In April 2017, a routine insurance appraisal of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s rare book collection revealed 321 missing items, including atlases, maps, plate books, photograph albums and manuscripts valued by experts at around $8 million. Since the news broke, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has been on the case, recovering fragments and intact volumes worth an estimated $1.6 million. Last week, a 1615 Geneva Bible similar to one brought from Europe by Pilgrims traveling aboard the Mayflower joined the collection of rediscovered tomes.
According to CNN’s Lauren M. Johnson, authorities found the 404-year-old Bible in the possession of Jeremy Dupertuis Bangs, director of the Netherlands’ Leiden American Pilgrim Museum. As Bangs tells Johnson, he purchased the volume from a seemingly “reputable dealer in antiquarian books” for inclusion in an upcoming exhibition on texts owned by members of Plymouth Colony. During a news conference, district attorney spokesperson Mike Manko said that Bangs paid $1,200 for the Bible, now valued at closer to $5,500, in 2015.
“From a dollar-figure sense, [the Bible] is not priceless,” FBI agent Robert Jones said at the conference. “[But] from a history perspective, it is priceless.”
Known as a “Breeches Bible” for its inclusion of the term in the Genesis’ description of Adam and Eve sewing fig leaf clothes to cover their nakedness, the text was translated by English Protestants who fled to Geneva during the reign of Catholic Queen Mary I.
Pennsylvania investigators first alerted Bangs to the Bible's questionable provenance in 2018. After studying the case alongside Dutch police, he agreed to yield the artifact to an expert tasked with bringing it to the country's American Embassy.
The F.B.I.’s Art Crime Team took over from there, The New York Times’ Karen Zraick reports, safely transporting the Bible to the agency’s Pittsburgh offices. As District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr. tells the Associated Press’ Ramesh Santanam, the F.B.I. will give the recovered manuscript to Allegheny County prosecutors who will, in turn, return the book to its rightful home at the Carnegie Library.
Last year, prosecutors charged library archivist Gregory Priore with allegedly smuggling hundreds of artifacts to local book dealer John Schulman, who then re-sold them to unsuspecting clients. Priore was the sole archivist in charge of the library’s rare book room from 1992 until his firing in June 2017. According to Shelly Bradbury of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, authorities believe Priore and Schulman, a once-respected member of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America who formerly led the organization’s ethics committee, conspired to sell cannibalized and intact texts, many of which the archivist simply carried out of the library and into the bookseller’s shop, since the late 1990s.