Between 1992 and 2017, archivist Greg Priore smuggled some 300 documents worth more than $8 million out of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, where he served as sole manager of the rare books room. As Paula Reed Ward reports for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Priore hid illustrated pages or plates in manila envelopes, rolled up larger items, or simply carried books out of the library. He then delivered the items to bookseller John Schulman, who subsequently re-sold them to unsuspecting clients.
On Monday, the two men pleaded guilty to stealing and selling rare books and other documents from the Pennsylvania library. They will be sentenced on April 17 of this year.
A full list of the missing documents details texts with an estimated collective price tag of $8,066,300. The total value of the stolen items makes the operation one of the largest crimes of its kind.
Library staff discovered the deception in April 2017, when a routine insurance appraisal revealed 320 missing items, including atlases, maps, plate books, photograph albums and manuscripts, as well as 16 damaged works. When a formal investigation began in 2018, library spokesperson Suzanne Thinnes said the culprit was likely someone familiar with the library’s rare books room who had stolen items over an extended period of time.
Now, that theory has been confirmed. According to Ward, Priore received 56 checks totaling $117,700 between January 2010 and September 2017. During a similar stretch of time, he made cash deposits totaling $17,000.
“The shock, the anger and the hurt we feel that individuals who were close to us, who were trusted by us, who were considered friends and colleagues to many of us at the Library, would abuse the faith we had in them for personal gain will be with us for a very long time,” said Thinnes in a statement issued following the guilty plea. “We are thankful to the District Attorney’s Office and the investigators for the handling of this matter and for their tireless work to attempt to recover the stolen items.”
Among the stolen items were a first edition of Isaac Newton’s Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica and a 400-year-old Bible, both of which have since been recovered. The Bible was traced to a museum in the Netherlands, per the Associated Press, and returned last year.
The most valuable book lost was a German version of Maximilian, Prince of Wied’s, Travels in the Interior of North America, which was valued at $1.2 million.
In a criminal complaint quoted by the Post-Gazette, Priore stated, “I should have never done this. I loved that room, my whole working life, and greed came over me. I did it, but Schulman spurred me on.”
The complaint continues, “Priore alleged that Schulman ‘goaded’ him on and that Schulman made significantly more money than he did in the sale of the items from the Oliver Room.”
Schulman’s attorneys said in a written statement that in pleading guilty, he accepts “responsibility for his association with books under circumstances whereby he should have known that the books had probably been stolen.”
Authorities recovered 42 of the lost items, 18 of which were heavily damaged, from Schulman’s book shop warehouse during a nine-day search. Per CNN’s Alec Snyder, another 14 titles were found on sale at Schulman’s Caliban Book Shop, while 37 were spotted listed for sale on a rare books website. By the time the charges were filed in 2018, documents worth an estimated $1.2 million had either been located or identified as not actually missing. It remains unclear whether any of the other missing texts have since been found, according to Snyder.
When the theft was first uncovered, rare books dealer Michael Vinson expressed a sentiment shared by many in the literary community.
As he told the Post-Gazette’s Marylynne Pitz in March 2018, “This is an immense cultural crime.”