Printed: November 25, 2020

Carnegie Library gets $6.57M from insurer

BY MARYLYNNE PITZ PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, which reported a theft of $8 million worth of rare books, maps, plates and prints in April 2017, has been reimbursed $6.57 million for its loss by Travelers Insurance.

Among the major losses detailed by Kerry-lee Jeffery, an appraiser for Pall Mall Art Advisors, was a book of ethnographic prints by Karl Bodmer showing North American Plains Indians.

Marc Selvaggio, a rare book dealer in Berkeley, Calif., appraised that same Bodmer volume when he was hired by Carnegie Library in 1991, the last time the library system identified the more significant materials in its rare book collection. Back then, Mr. Selvaggio valued it between $175,000 and $250,000.

“This specific set of plates — which had some serious condition problems but was complete, and the print images were very good — today may have an approximate market value of $500,000 to $600,000. Fine, complete sets go for more,” Mr. Selvaggio said in a telephone interview.

Ms. Jeffery’s report details the damage done over 25 years to a 25,000-volume collection and will buttress the prosecution’s argument Thursday when a judge sentences John Schulman, 56, of Squirrel Hill, and Gregory Priore, 63, of Oakland.

The cultural damage, Ms. Jeffery noted, is incalculable. All that remained of an 18-volume set by Giovanni Piranesi, an artist famed for his etchings of Rome, were its bindings. The retail replacement cost, Ms. Jeffery noted, is $600,000.

A 40-volume set by famed photographer Edward S. Curtis, the landmark work documenting Indians of North America, is a “total loss,” although authorities located 239 of its 1,500 plates. The retail cost of replacing it, Ms. Jeffery noted, is $540,000.

A three-volume atlas, printed in Amsterdam in 1644, was missing all of its 234 maps. The retail cost of replacing it is $200,000, Ms. Jeffery wrote.

An even earlier atlas, dated 1613 and printed in Holland, was missing 145 maps; detectives recovered five maps. The retail cost of replacing the atlas, Ms. Jeffery found, is $180,000.

Detectives from the Allegheny County district attorney’s office recovered about 10% of what was stolen — a total of 27 items, worth roughly $218,000. Some items were found during a search of a Wilkinsburg warehouse Mr. Schulman owns.

More than 30 letters, many written by the library’s department heads or trustees, urged Judge Alexander Bicket to impose the maximum possible sentence and order both men to pay restitution.

William Claspy, head of the Kelvin Smith Library at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, wrote to Judge Bicket, recounting that in June 2016, his predecessor paid Mr. Schulman $1,500 for a 16th-century book about the theories of Georg von Peuerbach, a noted astronomer.

The book had Carnegie Library’s 1895 bookplate but was stamped in red ink, “Withdrawn from Library.” When he learned the book was stolen, Mr. Claspy returned it to Carnegie Library in 2018, but the Cleveland library he runs has not recovered its $1,500.

Michael T. Kiesel, an attorney, paid $3,393 for a rare book printed in 1479. In August 2018, Simon Lee, a British dealer at Lyppard Books in Worcester, England, told him it had been stolen. Mr. Kiesel returned the book and told the judge that Mr. Lee reimbursed him for the money he had spent.

“Some of the victims in this case, I fear, will not be so lucky and will suffer financial loss, in addition to the emotional distress experienced by us all,” Mr. Kiesel wrote.

Marylynne Pitz: mpitz@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1648 or on Twitter: @mpitzpg.