January 22, 2022

New Book is A Real-Life Thriller About Rare Book Theft at New York Public Library

From the U. of Illinois:

A new book from a University of Illinois expert in crimes against rare books tells the real-life story of the biggest score in rare-book theft and the dogged hunt for the perpetrators by the special investigator of the New York Public Library.

The book, titled “Thieves of Book Row: New York’s Most Notorious Rare Book Ring and the Man Who Stopped It,” was written by Travis McDade, the curator of law rare books at the College of Law. It’s a Depression-era cat-and-mouse thriller about the pursuit of the worst rare-book ring in U.S. history.

There have always been thieves stealing from libraries, but this was different,” McDade said. “This was – and probably still is – the all-time worst theft of rare books in the U.S.”


According to the book, which was published by Oxford University Press, the price of rare books in the 1920s, particularly in the “Americana” genre, started to skyrocket, creating a unique opportunity for unscrupulous booksellers and thieves desperate enough to raid libraries.

“It was the boom years of the Jazz Age, and you had the J.P. Morgans, the Andrew Carnegies, the Henry Huntingtons and the like buying rare books to stock in their libraries,” McDade said. “Thanks to this book-buying bubble, all of the public libraries in the Northeast now had books on their shelves that were pretty valuable.”

With the value of first-edition books going through the roof, a ring of thieves on Book Row – a six-block sliver in lower Manhattan about 20 blocks south of the library – conspired to make some money by raiding libraries and then selling the stolen books to rare booksellers, some of whom were willing to turn a blind eye to the dubious provenance of the prized antiquities.


McDade also is the author of “The Book Thief: The True Crimes of Daniel Spiegelman.” He teaches legal research at the College of Law and a class called “Rare Books, Crime & Punishment” in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science.

Learn much more about the story in the remainder of the U. of Illinois post.

See Also: You Can Search Inside the Book (via Amazon) and Preview (via Google Play)

About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.