Thursday, August 10, 2006

Can't Get There From Here...

...Without a Map!

The Lewiston Sun Journal reports that E. Forbes Smiley III, a part-time resident of Sebec Lake, Maine, who admitted in June to taking nearly 100 rare maps over a period of eight years from libraries in the United States and the United Kingdom, has investigators in fits over the possibility that even more maps may be missing now than originally thought.

Among the libraries experiencing conspicuous gaps in their collections are such prestigious institutions as Yale, Harvard, and the British Library.

Smiley's lawyer, Richard Reeve, is concerned that further discoveries of map thefts will all be blamed on his client, regardless of the fact that there are other rare print and map thieves extant in the system who are just as likely the perpetrators.

"Either the maps have legs themselves or there are other people taking maps," Reeve stated. Smiley, who faces up to six years in prison, has been cooperating with the FBI and other authorities, who admit, according to the Sun Journal, that "without Smiley's cooperation they would have recovered only a fraction of the maps they ultimately obtained."

The investigation relies heavily on Smiley's assistance and voluntary information, because "poor record-keeping by the libraries limited the FBI's investigation. Investigators also had difficulty tracing maps which were printed in multiple copies to a single owner."

Interested readers may remember rashes of slash-thefts from library special collections in Maine and elsewhere in the past, when unscrupulous antique dealers removed rare prints and illustrations from Special Collections books for illicit sale on the antiques market. For these reasons, many institutions such as Bowdoin College now sequester parts of their Special Collections under security in undisclosed caches within their libraries. While such precautions have been successful in many cases, they are not without their gaps.

In December 2005, Bowdoin Library accosted Laurent Beaucage, 56, of Brunswick, on suspicion of theft.
On Monday, we noticed a patron in the stacks acting suspiciously, and simultaneously found a pile of library materials hidden behind shelved books in the stacks nearby. The materials were primarily old maps that had been torn out of turn-of-the-century government documents, depicting National Parks and other American territories. e immediately called our Director of Security, Randy Nichols, who came to the Library and talked to the man. After the man hurriedly left the Library, Randy contacted the Brunswick Police who stopped the man for questioning. The man had no library materials on his person, but his actions and attitude convinced Randy that he was responsible for tearing out the maps and probably planned to remove the items he had stashed away. He has now been issued a trespass warning and will not be permitted on the Bowdoin campus. [Source]
In 2001, the Bangor Public Library sadly announced the theft of a list of at least 14 items that had been discovered stolen from their collections, including a number of notable maps as well. Most of the items were from the 1800s, with some dating back as far as 1762. [Source]

For those of you wishing to understand more about the whys and wherefores of the reprehensible and vandalous practice of map stealing, there is a lot of information and assistance on the subject to be found at

I can see why he wouldn't excite suspicion and be able to pass through libraries unhindered. If you look at this Boston Globe article you can see a picture of him, and even in his mugshot he looks distinguished and scholarly. To view Edward Forbes Smiley III's website on which he sells rare and antique maps from his home in Massachusetts, click here:

1 comment:

Chris said...

I've been following this case for a while. Smiley's crime is just a high-profile example of a rampant problem: people carving up old atlases to sell the maps individually. eBay is overrun with them.

Pretty soon, the only place to find beautiful old atlases will be in library and museum vaults.