"It was one of the most dramatic thefts ever to hit the rare-book world, the disappearance of thousands of volumes — including centuries-old editions of Aristotle, Descartes, Galileo and Machiavelli — from the Baroque-era Girolamini Library in Naples. Now, prosecutors at a trial here are trying to show how such a wholesale violation of Western cultural patrimony could have taken place."
— Unraveling Huge Thefts From Girolamini Library in Naples - NYTimes.com
One of the most outrageous and brazen crimes against manuscript books
occurred in 2001, when the magnificent, still-complete, and
beautifully bound illuminated manuscript known as the “Album de
Charles de Croy” was sold at Sotheby’s London (19 June 2001 lot 47:
GBP 1,213,500 including buyer’s premium) and immediately carved up
like a piece of meat.
Originally the manuscript contained 86 leaves, with 118 stunning
full-page miniatures with decorative borders, and was preserved in a
fine contemporary binding (its fate is discussed below). The
manuscript was one of the famed set of 24 albums of landscape and town
views painted by Adrien Montigny between 1596 and 1598, commissioned
by Charles de Croy to record his domains in France and The
Netherlands. The manuscript is (or was) justly considered to be a
masterpiece of French manuscript illumination.
Seventeen (17) leaves from the carcass of the “Album de Charles de
Croy” are currently being offered by Graham Arader Galleries through
his storefront on AbeBooks:
If purchased altogether, the sum total of the 17 leaves would be
$1,575,000 (this includes Free Shipping). It is instructive to observe
that when the complete manuscript sold on 19 July 2001, one British
Pound was worth $1.41 — thus the selling price for all 86 leaves,
including buyer’s premium (and the gold-tooled Renaissance
bookbinding), was $1,720,743.
Two more leaves from this manuscript can be seen on the website of
Graham Arader’s San Francisco Gallery, namely the “Zelucq & Hodicq”
leaf and the “Chaivieve”:
It is my unhappy duty to report that the fine, but sadly empty, French
bookbinding was also offered by Graham Arader Galleries. Upon reading
their description of it I was reminded of an exoskeleton that once
surrounded something very beautiful, now drawn and quartered.
On an unrelated note, Jeremy Dibbell, citing the Maine Antiques
Digest, reported that “Mr. Arader is a known and confessed bookbreaker
when it suits him (he has even called himself ‘the greatest breaker of
Disclaimer: As of this writing, Mr. Arader’s statement has not been
substantiated, and thus it cannot be regarded as factual.
Meanwhile, at least four leaves from the “Album de Charles de Croy”
manuscript have been funneled back into the auction market, namely at
Sotheby’s and Christie’s:
I would be interested to know the fate of other dessicated leaves from
the “Album de Charles de Croy.”
Michael Laird” (EXLIBRIS-L)
"But I do not possess the book and will never be able to reconstruct it. Why? Because it has, since 2010 (the year two thousand and ten), been broken up deliberately and sold (mostly via EBay, I think) piecemeal in an act of shocking and greedy vandalism that I have uncovered in the last two weeks. I should say, too, that I bought the binding and intact leaves from a trusted American book-seller, purchased specifically for teaching and assuming the codex had been fragmented decades ago. He, in turn, had bought the book-shell from a German dealer."
— Text Technologies: The Broken Book II: From a Book of Hours to a Book of Bits
"David Gura, Curator of Ancient and Medieval Manuscripts (among other things!) at the University of Notre Dame, has made significant headway in literally reuniting some of those scattered leaves. As David explains in this blog post, he is systematically acquiring leaves from a beautiful Book of Hours written in Brittany around 1435 that was whole as recently as 2011, when it was sold at auction as part of Joseph Pope’s Bergendal Collection (Sotheby’s 5 July 2011, lot 113; formerly Bergendal MS 8). A dealer who bought the manuscript broke it up and started selling the leaves one by one. Gura decided to buy as many as he could find in an attempt to literally put the manuscript back together; he has already acquired 86 of the manuscript’s 129 leaves on behalf of the Hesburgh Library at Notre Dame."
— Manuscript Road Trip: “Gilding the Lilly” | Manuscript Road Trip
"You can see why taking manuscripts apart can be so devastating to scholars and booklovers alike: art historical and textual evidence may be lost forever along with armorial bindings, marginalia, inscriptions or bookplates that preserve evidence of the manuscript’s origins and early ownership."
— Manuscript Road Trip | Medieval Manuscripts in the United States See also http://kulturgut.hypotheses.org/286
"Just weeks after a plan to sell four Shakespeare folios was abandoned after a vociferous international outcry, the director of the Senate House libraries, Christopher Pressler, resigned this week. The Telegraph reported that Pressler had “admitted breaching financial rules by not disclosing his relationship with an employee at Bonhams, appointed to oversee the sale."
— PhiloBiblos: Links & Reviews
"The story of the University’s acquisition of a number of leaves from a 15th-century Breton Book of Hours—the personal prayerbook of a medieval lady in Brittany’s diocese of Vannes, in western France, circa 1450—really begins with the auction of the book by Sotheby’s in London in 2011. The book sold for a modest price to an anonymous buyer, says librarian David Gura, curator of ancient and medieval manuscripts in the Hesburgh Library’s Department of Special Collections. Part of Gura’s job is acquiring medieval manuscripts—and at Notre Dame, he notes, such manuscripts are accessible to the public and used for teaching and research, by both graduate and undergraduate students—a part of the University’s “unsurpassed undergraduate education” not available to undergraduates at most institutions. Gura took notice when a very rare and unusual medieval Breton calendar appeared on eBay. “We have very few Breton manuscripts, and it was a great example,” he says. While the library rarely acquires single leaves, the calendar was acquired for use in theology professor Rev. Michael S. Driscoll’s class on liturgical prayer, where Gura taught students to read the Latin manuscript and localize it—determine exactly where the book was used, based on the saints, feast days and other elements. That the calendar was available on the market reveals the prayerbook’s sad fate, however. After the Sotheby’s auction, the book made its way to Germany, where it was “broken”—cut apart so the pages could be sold individually to collectors. Book breaking, Gura notes, is all too common. Biblioclasts—book breakers—with “a wanton disregard for cultural artifacts, profit from their customer’s ignorance. A breaker can buy a manuscript of average quality and, by selling individual pages, quadruple their investment.” A page of a prayerbook Such unethical sales may make money, but the book’s historical and research value is lost forever."
— Reconstructing a broken book // News // Today@ND // University of Notre Dame
"The religious toll has been almost as bad. Besides the burned churches, Timotheus says, some ancient Coptic manuscripts have been lost. And at least one icon, believed to have been created by St. Luke, was destroyed because it had an image of Jesus and Mary."
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