Tuesday, August 09, 2005

A Genealogue Appeal: Save Our Atlases

From The Boston (Mass.) Globe:

Dealer faces probe in map thefts

'Perfect gentleman' is charged in Conn.

By Jenna Russell, Globe Staff | August 9, 2005

Seven rare and valuable maps are missing from five books at the Boston Public Library, and curators are searching for more holes in the collection, as a respected rare maps dealer who used the missing materials appears in court today on theft charges, the library's president said yesterday.

Curators at the Boston library began reviewing their collection earlier this summer, after E. Forbes Smiley III, a part-time resident of Martha's Vineyard, was arrested at Yale University in New Haven. He was scheduled to appear in a New Haven court today on charges of stealing maps worth more than $300,000 from a university library.


[Read the whole story]
Slicing maps out of old atlases has become rampant, and is a despicable practice. Soon the only copies of these treasures will be in libraries—though now it seems that not even these are safe.

Let me start a crusade right now: Don't buy maps and plates you know were recently cut from atlases. Buy from dealers who explicitly repudiate this practice— like Kitty Liebreich, who thinks "it's sacrilege to destroy an atlas unless it's already damaged beyond repair." Or buy reproductions from companies like Old Maps of New England, New York & Pennsylvania.

The situation is similar to that of ivory, the sale of which is illegal unless it was harvested from an animal before the ban was enacted. Most antique maps were once bound in atlases. There is nothing wrong with buying a map removed from its binding a half-century ago. But avoid dealers who spend their weekends carving up atlases, like the guy selling dozens of maps on eBay from the Petit Atlas National des Departements de la France et de ses Colonies and Atlas Universel de Geographie Ancienne et Moderne, published in 1835. The seller provides a photograph of each page of the atlas, taken before the butchery began. One can imagine his glee as he brandished his exacto knife, knowing that his profits from selling the 131 maps individually would far exceed the $750 he might make by selling them in their original state.

In buying his wares, you are not buying a piece of history; you are participating in the dismemberment of history.

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