Monday, 27 November 2006

Thieving library staff

A mysterious gap in a dusty bookshelf gave the game away for a corrupt library worker who stole more than EUR 800,000 (GBP 541,000) of antique tomes from one of Germany's most respected universities. Now the trial of Reinhold K (he cannot be named before the hearing) , who slipped 16th-century botanical works under his long black coat, is set to expose the increasingly lucrative world of library theft.

Across Europe, thieves have been targeting ancient and well-stocked libraries, and then feeding their booty to unscrupulous booksellers and auction houses. Last month, a librarian was found guilty of stealing a 16th-century edition of Chaucer's works and more than 40 other volumes from Manchester Central Library. The Royal Library in Stockholm has been hit, while the Jagellonian University library in Crakow lost a 15th-century copy of a work by the astronomer Ptolemy, as well as books by Copernicus, Galileo and Kepler.

The University of Erlangen in southern Germany first became suspicious when it tried to locate the beautifully illustrated Herbal Book by Leohart Fuchs, written in 1543. It was regarded as a European treasure: and it was missing. A closer search showed that some of the world's standard classical works on botany, one written in 1768, another in 1762, had disappeared. But it took two years to unravel the scope of the theft, which seems to have stretched over two decades, and to catch the thief: the loyal and friendly night porter, Reinhold K.

"The thief didn't have to break down a door or force a lock," said Hans Otto Keunecke, director of the university library. "He had unrestricted access to our most priceless possessions. He worked for us for 40 years and had all the necessary keys." Police found books stacked in his garage and followed the trail to a bookseller, Ludwig M, who allegedly commissioned the thefts according to the market value of botany and zoology classics. The two men will stand trial next month.

Both have confessed but the prosecutor, Andreas Quentin, said that the defence team would argue that many of the books were stolen more than a decade ago. "Under German law, the statute of limitations can apply in cases of serious theft committed ten years previously," said Mr Quentin. "We will have to determine precisely when all the many books went missing."

The breakthrough for library thieves came about four years ago when an appropriate chemical mix was discovered that could wipe out library markings without leaving a trace. As most library thefts are inside jobs, there is usually no need for chemistry: it is often enough to steal an ex libris seal documenting that the book has legitimately left the library stock. It appears that many of the booksellers approached by recent book thieves have not looked too closely at the volumes on offer.

The main problem appears to be budget cuts, which have slowed library stocktaking to a snail's pace. One of the stolen books found in the thief's garage bore the pencilled stock note: "Rev.22.1.62". That shelf of books, in other words, had not been checked for more than four decades.
Vanishing acts.

In September, E. Forbes Smiley III was convicted of stealing nearly 100 rare maps worth about $3 million from five libraries. In the 1960s and 1970s, 3,200 works disappeared from the Danish Royal Library. In 1996, two first editions of Newton's Pricipia Mathematica and one of Galileo's works were found missing from Cambridge University's library.

Roger Boyes, Berlin, The Times (24 November 2006).

Sources: Royal Library Denmark, Cambridge University Library, Times archives

Thursday, 23 November 2006

Progress on S&P 30.1 (2006)

S&P 30.1 (2006) is taking shape.

We are aiming to print and post in January 2007; and to publish 30.2, 30.3, 30.4 and 31.1 at, roughly, 12 week intervals thereafter. That is, we are aiming for five issues in 2007 and a similar number in 2008 and 2009.

Members should be pleased to know that 30.1 will contain at least two (updated) papers from the 2003 BSANZ conference; as well as new material from Prof Harold Love (A New Source for Rochester's 'My Dear Mistris has a Heart'). There will also be the usual Bibliographical Notes and Reviews.

Of particular interest to members will be Sandra Burt's note on the BSANZ archive, held at the State Library of Victoria.

More information will be provided when available.

Thursday, 16 November 2006

More on the BSANZ logo

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BSANZ members can thank Dietrich Borchardt (1916-97), a "wonderful, wisecracking German", for organising the BSANZ logo. It is not clearly recorded who actually designed it but, according to John Horacek, Honorary Research Associate at La Trobe University, it is likely to be William Metzig. Horacek explains that Borchardt had the Australian Academic and Research Libraries (AARL) logo designed by his sister's husband in America. The man's name is given on the inside front cover of the AARL journal as William Metzig. AARL started in 1970, so one could assume that he asked the same person to design the logo for the BSANZ in 1970.

William Metzig (1893-1989), a graphic designer best known for his logo and packaging designs, was the author of Art, Lettering and Design (International Correspondence Schools of Pennsylvania, 1957) and Heraldry For The Designer (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1969). He also illustrated a number of books in the 50s and 60s (such as J. Alvin Kugelmass, Oppenheimer and the Atomic Story (New York, Julian Messner, Inc., 1953) and Millen Brand, Savage Sleep (New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1968)). The Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum Library, in New York, holds the William Metzig Collection (16 cubic feet of material: search here for Metzig). The following biographical information is appended to the Collection record.

"Graphic designer and artist. Born Hanover, Germany, 1893. Metzig apprenticed with lithographer prior to establishing his own studio in the 1920s. He designed trademarks, logos, letterheads, brochures, and posters for clients. He is best known for his work for Pelikan Ink Company. He also designed book covers and magazine covers and page layouts. In the 1930s, Metzig became known as a leading calligrapher and advertising artist in Germany. He immigrated to the United States in 1939 and settled in New York where he taught calligraphy and did freelance graphic design until his death in 1989."


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The BSANZ logo is clearly based on an early printer's mark. If you look at Paul Moxon's page of 'Notable printers’ marks' (here) you will see a number that feature the numeral 4. If you browse through the online edition (available here) of Ronald B. McKerrow's Printers' & Publishers' Devices in England & Scotland 1485-1640 (London, 1913) you will find many that contain the figure 4 as a part of the trademark or monogram (Nos.8, 22, 26, 58, 59, 66, 71, 93, 95 etc). Here are two examples (McKerrow 8 & 58):

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An article by Frances O'Donnell on the printer's marks used in the Sperry Room of Andover Hall suggests that the symbol is derived from that of Mercury, considered by many to be the patron of merchants (see here). Certainly the symbol (below) is ancient and was widely used.

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Concerning the wings (?) on the lower half of the BSANZ logo, nothing has been suggested, nor has anything come to light in a wide search of printer's marks: perhaps it was invented by Metzig.