The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 21, Number 12, March 25, 2018, Article 7


On the Numismatic Bibliomania Society Facebook page, former Editor of The Asylum Tom Fort writes:

A major theft (or series of thefts) from the principal public library in Pittsburgh. From the list, which the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published below, no numismatic books seem to have been taken. However, I do know that the library holds a number of numismatic items, most famously a complete set of The Numismatist, including the rare first six volumes.

Actually, I noticed a couple obscure numismatic items on the list:

Charles Henry Hart, Catalogue of the Engraved Portraits of Washington, New York: Grolier Club, 1904; Of 425 copies

Lorado Zadoc Taft (American, 1860 - 1936), Medal Struck in Celebration of the Sixty-Sixth Anniversary of the Birth of James Whitcomb Riley, 1916; #219 of 500

Here's an excerpt from the article. -Editor

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh Oliver Room

Valuable atlases, maps, and large plate books that show the colorful breadth of Western civilization have been stolen from the rare books room of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh in Oakland, right under the gaze of Andrew Carnegie’s portrait.

The theft of 314 items was discovered last April when an appraisal for insurance purposes began of the rare materials in the Oliver Room, library spokeswoman Suzanne Thinnes said. Deemed a crime scene, the room has been closed since April 3, 2017. Since that time, detectives from the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office have been investigating the complex case.

“We’re very saddened by the breach of trust. This theft occurred over an extended period of time” by a knowledgeable individual or individuals, Ms. Thinnes said. She said the library could not provide an exact value of the missing materials.

Michael Vinson, a rare book dealer for 26 years, who reviewed a detailed list of the missing items, was more direct.

“I think the value would easily be $5 million. This is an immense cultural crime,” he said.

Among the missing books is a first edition of Isaac Newton’s “Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica” from London, dated 1687. Mr. Vinson noted that another copy of this book sold for $3.7 million in 2016 at a Christie’s auction in New York City.

Also gone is a first edition of Adam Smith’s book “The Wealth of Nations,” which, Mr. Vinson said, would be worth $150,000. Nine books printed before 1500 were stolen, too. These texts are called incunables because they were printed in the first 50 years after Johannes Gutenberg began printing. Mr. Vinson said the nine incunables would be worth a total of $50,000.

“This is a great loss to the Pittsburgh community,” she added. “Trust is a very important component of what we do on a daily basis. The library takes very seriously the security of all its collections.”

The staff member responsible for the collection is no longer employed by the library, she said, declining to elaborate.

“This was part of a magnificent collection that would cover the entire breadth of Western civilization. [Edmund] Spenser’s ‘The Faerie Queene’ is a landmark in literature,” said Mr. Vinson, who lives in Santa Fe, N.M. and holds a master’s degree in library science from the University of Chicago, where he specialized in the history of the book.

The list, obtained by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, includes a first folio edition of Spenser’s classic poem that was published in London in 1609.

A three-volume set by Thomas L. McKenney and James Hall, titled “History of The Indian Tribes of North America,” is worth $100,000, Mr. Vinson said.

Also missing is John James Audubon’s oversized book “The Quadrupeds of North America,” an octavo edition of his illustrations of four-footed mammals published in the 1850s in New York City.

Joyce Kosofsky, co-owner of Brattle Book Shop in downtown Boston, has worked in the book trade since 1978 and agreed with Mr. Vinson. She called the list “jaw-dropping. It’s an impressive list of books — the range of what’s there,” she said.

“These are high-end rare books. I’ve never seen a list this big. This is a major theft,” Ms. Kosofsky said.

What a heartbreaking loss. This mess will take decades to resolve and many of the items will never be restored to their home.

Unless there has been a name change, there are at least two rare book rooms - Oliver and Wadsworth. The numismatic literature was shelved in the Wadsworth room.

Back in 1989, during the American Numismatic Association convention in Pittsburgh I arranged a numismatic bibliophile visit to the Carnegie Library Wadsworth Rare Book Room. Pictured left to right are: Mark Auerbach, George Kolbe, Wayne Homren (a young me), Frank Katen, Ken Lowe, Myron Xenos, John Bergman, and Armand Champa.

1989 ANA Carnegie Library

Later, in 1991, I did an appraisal of the numismatic literature in the Carnegie's Wadsworth Rare Book Room with the assistance of my friend John Burns. It was the research library that had been transferred from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History when the Museum's extensive coin collection was sold in the late 1970s-early 1980s. I recently shipped a number of my files to the Newman Numismatic Portal for digitization, and a copy of that inventory was included. I've already alerted the detectives to its existence.

Curious, I looked for an example of the James Whitcomb Riley medal - I'd never heard of either the medal or the book. I found one in the numismatic collection of the Yale University Art Gallery. -Editor

James Whitcomb Riley medal obverse James Whitcomb Riley medal reverse

To read the conplete Yale University inventory entry, see: Bronze medal of James Whitcomb Riley (

To read the Carnegie Library numismatic literature inventory on the Newman Numismatic Portal, see:
Wayne Homren Archives: 1991 Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh Wadsworth Room Numismatic Literature Appraisal (

To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see:

To read the complete Post-Gazette article, see:
Who stole 314 items from the Carnegie Library rare books room? (

For more information, see: Pittsburgh Area Thefts (

Garrett Mid-American E-Sylum ad01

Wayne Homren, Editor

NBS ( Web

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