Woodson Research Center, Rice University

Guide to the Bird and small mammal prints theft collection, 1859-2004



Descriptive Summary

Title Bird and small mammal prints theft collection
Dates: 1859-2004
Abstract: This collection consists of circa 700 color prints stolen from the journals Ibis (the journal of the British Ornithologists’ Union) and Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, owned by the Fondren Library. The prints date from 1859-1915 and feature birds, bird eggs, and other animals. Theft correspondence and research dates from 1980-2004 and represents the Fondren Library’s efforts to cooperate with and assist in the Blumberg investigation.
ID MS 544
Extent 1 lin. ft. (2 boxes)
Language Materials are in English.
Repository: Woodson Research Center, Fondren Library, Rice University, Houston, TX

Biographical Note

Stephen Carrie Blumberg was an accomplished book thief who to stole18,900 books from 327 libraries and museums in 45 states and Canada before being caught in 1991. Over 20 years he amassed his collection of rare books in his Iowa home in an attempt to create his own rare book collection, never intending to sell them. Blumberg stole numerous color plates from journals in Rice’s Fondren Library in the 1980s. When the FBI confiscated his collection, and attempted to return the books to the libraries from which they were stolen, the task was complicated by the fact that Blumberg had removed each library’s ownership marks. It is believed that this group of prints represents only what was stolen from Fondren Library, but complete accuracy on this point is not possible. It was also determined that the original journals from which these plates were cut were in such bad condition that returning the plates to them would not be possible. There fore they have been maintained in their original order since their investigation and return.

Blumberg’s stolen book collection was valued at $5.3 million. He served nearly 6 years in prison for the thefts.


Scope and Contents

This collection consists of circa 700 color prints stolen from the journals Ibis (the journal of the British Ornithologists’ Union) and Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, owned by the Fondren Library. The prints date from 1859-1915 and feature birds, bird eggs, bird nests and other animals. The prints were recovered after Blumberg’s 1991 arrest and returned to Fondren Library. The bags in which they are stored are the bags which Blumberg used for them. The folder names for the bags reflect his labeling on the bags. Theft correspondence and research dates from 1980-2004 and represents the Fondren Library’s efforts to cooperate with and assist in the Blumberg investigation.


Restrictions

Access Restriction

This material is open for research.

Use Restrictions

Permission to publish materials from this item must be obtained from the Woodson Research Center, Fondren Library, Rice University.


Index Terms

Subjects (Organizations)
Rice University – history.
Subjects
Book thefts
Subjects (Persons)
Blumberg, Stephen Carrie
Formats
Correspondence
Plates (illustrations)

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Bird and small mammal prints theft collection, 1859-2004, MS 544 Woodson Research Center, Fondren Library, Rice University.

Acquisition Information

The theft correspondence and research in this collection was the work product of the Fondren Library in collaboration with the FBI and other libraries which were involved, over the period of time 1981-2004.


Detailed Description of the Collection

 

Series I: Prints, 1859-1915

box folder
1 1 Bag labeled PZS / 177
Color prints of birds, animals, fish, seashells, butterflies. These plates were cut and stolen from Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London publication in Fondren Library and elsewhere. Approximately 200 plates dated from 1864-1904. Also contains property tag from University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign police dated July 10, 1980.
2 Bag labeled 255 / Ibis
Color prints of birds with original identification Ibis in top right corner. They are believed to have been cut from the journal Ibis, the journal of the British Ornithologists’ Union. Approximately 267 plates dated from 1859-1915.
box folder
2 1 Bag labeled 329/PZ.
Color prints found in this bag are in separate Mylar enclosures. Prints are of birds and bird eggs from the journal Ibis, the journal of the British Ornithologists’ Union. Plates are sorted by year in which the appeared in the journal. Approximately 217 plates dated from 1862-1913.



 

Series II: Theft correspondence and research, 1980-2004

box folder
2 2 Composite of information on stolen plates
Two page sheet detailing the bibliographic description of the journal Ibis and police reports detailing contents of plastic bags containing stolen plates.
2 Hartfield catalogue of rare books
Catalogue from Hartfield’s Fine and Rare Books store dated February 11, 1985. Contains information of the value of some of the stolen plates (listing # L-74).
2 Printouts of Fondren Library’s journal holdings
Printout details the location and volumes of journals held by Fondren from which plates were stolen.
2 Photocopies of book plate listings
Photocopies of illustration listings contained in Alfred Guernsey’s book “Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War” dated 1868.
2 Bibliographic listings
Bibliographic listings of Fondren’s holdings that are missing (with sample plates), dated May 12, 1981.
2 Collection of catalog listings
A collection of handwritten and typed notes containing bibliographic listings of journals and books originally thought to hold the stolen plates. Annotations by librarians concerning the status of the plates are also present.
2 Photocopies of Ibis plate listings
A collection photocopies from Ibis’s plate listings in the order in which they appear in their original publications.
3 The Shinn Lists (1982)
One hundred forty-four page booklet edited by William Moffett of Oberlin College listing the books stolen by another book thief, James Shinn. This booklet was created to facilitate communication between universities that had been victims of Shinn when the recovered books ended up at the wrong libraries.
4 Printout of Blumberg biography
Printout from the Web of the November 1991 edition of the Abbey Newsletter detailing Stephen Blumberg’s life and history of his thefts.