One by one, rare books vanished from the library — the Journal of George Washington; a copy of Isaac Newton’s “Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica” valued at nearly $1 million; an Atlas by a 19th-century German explorer worth $1.2 million.
Over a quarter of a century, these printed treasures and hundreds of others were stolen from Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Library. And some of them were heading just around the corner.
On Monday, Gregory Priore, the former archivist of the Carnegie Library’s rare book room, and John Schulman, owner of Caliban Book Shop, pleaded guilty to theft and receiving stolen property for snatching $8 million worth of rare books, maps, folios, and other objects. Schulman also pleaded guilty to forgery. Their sentencing is scheduled for April.
Prosecutors say the scheme ran from 1992 to 2017, during which time Priore would steal the rare texts from the library’s R. Oliver Special Collections Room — sometimes simply walking right out of the building with them, prosecutors said — and pass them along to Schulman, who would sell them at his store and online.
Some of the books wound up for sale at Caliban Book Shop, a warren-like used and rare book store with a cobalt blue exterior that is less than a 10-minute walk from the ornate Carnegie Library in the Oakland neighborhood, Pittsburgh’s academic center. Authorities who searched the Caliban Book Shop warehouse about four miles away found more than 40 of the missing books, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.
Others traveled much farther. Such is the case of a 400-year-old Geneva Bible, which federal authorities tracked down in the Netherlands. Isaac Newton’s “Principia” wound up in the hands of a rare bookseller in London, who was able to recover it from a buyer after he learned it was stolen.
“The shock, the anger and the hurt we feel that individuals who were close to us, who were trusted by us, who were considered friends and colleagues to many of us at the Library, would abuse the faith we had in them for personal gain will be with us for a very long time,” the Carnegie Library said in a statement.
An attorney for Priore declined to comment.
Schulman’s attorneys, Robert Del Greco Jr., Albert Veverka and Ember Holmes, said in a statement that he had accepted “responsibility for his association with books under circumstances whereby he should have known that the books had probably been stolen.”
“Mr. Schulman has dedicated much of his life to contributing to the bookselling trade and regrets that today’s guilty pleas negatively reflected upon the antiquarian book industry, his family and clients,” they said.
The library realized that items were missing from the Oliver Room thanks to an insurance appraisal in April 2017, and it was determined that the thefts had taken place over an extended period of time, said Carnegie Library spokeswoman Suzanne Thinnes.
Priore was fired from the Carnegie Library in 2018 after a 25 year career, and he and Schulman were charged in July 2018 for the thefts. An audit by Pall Mall Art Advisors found that over 300 items that they valued at about $8 million had been stolen, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.
According to a criminal complaint, Priore received about $117,000 in checks from Caliban Book Shop between 2010 and 2017.
“Greed came over me,” Priore told investigators, according to an affidavit. “I did it, but Schulman spurred me on.”