Yesterday I saw the 415-year-old Wytfliet atlas, which contained the first printed maps of the New World. It was being returned to the Swedish Royal Library after being stolen nearly a decade ago by a senior librarian. It was exciting to see something that old, realizing that for many people at the time, it was like seeing photographs of Mars for the first time. I’m still amazed at how cartographers were able to make maps at that time.
Published: June 26, 2012
He was entrusted to guard Sweden’s cultural heritage, but instead this senior librarian spent years surreptitiously stealing and selling scores of its rare and precious books. When the thief, Anders Burius, was finally caught in 2004, the media called him the “Royal Library Man,” and his sensational crime and subsequent suicide became the subjects of a government inquiry, a radio documentary and, last year, a television mini-series.
Now, for the first time, one of the missing books — the earliest printed atlas of the Americas — has been recovered by Sweden’s Royal Library after a librarian there noticed that it was being offered for sale last year by a New York map dealer, W. Graham Arader III. …..
Since 1661, Swedish publishers have been required by law to send at least one copy of everything they print — whether a Bible, an Ikea catalog or a bus schedule — to the Royal Library. It contains “the memory of the nation,” Mr. Ryden explained, adding that the theft “created black holes,” and that “money can’t compensate when you have black holes.”
The Wytfliet atlas, which contains some of the first maps of the New World as well as a history of the voyages of Columbus, Pizarro, Verrazano and other explorers, was one of more than 100 books stolen by Mr. Burius from several libraries, including the Royal, where he was chief of the manuscript division.
After his thefts were discovered in 2004, he was arrested, questioned and released to await a court date. Five days later Mr. Burius, 48, went into the kitchen of his fifth-floor apartment, slit his wrists and cut a gas line. Within hours a stray spark set off an explosion that blew out the walls, spewing debris, injuring 11 and forcing 44 people to be evacuated from his central Stockholm neighborhood.
Read the whole story here.