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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.” &

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]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

The Profession

Curt Gross

This director of risk management sees cyber, IP and reputation risks as evolving threats, but more formal education may make emerging risk professionals better prepared.
By: | June 1, 2018 • 4 min read

R&I: What was your first job?

My first non-professional job was working at Burger King in high school. I learned some valuable life lessons there.

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

After taking some accounting classes in high school, I originally thought I wanted to be an accountant. After working on a few Widgets Inc. projects in college, I figured out that wasn’t what I really wanted to do. Risk management found me. The rest is history. Looking back, I am pleased with how things worked out.

R&I: What is the risk management community doing right?

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I think we do a nice job on post graduate education. I think the ARM and CPCU designations give credibility to the profession. Plus, formal college risk management degrees are becoming more popular these days. I know The University of Akron just launched a new risk management bachelor’s program in the fall of 2017 within the business school.

R&I: What could the risk management community be doing a better job of?

I think we could do a better job with streamlining certificates of insurance or, better yet, evaluating if they are even necessary. It just seems to me that there is a significant amount of time and expense around generating certificates. There has to be a more efficient way.

R&I: What was the best location and year for the RIMS conference and why?

Selfishly, I prefer a destination with a direct flight when possible. RIMS does a nice job of selecting various locations throughout the country. It is a big job to successfully pull off a conference of that size.

Curt Gross, Director of Risk Management, Parker Hannifin Corp.

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

Definitely the change in nontraditional property & casualty exposures such as intellectual property and reputational risk. Those exposures existed way back when but in different ways. As computer networks become more and more connected and news travels at a more rapid pace, it just amplifies these types of exposures. Sometimes we have to think like the perpetrator, which can be difficult to do.

R&I: What emerging commercial risk most concerns you?

I hate to sound cliché — it’s quite the buzz these days — but I would have to say cyber. It’s such a complex risk involving nontraditional players and motives. Definitely a challenging exposure to get your arms around. Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll really know the true exposure until there is more claim development.

R&I: What insurance carrier do you have the highest opinion of?

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Our captive insurance company. I’ve been fortunate to work for several companies with a captive, each one with a different operating objective. I view a captive as an essential tool for a successful risk management program.

R&I: Who is your mentor and why?

I can’t point to just one. I have and continue to be lucky to work for really good managers throughout my career. Each one has taken the time and interest to develop me as a professional. I certainly haven’t arrived yet and welcome feedback to continue to try to be the best I can be every day.

R&I: What have you accomplished that you are proudest of?

I would like to think I have and continue to bring meaningful value to my company. However, I would have to say my family is my proudest accomplishment.

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

Favorite movie is definitely “Good Will Hunting.”

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

Tough question to narrow down. If my wife ran a restaurant, it would be hers. We try to have dinner as a family as much as possible. If I had to pick one restaurant though, I would say Fire Food & Drink in Cleveland, Ohio. Chef Katz is a culinary genius.

R&I: What is the most unusual/interesting place you have ever visited?

The Grand Canyon. It is just so vast. A close second is Stonehenge.

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

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A few, actually. Up until a few years ago, I owned a sport bike (motorcycle). Of course, I wore the proper gear, took a safety course and read a motorcycle safety book. Also, I have taken a few laps in a NASCAR [race car] around Daytona International Speedway at 180 mph. Most recently, trying to ride my daughter’s skateboard.

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

The Dalai Lama. A world full of compassion, tolerance and patience and free of discrimination, racism and violence, while perhaps idealistic, sounds like a wonderful place to me.

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

I really enjoy the company I work for and my role, because I get the opportunity to work with various functions. For example, while mostly finance, I get to interact with legal, human resources, employee health and safety, to name a few.

R&I: What do your friends and family think you do?

I asked my son. He said, “Risk management and insurance.” (He’s had the benefit of bring-your-kid-to-work day.)

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