Did famous thief steal more of our hidden map treasures?

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tags: book, Edward Smiley III, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, The Map Thief



On 5 March 2005, a bespectacled American antiquarian map dealer spent time in the British Library studying one of its cartographic treasures – a 1520 map of the world belonging to the ill-fated Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer. A few weeks later, the dealer – Edward Forbes Smiley III – dropped a craft knife on the floor of Yale University's map room. Within days he was unmasked as one of recent history's most prolific map thieves – ripping and slicing dozens of maps from collections on both sides of the Atlantic.

After Smiley's arrest by the FBI, British Library staff established he had crudely ripped the 1520 world map, by the German scholar Peter Apian, from the volumes of Archbishop Cranmer, a favourite of Henry VIII and architect of the English Reformation, who was burnt at the stake under Mary I. Smiley, described as a smooth-talking New Englander, smuggled his booty past the high security at the library next to St Pancras station, London and across the Atlantic. Once trimmed to remove identifying marks and offered on the open market in New York, the map would have fetched upwards of $100,000 (£59,000).

Instead, the document was recovered, and Smiley was sentenced to three and a half years in jail in 2006 and ordered to pay $2.3m in restitution to dealers and institutions. But the story of Smiley and the British Library did not end there. A new book, The Map Thief, published on Saturday sets out how the library believed the American may have been behind the theft of three more of its cartographic jewels, two of which remain missing.




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