Theft

Inventory Check Shows Over 300 Books Stolen

With global internet sales of stolen books changing the risk management equation, book dealers look for solutions to protect these antique treasures.
By: | April 23, 2018 • 4 min read

Pittsburgh, we have a book problem.

Although details are only just coming to light, a routine inventory for an insurance appraisal a year ago at the Carnegie Library discovered hundreds of books, maps and other antiquarian items were missing from the Oliver Rare Book Room at the library’s main branch in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Oakland. The appraisal was conducted by Pall Mall Art Advisors, and the Allegheny County District Attorney is handling the investigation. The rare book collection has been closed.

Reviewing the Inventory

As part of the investigation, the library released a detailed list of the missing materials, which has been provided to the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America (ABAA); that organization has put its member shops and dealers on alert.

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The library itself has not issued any press releases about the theft or the investigation. But an April 4 story in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that “the list shows 173 rare books are gone. In addition more than 590 maps and 3,230 plates were removed from another 130 books — likely cut out with razors or X-Acto blades. One rare book dealer, Michael Vinson, estimated the value of the stolen materials at more than $5 million.”

The Post-Gazette also reported that “in 1991, two rare book appraisers alerted Carnegie Library leaders that its valuable collection of centuries-old maps and rare books would be much safer and better preserved in more secure, nearby research libraries.”

According to an April 3 report in the Library Journal, “on the list of stolen items are ten volumes published before the year 1500 and many more from the 17th century. There is a first edition of Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica by Isaac Newton, published in 1687, as well as a 1776 first edition of Adam Smith’s An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations.”

Rare Books, Rare Theft

While the theft from the Carnegie Library is a major loss, it is “an anomaly” and not reflective of a wider increase in theft of rare books and documents, said Joyce Kosofsky, who is on the board of governors and is chair of the ethics committee at ABAA.

“I don’t see a rising trend in book thefts. Theft has always been an issue as anyone in retail, antiques or collectibles knows. You have to keep your eyes on valuable books,” Kosofsky said.

She added: “The major theft from the Carnegie Library is very disturbing. You just don’t see thefts of multiple books from one source very often.”

Kosofsky runs the Brattle Book Shop in Boston, established in 1825, which is one of the country’s oldest and largest antiquarian book shops, and where Kosofsky is “queen of all things.”

“The internet has changed everything. It is the wild west. Anyone with a modem can sell anything.” — Joyce Kosofsky, chair of the ethics committee, ABAA

While major thefts of rare books may not be rising, they certainly are not rare. The International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (ILAB) dedicates an entire section of its website to information about thefts of collections, including theft from a warehouse in London in January 2017 and books stolen from the National Library of Sweden between the years 1995 and 2004.

In the Carnegie case, the ILAB noted, “many of these items may have stamps or other markings reflecting ownership by the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and would also not likely be marked for deaccession. A number of these items may have also been sold by or through Pittsburgh area booksellers. ILAB members are being alerted about the theft.”

Telephone numbers and email addresses for the detectives at the DA’s office were provided in the case someone spots a marked book while browsing local shops or through online senders.

Managing Book-Theft Risk

Shops and dealers who are members of the trade associations are not the problem, Kosofsky explained. “In our business, reputation is worth more than one sale, especially anything the least bit shady. Provenance is everything.”

Rather, she added, “the internet has changed everything. It is the wild west. Anyone with a modem can sell anything.”

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Margaret Bussiere, vice president, DeWitt Stern, the fine-arts division of specialty brokerage Risk Strategies, said that for rare books and documents, the issue is not so much insurance — the market is soft and capacity is ample — but rather risk management.

Rare books and documents “have been treated with cultural and historical reverence,” Bussiere said, “but not as cash-value objects. Professionals and institutions have to be aware that their collections are being pilfered by professionals. Unlike fine art, which is difficult to sell, books and documents are easy to sell.”

And sometimes too easy to steal. Bussiere related one case where a crate of rare books was being returned from a fair and became a crime of opportunity. The crate was opened in the warehouse and all the price tags were still on the books. The thieves did not need to know a thing about the objects, they just took the most valuable ones.

“Thieves have copped to the fact that this is easy money,” said Bussiere. “Underwriters may have to start putting in theft deductibles, or warranties, for locked cases. Many already have exclusions for unattended vehicles, but these are inland marine policies that are very broad. They cover everything that is not excluded, and what is excluded is not very much.”

Update: As of July 20, 2018, two men have been charged with stealing these books and other rare materials from Carnegie. Read more about that here&

Gregory DL Morris is an independent business journalist based in New York with 25 years’ experience in industry, energy, finance and transportation. He can be reached at [email protected]

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Janine Kral works to identify and mitigate risks, building strong partnerships with leaders and ensuring they see her as support rather than a blocker. 
By: | October 29, 2018 • 4 min read

R&I: What was your first job?

My very first paid job was working on my uncle’s ranch in British Columbia in the summers. He had cattle, horses and grapes — an unusual combo. But my first real job out of college was as a multi-line claims adjuster at Liberty Mutual.

R&I: How did you come to work in risk management?

Right out of college I applied for a job that turned out to be a claims adjuster at Liberty Mutual. I accepted because they were offering six weeks of training in Southern California, and at the time that sounded really fun. I spent about three years at Liberty Mutual and then I spent a short period of time at a smaller regional insurance company that hired me to start a workers’ compensation claims administration program.

I was hired at Nordstrom as the Washington Region Risk Manager, which was my first job in risk management. When I started at Nordstrom, the risk management department had about five people, and over the years it has grown to about 75. I’ve been vice president for 11 years.

R&I: What’s been the biggest change in the risk management and insurance industry since you’ve been in it?

I would say that technology has probably been the biggest change. When I started many years ago, it was all paper and no RMIS.

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R&I: What risks does the retail industry face that are unique?

We deal with a lot of people — employees and customers. With physical brick and mortar settings, there are the unique exposures with people moving in and out in a public environment. And of course, with ecommerce, we have a lot of customer and employee data, which creates cyber risk — which is not necessarily a unique risk in today’s environment.

R&I: Can you describe your approach to working with senior leaders and front-line staff alike to further risk management initiatives?

It starts with keeping the pulse of what’s happening with the business. Retail moves really fast. In order to identify and mitigate risks proactively, we identify top risk areas and topics, and then we ensure that we have strong partnerships with the leaders responsible for those areas. Trust is critical, ensuring that leaders see us as a support rather than a blocker.

R&I: What role does technology play in your company’s approach to risk management?

Janine Kral, claims adjuster, Nordstrom

We have an internal risk management information system that all of our locations report events into — every type of incident is reported, whether insured or uninsured. Most of these events are managed internally by risk management, and our guidelines require that prevention be analyzed on each one. Having all event data in one system allows us to use the data for trending and also helps us better predict what may happen in the future, and who we need to work with to mitigate risks.

R&I: What advice might you give to students or other aspiring risk managers?

My son is a sophomore in college, and I tell him and his friends all the time not to rule out insurance as a career opportunity. My advice is to cast a wide net and do your homework. Research all the different types of opportunities. Read a lot — articles, industry magazines, LinkedIn. Be proactive and reach out to people you find interesting and ask them about their careers. Don’t be shy and wait for people and opportunities to come to you. Ask questions. Build networks. Be curious and keep an open mind.

R&I: What are your goals for the next five to 10 years of your career?

I have always been passionate about continuous improvement. I want to continue to find ways to add value to my company and to this industry.

R&I: What is your favorite book or movie?

My favorite book is Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. It’s a true story about a man who was in prison in Australia after being convicted of armed robbery, and he escaped to India. While in India, he passed himself off as a doctor in a slum. It’s a really interesting story, because this is a convicted criminal who ends up helping others. I am not always successful in getting others to read the book because it’s 1,000 pages and definitely a commitment.

R&I: What’s the best restaurant you’ve ever eaten at?

Fiorella’s in Newton, Massachusetts. Great Italian food and a great overall experience.

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R&I: What is your favorite drink?

“Sister Carol.” I have no idea what is in it, and I can only get it at a local bar in Seattle. It’s green but it’s delicious.

R&I: What is the riskiest activity you ever engaged in?

Skydiving. Not tandem and without any sort of communication from the ground. Scary standing on a wing of a plane, but very peaceful once the chute opened, slowly floating down by myself.

R&I: If the world has a modern hero, who is it and why?

I can’t think of one individual person. For me, the real heroes are people who have a positive attitude in the face of adversity. People who are resilient no matter what life brings them.

R&I: What about this work do you find the most fulfilling or rewarding?

It’s rewarding to help solve problems and help people. I am proud of the support that my team provides others. &




Katie Dwyer is an associate editor at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]