More Scoundrels, Knaves and Varlets.

Posted by jlubans on September 11, 2013

As regular readers know, I’ve been inspired by Travis McCade’s new book about historic book thievery in NYC to consider the book crooks I’ve encountered. Last week I touched on the Felonious Flier and the Magazine Mutilator.

Two more for the line-up: The Literary Lurker & The Elusive Eviscerator

The Literary Lurker dates from my days at a large research library. He was eventually caught and sent to jail, but only after stealing (and keeping!) thousands of rare books – valued at over $20 million - from a hundred and more prestigious and well-guarded special collections in the USA and Canada. A library staffer worked with the FBI in recovering the loot taken from this library’s Rare Book Room. Originally the staffer thought he would find a few dozen pilfered items, but it turned out to be many more, in the hundreds. Fortunately, most of the thief’s ill-gotten gains were stashed in a large house in Ottumwa, Iowa. His m. o., for this library – as confessed to the library staffer - was to secrete himself under a table in the back of the Rare Book Room reading area. How, you might be asking, could this be done? The room’s lighting benefited the malefactor. Since it was a replica of a gentleman’s lounge-like personal library the lighting was dim; if someone slid under a table, he’d be out of sight and not missed. He’d stay hidden – with a sandwich and a thermos? - until the library closed, then he’d ramble around, taking a bit of this and some of that – he allegedly knew his stuff – and then, most remarkably of all, evacuate the building through an alarm-armed door. When the police checked out the furiously clanging alarm, the door was closed and no one about, so they’d chalk it up to a malfunction or, more likely, a prank. Remember, the Rare Book Room was in a vast building serving many undergraduates; some of whom would hide and spend the night. Why? Well, let it suffice to say it was not for lucubration.
As someone said, all’s well that ends well. The library eventually got its books back, and ramped up security for its special collections.

The Elusive Eviscerator – encountered at the University of Colorado and Duke – is perhaps the most heinous of the ilk. His specialty is to gut a book, rip out the innards and discard the covers - very much like the “Unman” character in the C. S. Lewis novel, “Perelandra”.
Why the violence? There are two possible reasons: When libraries started using security strips – back in the 70s - the strip was usually glued inside the spine of the book. If you wanted to steal the book, you’d rip out the strip. If the cover got in the way, too bad. Then you and your book bag could stroll in a leisurely way through the un-sensing security screen devices.
A second reason is made apparent in McCade's book. There is a market for books that have been “sophisticated”. The thief erases all library markings, tears out perforated pages, bleaches stamps, and rips off covers with library markings and bookplates. Then the thief inserts any missing pages (copies), re-binds and offers the “sophisticated” book for sale as a formerly beaten-up book purportedly stumbled upon in some yard sale. In McCade’s book, most dealers winked when presented with a newly bound book with faint marks of a previous, possibly more monastic, life on library shelves.
We never caught the Eviscerator(s). At large, shoot on sight.

Copyright John Lubans 2013

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