400-year-old Bible stolen from Carnegie Library recovered in Netherlands
A centuries-old Bible stolen decades ago from the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh was returned to the city Thursday, recovered from the Netherlands as part of a local and federal investigation into 25 years worth of library thefts.
“One can only imagine the journey that this particular Carnegie Library Bible has taken after it was printed in London 404 years ago,” said Bob Jones, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Pittsburgh office. “It was carried into the New World and, after its theft, it re-crossed the Atlantic and was eventually located at the American Pilgrim Museum in Leiden, Netherlands.”
The Bible, printed in 1615 in London, was among 320 books, maps, atlases and other rare, historic books stolen from the library in Oakland over the course of 25 years. The theft was discovered in 2017, leading to the downfall of a two-man conspiracy that spanned decades and wiped out more than $8 million in rare materials.
Gregory Priore was a librarian charged with watching over the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s Oliver Room, filled with rare and historic books worth millions. John Schulman ran the Caliban Book Shop a block away.
Both men face charges of theft, forgery and conspiracy. Both have pretrial hearings scheduled for June.
The Bible — handled at a news conference announcing the recovery by an agent wearing rubber gloves — was purchased by the museum in June 2015, said Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. The director of the museum contacted Pittsburgh authorities after news of the theft became public in mid-2018.
“The director, thank goodness, is an honest person,” Zappala said.
Authorities did not say where the Bible might have been between its theft in the 1990s and its purchase in 2015 for $1,200.
“That’s an insurer’s appraisal,” he said in reference to the purchase price. “These items are priceless.”
Detectives with the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office began investigating in June 2017 after a scheduled appraisal of the collection in the library’s William R. Oliver Special Collections Room. The appraisal, by Pall Mall Art Advisors, found “multiple items as being missing or damaged,” according to the initial criminal complaint.
Damaged items included images, maps and plates torn or cut from books, atlases and folios, “oftentimes rendering the remaining item worthless,” detectives wrote in the complaint.
A closer inspection comparing the room’s contents to the last appraisal done in 1991 found that about 320 items were missing from the room and another 16 were vandalized by the removal of certain portions of the book, according to the complaint.
“The news that two people who were close to the library broke the public’s trust by not treating our collections with the respect and care they deserve has been absolutely devastating for all of us,” Suzanne Thinnes, spokeswoman for the library, said in a statement. “We look forward to invigorating community interest in our unique collections of the next years as we move toward restoring public access to the rare book collection.”
Zappala said the theft in Pittsburgh and the fire last week at Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral has reminded us that “our history is precious, but it’s not permanent.”
Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 412-380-8519, [email protected] or via Twitter .