The rare book and map trade is a small world, and the incidents described below show the importance of keeping lines of communication open among dealers, librarians and collectors. Anyone discovering a theft should act promptly to spread the news widely.
In February 2007 we received a call from one Joshua McCarty, a self-described internet book dealer. He said he was visiting his mother who lived in the Chicago area. We made an appointment and he came to our Evanston, Illinois shop a few days later.
He was intelligent, had done research on the maps, had a pleasant manner and seemed legitimate. Of the several dozen maps he brought in many were standard, a few were uncommon, and one was a manuscript map of the Pennsylvania oil regions dated 1865. We were interested in a few of the maps and negotiated a price. McCarty signed our standard purchase agreement. We paid with a check.
I immediately quoted the manuscript map and shipped it out. A few days a colleague forwarded to me an email which originated with Ted Canaday, a gallery owner in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. It described maps stolen earlier that month from his gallery. The maps we had purchased, including the manuscript map, were on the list. A number of other maps we had seen in McCarty's possession were listed.
I contacted Canaday who told me the Harrisburg Police were not interested as the loss was "only $20,000", and they had more critical matters to deal with - rapes and murders. He said that besides emailing dealers, he planned to send notices to antiques journals. I said I would forward his notices to the ABAA and ILAB stolen books list as well as to map dealers not in ILAB.
Then I rang my attorney, notified my client that he'd have to return the manuscript map (which he promptly did), and filed a report with the Evanston Police.
The next day an Evanston detective called on us and took our testimony. At one point I suggested McCarty might have been an innocent buyer himself, and the detective replied that McCarty had two prior arrests (but no convictions) as a receiver of stolen goods.
The Evanston Police wanted to interview McCarty, but the value of the maps we had purchased was too small to justify issuing an interstate warrant. They advised me to call if I heard from McCarty again.
Nothing happened for several weeks, and the Police suggested I call McCarty to say I'd like to buy more maps. He said he'd be in town soon, and one day he showed up unannounced. Some of the maps he brought this time looked familiar, but others were different. Telling him I wanted to look up a reference on one of his maps I went to my office and called the Police as pre-arranged, while my wife Mary continued talking to him up front.
Then I returned to the front of the shop. We were talking with McCarty when the phone rang. Thinking it might be the Police, Mary went in back to take the call. Instead it was a client calling from Taiwan whom she had to put on hold when the Police dispatcher rang to confirm officers were on their way. She transferred back to the client and missed the exciting part.
Five burly officers surged through the door. McCarty was handcuffed and searched. Our neighbors were treated to seeing a "perp [perpetrator] walk" - the suspect in handcuffs being marched to a squad car - a familiar scene on the news and on police dramas.
McCarty told the Police he had paid cash for the maps at a Florida fair and that he had no receipts. He was charged with a Class C misdemeanor regarding not taking due care to determine whether goods were stolen. At this time I sent a notice to the trade re McCarty.
He skipped his court date and what could have been a matter punishable by a $75 fine at most resulted in an arrest warrant and a new trial date. He did make his second court appearance, was found guilty, and fined several hundred dollars.
We thought that was the end of it, but late in August 2008 the ABAA sent notice that a very rare and valuable item - the Maxwell Code, the first book published in the Northwest Territory - had been stolen from the Rutherford B. Hayes Library in Ohio. Upon receiving the notice, a Chicago bookseller recalled having been contacted a few weeks earlier by someone claiming to have a copy of the Maxwell Code which he wanted to sell. He remembered his Caller ID had given the name Joshua McCarty, though the caller said his name was John.
The dealer then also remembered my notice to the trade regarding McCarty and called me. He had already talked to the Hayes Library and said they would appreciate any information we had. I emailed to them a photo of McCarty which we had been given by the Evanston Police. The photo didn't match the person who took the Maxwell Code, but the authorities followed up on the possible link to McCarty.
We now know from newspaper reports that McCarty's associate Zachary Scranton is charged with the theft, and cell phone records between Scranton and McCarty place Scranton in the vicinity of the Hayes Library at the time the book was stolen. This copy of the Maxwell Code has been traced and McCarty is charged with arranging the theft and selling the book.
Action that should be taken if you experience a theft
It should be noted that one does not have to be a member of the ILAB (International League of Antiquarian Booksellers) or any of its affiliated national organizations to report stolen or missing books through their system. Anyone who has knowledge of these can contact them (send details to <email@example.com >) and the information will be disseminated to dealers world-wide.
Missing maps (or related items such as atlases) should be reported to the Missing and Stolen Maps Database', managed by the International Antiquarian Mapsellers Association (IAMA), as well as being reported to ILAB. [Note: both the database and IAMA itself were discontinued at the end of 2012]