not most of these cases, the art is recovered without having been successfully sold at all, but still, something keeps the art thieves going.

Ransom money. Though agreements may not always be made, and so things may languish....

Or, with the price of gold being what it is, some artworks could possibly find themselves melted down. Fortunately that did not happen in this case
posted by IndigoJones at 10:17 AM on July 21, 2008


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