Rare Books Returned

July 2013Art & Advocacy, Volume 15

On June 24, 2013, one of Herrick, Feinstein’s clients, the National Library of Sweden, recovered two antique books at a repatriation ceremony conducted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. The books were stolen from the National Library in the 1990s along with dozens of other rare books. The return of the books resulted from significant efforts by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which tracked down the purchaser of the books, antique bookseller Stephen Loewentheil, and worked with him to return the books to the National Library. Because Mr. Loewentheil had sold the two books to customers, he made the extraordinary effort of purchasing the books back from his customers, and then returning them to the Library without receiving compensation. At the repatriation ceremony, the National Library of Sweden awarded Mr. Loewentheil a medal for his efforts to make cultural property available to scholars and the public.

Although the books had been part of the National Library’s collection for hundreds of years prior to their theft, they are closely related to American history. One book, written in 1683 by Louis Hennepin, includes the first printed record of the Louisiana territory and the first description of Niagara Falls. A copy of the book was owned by Thomas Jefferson, who consulted it in connection with his eventual decision to have the U.S. make the Louisiana Purchase. The second book, a 19th-century volume by Henry Lewis, is a rare first edition that includes remarkable hand-colored lithographs and texts from the author's exploration of the Mississippi River between 1846- 1849, and is believed to have done more to acquaint prospective emigrants with the American West than any other work of the period. The return of the Hennepin and Lewis books was noted in a number of major media outlets, including the July 23, 2013, New York Times article, “National Library of Sweden to Recover Stolen Books,” and the July 24, 2013, Wall Street Journal article, “Rare, Stolen Books Returned to Swedes.”

The successful return of these books comes one year after the recovery of another volume that had been stolen from the National Library, a 415-year-old atlas created by Cornelius van Wytfliet that is known as the “Wytfliet Atlas.” The recovery of the atlas was reported in the June 26, 2012, New York Times article, "Swedes Find Stolen Atlas in New York." The remaining stolen books are part of an ongoing investigation and recovery effort launched by the National Library in cooperation with U.S. officials and with Herrick’s assistance. For a complete list of the stolen books, please visit www.wytflietatlas.com.

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