Did a book bandit pilfer rarities from N.Y. Public Library?

A rare Ben Franklin manuscript is at the center of a legal dispute

Did the New York Public Library accidentally let a treasure trove of rare books and manuscripts go, or were they pilfered by a rare-books bandit?

The case is unfolding in the courts of New York. It began when Margaret Tanchuck was going through her deceased parents' estate and discovered what appeared to be a cache of literary rarities at her father's jewelry store on Long Island. Last May, she took them to be appraised by Doyle New York, an auction house.

Doyle identified a treasure trove, according to the N.Y. Post: A workbook by Ben Franklin, published by his printing house before 1776 and valued at more than $1 million; five Bibles from 1672 to 1861; and two Christian texts from the 18th and 19th centuries. Additionally, the auction house discovered that the items had come from the N.Y. Public Library.

The NYPL doesn't know when — or how — the books went missing; in court papers it says the Franklin manuscript "was somehow taken from the Library between 1988 and 1991."

Despite the value of the items, the NYPL never declared them stolen. Were they secreted away by a sly book bandit? Could they have accidentally deacquisitioned? How did they end up in a safe on Long Island?

Tanchuck doesn't know; she simply says they've been in her family for close to three decades. She had initiated legal proceedings to declare them hers.

Meanwhile, the Manhattan U.S. attorney's office has opened a grand jury investigation into whether there were any illegal actions connected to revelations about the rare books, the Wall Street Journal reports.

NYPL spokesman Ken Weine told the N.Y. Daily News, "This material was evidently stolen from the Library, and now someone is trying to profit from it."

 

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