Tweedy scholars hunched over ancient documents have long been a familiar presence at Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, one of the world’s largest repositories of rare books and maps. But a shiny X-Acto knife glinting on the floor near the seat frequented by one researcher was so out of place that a guard confronted E. Forbes Smiley III, demanding to know whether the implement was his, reports the Los Angeles Times. Smiley owned up to possessing the razor-sharp knife. “I must have dropped it,” he told the guard, according to an affidavit filed in Connecticut Superior Court.
Police say they found seven maps valued at more than $900,000 in Smiley’s pockets and briefcase. The 49-year-old rare books dealer pleaded not guilty to larceny. Library theft is nothing new, but the arrest in June of a respected purveyor of antiquarian books and maps has sent nervous ripples through rare book collections across the country. Smiley’s footsteps have been retraced, and at least three major libraries have reported finding that maps disappeared at times that coincided with his visits to their collections. An FBI art crime squad based in Philadelphia has sent warnings to officials at the British Library in London and other foreign collections where Smiley conducted research.