How One Association Helps Track and Recover Stolen Antique Books

The Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America takes the theft of antique books seriously. How seriously? It alerts members whenever an incident is reported.

When the antique book industry learns that a rare book has been stolen, bibliophiles from around the country spring into action.

That hard work—done on websites, on email threads, and in databases—makes those fragile pilfered novels almost impossible to sell. And at the center of that work is the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America (ABAA), which takes an active role in informing librarians, sellers of rare books, and others when a hard-to-find tome goes missing.

The group, founded in 1949, requires its members to do everything in their power to protect antique books. As stated in their code of ethics:

An Association member shall make every effort to prevent the theft or distribution of stolen antiquarian books and related materials. An Association member shall cooperate with law enforcement authorities and the Association’s Board of Governors in the effort to recover and return stolen materials, and apprehend and prosecute those responsible for the theft, including, but not limited to, providing the names of persons involved.

Sound like a hard job? It helps that the association is on top of things. On ABAA’s New Antiquarian blog, it frequently highlights new reports of stolen antique books, wherever in the country the thefts happen. Additionally, the association’s security committee works to keep members abreast of  thefts.

One of the most recent prominent incidents, reported on by The New York Times, involved the theft of two 16th-century books, together valued at more than $20,000, from the Manhattan bookseller PRPH Books.

“I cannot say who is this man and why he stole the books,” PRPH Vice President Francesca Biffi told the newspaper. “I don’t know if he wants to keep them, if he wants to sell, I really don’t know. But I am sure they will survive.”

On that count she was correct. Near the end of September—not long after ABAA posted about the theft—the books were recovered after they were delivered to a police station. However, the culprit has not been found.

Although ABAA has played an active role in reporting thefts, it’s not alone. The International League of Antiquarian Booksellers, of which ABAA is a part, makes available a searchable database of stolen books for both its members and the public.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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