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Cities & Towns > I Must Get a New Library Card! - and Museum Pass

I Must Get a New Library Card! - and Museum Pass

I don’t know how I completely missed reading about this Pittsburgh theft, which was discovered about a year and a half ago … but all the news is being repeated, because the 2 men charged with it are finally going to court again. It was jaw-dropping, for me, anyway.

Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Library did an inventory of its rare books room, after not having done this for over 26 years, and found over 8 million dollars’ worth of rare items missing. Because there are so few staff who work in this area, it was easy to find out that the antiquarian was responsible, and then that he’d taken them all to a local rare book dealer who happened to have a shop just across the street.

The library is on the left of the trees. It is housed in the same building as the Carnegie Museums of Natural History and Art, but has its own entrance. It's considered a separate entity.

I would have expected the library to possess a number of museum-quality items, but who would’ve thought they had so many? The security obviously was terrible, and this man just picked up things and put them in a folder and took them outside. The book dealer, John Schulman, whose shop is called Caliban Books, is someone whose name I’ve known since I was in my 20s, because he is a few years younger, and when he was 16 he submitted some writing to Pitt’s literary magazine, which impressed my writing instructor at the time. One of his poems was printed in the magazine, and it was funny and I liked it. A few years on, and suddenly he had a shop right there in Oakland near Pitt, dealing in rare and other used books.

But now The Atlantic has called him a culture thief. Over the last 25 years he and the other man have been systematically stripping Pittsburgh of its antiquities. A 1600s bible turned up in the Netherlands, and this was returned once they found it had been stolen from Carnegie Library. There was at least one Isaac Newton book, which by itself was worth almost a million dollars, and another item the man sold to another dealer for $95,000 but was probably worth several million, but I'm not sure these have been recovered. Around 100 or so items were found in Schulman’s warehouse.

I guess I felt strongly about it because it’s like museum public property, and I’ve shared my sister’s perspective about how certain things that are held by the public should stay there. This man didn’t get huge amounts of money considering what the items were worth, and somehow this makes it seem worse to me, all he did was keep a (probably)money-losing shop afloat for decades. So many books and other pieces are likely to be long lost, since he sold them all over the world. His wife is still selling their used books on eBay, but the store is not permitted to earn a profit.

posted on Jan 14, 2020 2:25 PM ()


Greed never fails to astound me. Those books were treasures for scholars and now they are scattered all over the world. I hope the library gets them back.
comment by elderjane on Jan 15, 2020 3:05 AM ()
Me too, it made me want to go take visit both the library and the museum now and appreciate them. Of course just now the rare books room is closed.
reply by drmaus on Jan 15, 2020 12:19 PM ()
"This man didn’t get huge amounts of money" Are you sure??
comment by greatmartin on Jan 14, 2020 9:36 PM ()
Relative to what he had, yes, I think he didn’t. He still hadn’t sold almost a third of the items, and some of the sales were revealed in the investigation — like one item that could have gone for about 2-3 million, he managed to get only $95,000 for. I think he’ll be mostly broke at the end of this. My state has a way sometimes of levying penalties after a court case that essentially make the person pay the state back for his own investigation & prosecution.
reply by drmaus on Jan 15, 2020 12:16 AM ()
Quite a story. I wonder if we'll see it on American Greed. One would expect a venerable institution like that to have better security and better inventory policies in place.
comment by traveltales on Jan 14, 2020 8:06 PM ()
Apparently libraries and even some museums still have bad security. Me, I am shocked to discover what treasures the library had at all. I remember many years ago when the museum's gems and minerals rooms had some displays you could basically open up and touch. It was no surprise when a big theft happened a few years later.
reply by drmaus on Jan 15, 2020 12:20 AM ()

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