A 400-year-old bible vanished. The Journal of George Washington? Also gone. A first edition of Isaac Newton’s “Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica“? That too somehow disappeared. Over the course of 25 years, an estimated $8 million worth of rare books, maps, and others objects were stolen, cut out, and ferried from Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Library.
Many of the objects, so rare that they were available by appointment-only, were seemingly closely guarded. However, items kept vanishing. It wasn’t until an April 2017 audit of the library’s inventory that it was revealed that over 300 rare items were missing.
At the center of the crime is Gregory Priore, who worked as the sole archivist and manager of the library’s rare book room, and John Shulman, owner of the Caliban Book Shop. Both stand accused of first-degree felonies and face nine to 16 months incarceration, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.
Charged in 2018, Priore and Schulman pleaded guilty to the pilfering and selling of these priceless items this past Monday.
“John Schulman’s dedicated most of his life contributing to the bookselling industry, and he surely regrets that today’s guilty plea reflects negatively on that trade, as well as his clients and family,” attorney Robert Del Greco said in a public statement.
Priore’s attorney declined to comment, however, in an affidavit, the accused told investigators that, “greed came over me. I did it, but Schulman spurred me on.”
To pull of the heist, Priore would disguise items in manila folders; he used an X-Acto knife to cut out maps; other times he would simply roll up larger objects and walk right out of the library. From there he would pass the book or other ephemera to the waiting Shulman, the Washington Post reports.
According to the criminal complaint, from January 1, 2010 through September 1, 2017, Priore’s bank records show that he received 56 checks, totaling $117,000, from the Caliban Book Shop. During that time, he also made cash deposits of $17,000.
Over 40 of the missing books were discovered in the Caliban Book Shop warehouse. Others, like the 17th Century Geneva Bible most likely brought over by the Pilgrims in 1620, have returned to the library–– with the help of the Netherlands. The American Pilgrim Museum in Leiden, approximately 45 miles outside Amsterdam, contacted police in The Hague after news broke of the filching. The 400-year old bible was safely returned to its former residence shortly after.
According to the Associated Press, “the FBI hopes news of the recovery of this Bible will prompt others to look at their collections for any possible items stolen from the Pittsburgh library.”
Nearly a quarter of a century of plundering has left the library in a state of shock. Suzanne Thinnes, spokeswoman for the library, denounced the thievery and described how the library was in a state of “shock.”
“The anger and the hurt we feel that individuals who were close to us, who were trusted by us, who were considered friends and colleagues to many of us at the Library, would abuse the faith we had in them for personal gain will be with us for a very long time,” Thinnes said in a written statement.
She goes on by saying, “We are hopeful that the sentences given to these two individuals will reflect the significant damage done not only to Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, but to the literary community near and far.”
Priore and Shulman are to be sentenced on April 17 by Allegheny County.