Rare book is stolen

Times Staff Writer

Authorities are investigating the theft of a rare 18th century Italian manuscript from an exhibit case at a UCLA library, campus police said.

A bound volume of documents from a collection about the politically powerful Orsini family of Rome was stolen sometime between the late afternoon of Feb. 9 and the morning of Feb. 12, according to police.

The 208-page volume of texts and illustrations from 1715 to 1736 about the Orsini palace in Rome was not appraised, but some experts said it could be worth about $7,500. The manuscript was part of a large collection that the UCLA Library acquired in 1964.

The parchment-covered book was on public view in the special collections area of the Charles E. Young Research Library in connection with an international scholarly conference on the Orsini family, an immensely wealthy clan that produced popes and political leaders. The exhibit continues through March.


“The thought that someone would take something is surprising and disappointing,” said Dawn Setzer, director of communications for the UCLA Library.

She declined to discuss anti-theft measures taken before or after the incident but said the library always has to balance security against making its collection accessible. The theft was the first time in about a decade that a special collections item was stolen, Setzer said.

Nancy Greenstein, a spokeswoman for UCLA police, said the department had contacted other law enforcement agencies about the theft and had alerted antiquarian dealers in case anyone tries to sell the volume.

Though there are no suspects, Greenstein said detectives were pursuing a few leads that she declined to discuss. She suggested that the thief probably had some familiarity with the volume.

The Feb. 1-3 conference for historians, archivists and Italian cultural scholars was titled “The Orsini: A Roman Baronial Family in Context. Politics, Society and Art.” It was timed to mark the completion of a two-year project to catalog UCLA’s Orsini family papers, which date from 1300 to 1950.

Much of the 540 boxes of documents deal with the vast Orsini properties and the religious institutions with which the family was connected and offer insights into the economy and demography of the times, according to campus statements. Another large Orsini collection is in Rome.

Anyone with information about the case is asked to contact UCLA police detectives at (310) 825-9371.