Art dealer charged in Beinecke thefts

An experienced dealer of antique maps was charged Friday with stealing unique, centuries-old pieces from the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library in a case the FBI has alleged may be linked to a series of similar crimes across the country.

The dealer, E. Forbes Smiley III, was charged in New Haven Superior Court with three counts of larceny stemming from his arrest June 8 at Beinecke. Superior Court Judge Richard Damiani ordered him not to leave the country and set bail at $175,000.

Three maps from the library’s collection were recovered among a total of seven rare maps found on Smiley’s person when he was confronted by a member of the Yale Police Department, according to the arrest warrant. Among the missing pieces from Beinecke was a 1614 map drawn by the founder of Virginia’s Jamestown colony, Captain John Smith, valued in the warrant at approximately $50,000.

In an appraisal by private dealer and Beinecke adviser William Reese ’77, the seven maps were valued at approximately $878,000 in total, the warrant said. Still, University Librarian Alice Prochaska said her concern was for the educational value of the stolen maps, not their monetary worth.

“We wouldn’t try to put prices on this kind of material,” Prochaska said. “The point is more, from our point of view, that it is unique scholarly material.”

Prochaska said her office has been working closely with police to return the materials to Yale as quickly as possible. YPD Lt. Michael Patten said the case would not likely be resolved quickly, but he said he has little doubt of the outcome.

“He had three maps in his pocket that belonged to Beinecke – that’s why we arrested him,” Patten said. “We’re pretty sure we’ve got the right guy.”

Smiley did not return calls for comment.

According to the warrant, after a knife blade was found on a reading room floor, Beinecke Head of Public Services Ellen Cordes identified Smiley based on the library’s register. YPD Det. Martin Buonfiglio followed Smiley to the Yale Center for British Art after learning that the map dealer was a suspect in a previously unreported

theft at Sterling Memorial Library.

Smiley had also been observed fidgeting with the inside of his jacket by Beinecke video cameras, and the Smith map was later discovered lining the coat, the warrant said.”

Beinecke has been robbed before. In 2001, Benjamin Johnson, a library employee, stole first-edition novels and rare historical signatures from Yale and sold them over the Internet from his University of Wisconsin-Madison dormitory room. The documents were collectively valued at $1.5 million.

Beyond Yale, however, Smiley’s arrest has prompted the FBI to search for connections between Smiley and similar thefts at other major libraries nationwide, Patten said

The accused map dealer’s decades-long career has included a series of deals with the New York Public Library, the Boston Public Library and other noteworthy clients. But some antique map dealers said Smiley’s resume was more hype than substance, noting his lack of membership in the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers.

“He was a self-promoter,” said Richard Lan, an owner of the Manhattan-based antique-map dealer Martayan Lan and member of the ILAB. “The information that is out there about him all came from him. I don’t recall any members of the association having any problems like that …

We are always very vigilant in our organization here.”

Prochaska said Yale’s library security will be reevaluated in the wake of the Smiley case, as University librarians begin slowly cataloguing potentially missing items at SML and elsewhere. Though she declined to discuss specifics, she cautioned that no system is foolproof.

“After any theft, we’ll always do a bit of soul-searching to decide how best to protect our collections,” Prochaska said. “When you’re faced with a very determined person, who’s very determined to steal material, they generally discover a way through. But we’ll do our level best to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

Comments