New outbreak of map pilfering in ministry library

15th November 2007, Comments 0 comments

15 November 2007, Madrid - The Foreign Ministry says that almost 300 "highly valued" books, some of them more than 400 years old, have been stolen or lost from its library in recent years. Police sources say that thieves have taken advantage of poor security at the 17th-century Ministry building in Madrid that houses the collection.

15 November 2007

Madrid - The Foreign Ministry says that almost 300 "highly valued" books, some of them more than 400 years old, have been stolen or lost from its library in recent years. Police sources say that thieves have taken advantage of poor security at the 17th-century  Ministry building in Madrid that houses the collection.

The discovery comes weeks after revelations of security lapses at Spain's National Library that allowed a thief to make off with several valuable maps.

It appears that the thefts have taken place over a number of years. Indeed, a Foreign Ministry spokesman told EL PAÍS this week that such pilfering is almost a tradition at the library. "Already back in 1859 the odd disappearance of a book had been noticed." 

Among the missing items are several maps from the late 16th century, a number of large-format books, as well as a valuable collection of 18th-century maps of the coastline of northern Europe.

The Foreign Ministry library, open only to academics, or specialist researchers, has more than 30,000 books in its collection. The losses, most from the last four years, were discovered during a recent inventory of the library.

The police have launched an investigation, and say they will be questioning library staff and others who work in the building. One hypothesis being explored is that a  Ministry employee has taken advantage of the poor security in the building to systematically steal books to sell them on the black market, probably working with traffickers in antique tomes.  Ministry sources say they fear that the tomes in question have already left Spain.

Last week did bring some good news in terms of national heritage, however. Ten of 15 hand-penned maps stolen from the National Library  were handed over last Wednesday to the Culture Ministry by Interior Minister Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, who had received them from Spanish police and Interpol.

Cesar Gómez Rivero, a researcher, has admitted to cutting the maps out of manuscript books and selling them over a period of several years.

He is in custody in Argentina, where he is being investigated, but he has not yet been brought to trial. Some of the maps came from two Renaissance editions of maps by Ancient Greek cartographer Ptolemy, 'Cosmographia' (1482) and 'Geographia' (1507).

Eight maps were recovered from Buenos Aires, while two others were found in New York. Another is awaiting authorization to be returned from Sydney. At least four from the 15th to 17th centuries are still missing.

[Copyright EL PAÍS, SL. / J. A. HERNÁNDEZ 2007]

Subject: Spanish news

 

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