Stolen antique books return home to Sweden

United States returns stolen rare antique books to Sweden, recovered in US

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Updated Jul 28, 2015

Rare antique books that were stolen from the National Library of Sweden and found in the US are set to be returned in a ceremony in New York on Wednesday.

More than 60 manuscripts that went missing will be handed back to Sweden's chief librarian, Gunilla Herdenberg in a ceremony organised by the FBI at the offices of the US Attorney in Manhattan.

Herdenberg told Swedish broadcaster SVT on Tuesday, "We have inspected the books and have confirmed that they are ours. Which books they are, I cannot go into at present, but they are from the 1600s and are invaluable and of great importance to Sweden's cultural heritage."

She added "It's fantastic that we've got back those books and we are very grateful for the work the FBI has done in the United States. We hope of course that we will be able to get hold of all the [missing] books."

More than 60 books were taken from the Swedish library in the 1990s and early 2000s by a member of staff who sold them to collectors around the world.

The rare antique books were stolen by Anders Burius, an academic who worked in the National Library of Sweden's manuscript department. He confessed to his crimes in 2004.

He stole many valuable items including Wytfliet atlas of 1597, with some of the earliest maps of the New World. It was about to go up for auction at Sotheby’s in London with  no inkling that it had been stolen. The atlas was returned to Sweden, but other treasures were still missing.

Burius committed suicide after he was found to have stolen dozens of items, eliminating all provenance traces.

Thefts of rare books, maps and manuscripts from national libraries have raised alarm.

International experts are joining forces to stop any further vandalism to the world’s cultural heritage.

Howard Spiegle,  an American lawyer who owns New York firm, Herrick, Feinstein which handled major cases involving the restitution of cultural property from sovereign nations says the loss of cultural heritage is devastating.

Spiegle also said: “Thefts are a real problem that plagues almost all national libraries. It goes beyond the actual monetary value of these works because really they’re priceless. Once they’re lost, a good chunk of a country’s history is lost.”

TRTWorld and agencies