Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Carnegie Library Warned in 1991 to Move Rare Books - but Didn't

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Carnegie Library Warned in 1991 to Move Rare Books - but Didn't

Article excerpt

In 1991, two rare book appraisers alerted Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh leaders that the library's collection of centuries-old maps and rare books would be safer and better preserved in more secure research libraries, either at the University of Pittsburgh or Carnegie Mellon University.

The collection was never moved.

A year ago this week, Pall Mall Art Advisors began appraising the library's rare materials for insurance purposes and discovered that more than 300 valuable titles showing the breadth of Western civilization had been stolen from the library's main branch in Oakland. The Oliver Room, where the books were housed, has been closed ever since and detectives from the Allegheny County District Attorney's office are investigating.

At those detectives' request, a far more detailed list, which breaks down individual losses in many of the stolen and defaced books, was sent last week to the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America, which alerted its 450 members.

That list shows that 173 rare books are gone. In addition, more than 590 maps and 3,230 plates were removed from another 130 books - likely cut out with razors or X-Acto blades. One rare book dealer, Michael Vinson, estimated the value of the stolen materials at more than $5 million.

The 15-page list includes item No. 162, a 40-volume set called "The North America Indian" by Edward Curtis, the gifted photographer. In those volumes, at least 1,505 photographs are missing.

Rare book dealers Donnis de Camp and Marc Selvaggio appraised the Oliver Room holdings between May and November 1991. The couple owned Schoyer's Books in Squirrel Hill.

At the conclusion of their appraisal, they wrote, "The university libraries are already set up for adequate security, climate control, and control of patron use, in ways that the Carnegie has not fully implemented." The Post-Gazette obtained a copy of the 232-page report.

The 1991 appraisal is significant because it was the last time professionals assessed the value, condition and completeness of the public library's rare holdings.

Ms. de Camp and Mr. Selvaggio also suggested that the library could benefit the institution and its patrons by selling some of its rare holdings. Four local repositories, the couple found, contained some duplicates of the library's Oliver Room collections - including Pitt's Darlington Collection, Pitt's rare book section in Hillman Library, the Carnegie Museum of Natural History's library and CMU's special collections.

"Without diminishing the cultural resources of even the Oakland area, much less the city, duplicates could be deaccessioned and sold for resources that could be applied to preservation needs of the rest of the collection or for of course many other urgent needs of the library," the two appraisers wrote.

Rush G. Miller ran the University of Pittsburgh's library system from 1994 to 2014. …

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