Newton's 'Principia' among items in alleged $8M book scheme

July 20, 2018 by Marc Levy
Newton's 'Principia' among items in alleged $8M book scheme
Greg Priore, the former Oliver Room archivist at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, is taken in cuffs after arraignment at City Court, Friday, July 20, 2018 in Pittsburgh. Authorities on Friday charged Priore and John Schulman, owner of an antique bookstore, with stealing millions of dollars' worth of rare books, illustrations, maps and photographs from a Pittsburgh library over a 20-year period. (Darrell Sapp/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP)

An archivist and an antique bookseller were charged Friday with stealing millions of dollars' worth of rare books, illustrations, maps and photographs from a Pittsburgh library over a 20-year period, including Isaac Newton's "Principia," considered a watershed of science.

In some cases, the archivist would use an X-Acto knife to cut potentially valuable maps and illustrations out of in the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh's historical collection, authorities said. They ultimately sold to other collectors famous originals that were hundreds of years old, authorities said.

Researchers found more than 300 items damaged or missing, a loss estimated at $8 million.

Charged were former Carnegie Library archivist Gregory Priore, 61, and bookstore owner John Schulman, 54, with theft, conspiracy, forgery, receiving stolen property and other counts in the disappearance of hundreds of items.

Lawyers for the men did not return messages seeking comment.

The alleged scheme started unraveling last year when appraisers with Pall Mall Art Advisors, a Pennsylvania-based art consultancy, began an audit sought by the library and discovered that items were missing or damaged since the last audit in 1991. The library locked down the room, and appraisers quickly began finding missing items for sale online, as well as items that had been sold or advertised by Schulman's bookstore, Caliban Book Shop, a block away from the library.

Newton's 'Principia' among items in alleged $8M book scheme
In this June 9, 1999 photo, Greg Priore, an archivist at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, examines books for preservation as part of a $500,000 grant to preserve historic materials. Authorities on Friday, July 20, 2018, charged Priore, a Carnegie Library archivist, and John Schulman, owner of an antique bookstore, with stealing millions of dollars' worth of rare books, illustrations, maps and photographs from a Pittsburgh library over a 20-year period. (Sammy Dallal/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP)

In June 2017, library officials contacted authorities and fired Priore.

Detectives say efforts to recover the items have netted books, plates and maps estimated at a value of $1.1 million. Some were found during a search last year of Schulman's book warehouse, detectives said.

One particularly valuable item allegedly stolen and recovered was Newton's "Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica," with an estimated value of $900,000.

Listed as a total loss are: "An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations" by Adam Smith, at a value of $180,000; "The Journal of..." by George Washington, estimated at $250,000; and "Reise in das Innere Nord-America" by Prince Alexander Philipp Maximilian and Karl Bodmer, at a value of $1.2 million.

Newton's 'Principia' among items in alleged $8M book scheme
Caliban Book Shop co-owner John Schulman leaves after his arraignment at City Court, Friday morning July 20, 2018 in Pittsburgh. Authorities on Friday charged Schulman and Greg Priore, a Carnegie Library archivist, with stealing millions of dollars' worth of rare books, illustrations, maps and photographs from a Pittsburgh library over a 20-year period. (Darrell Sapp/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP)

In one case, the men allegedly forged a letter from the library to help them sell a book signed by Thomas Jefferson. The letter was designed to make it look as though the library had removed the book from its archives, detectives said.

A Pall Mall appraiser helping detectives found that book, "De la France et des Etats-Unis," for sale online for $95,000 from a bookstore in New York. The book had been bought and sold twice after Schulman allegedly sold it to Bartleby's, detectives said.

In a 36-page narrative filed in court, Priore told detectives that he first approached Schulman in the late 1990s about selling items from the library's special collection and that Schulman agreed to do it.

Priore, who in 1991 became manager and archivist of the library's special collections room, simply walked out of the library with books, authorities say. Sometimes he concealed maps or illustrations in a manila folder or, if it was larger, rolled it up and carried it out, they said.

A man reads a sign on the front door of the Caliban Book Shop in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh on Friday, July 20, 2018. Authorities on Friday charged John Schulman, a co-owner of the bookstore, and Greg Priore, a Carnegie Library archivist, with stealing millions of dollars' worth of rare books, illustrations, maps and photographs from a Pittsburgh library over a 20-year period. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
"Priore chose items from the Oliver Room to give to Schulman to sell if Priore felt they had value," the complaint said. "He was unable to recall exactly what he took because he would just grab stuff off of the shelf."

Sometimes, Schulman requested a specific item from Priore, authorities said. Priore removed potentially valuable maps and bookplates from books that were otherwise in poor condition, even using an X-Acto knife to cut some items out, they said.

Schulman paid Priore up front and pocketed the cash from items he could unload, detectives said. Priore estimated that he netted $40,000 to $50,000 in total, and suspected that Schulman had received much more, detectives said.

The Carnegie library system was founded over a century ago with $1 million from steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, who went on to establish over 2,500 libraries around the world, according to the library.

Newton's 'Principia' among items in alleged $8M book scheme
A pratron steps out of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh on Friday, July 20, 2018. Authorities on Friday, July 20, 2018, charged Greg Priore, a Carnegie Library archivist, and John Schulman, owner of an antique bookstore, with stealing millions of dollars' worth of rare books, illustrations, maps and photographs from a Pittsburgh library over a 20-year period. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Explore further: Israel's national library acquires famed Judaica collection

Related Stories

World Digital Library grows to 10,000 items

March 6, 2014

The World Digital Library led by the Library of Congress reached a milestone Thursday, surpassing 10,000 items with the addition of ancient manuscripts from the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore.

Google to scan 400,000 Austrian library books

June 15, 2010

Austria's national library said Tuesday it has struck a 30-million-euro deal with US Internet giant Google to digitise 400,000 copyright-free books, a vast collection spanning 400 years of European history.

Recommended for you

Measuring immigrant integration

October 23, 2018

How well are immigrants integrating in the United States? Are they doing better or worse than in Germany or France? Under what conditions have immigrants most successfully integrated into their host societies? Despite great ...

New definition returns meaning to information

October 23, 2018

A fish on the Great Barrier Reef continually acquires new information from its environment—the location of food, the murkiness of the water, and the sounds of distant ships, to name a few examples. But only some of that ...

University choice and achievement partly down to DNA

October 18, 2018

Research from King's College London has shown for the first time that genetics plays a significant role in whether young adults choose to go to university, which university they choose to attend and how well they do.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Stannous_Flouride
5 / 5 (1) Jul 22, 2018
The filthy scumbag "Priore estimated that he netted $40,000 to $50,000 in total" for stealing $8 MILLION worth of public treasures!?
The mind reels.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.