Rare Book Monthly

Articles - May - 2019 Issue

Over 600 Books Stolen After World War II Returned to Owner

08a7ffa1-0084-4206-8ed5-bf51ebd4e496

California Turkey Vulture from John James Audubon's Birds of America (courtesy Sotheby's).

Over 600 stolen books from World War II were recently returned to their rightful owner. This is not the typical war era returned books story. The normal story, common even today as repatriation has become better recognized as the right course, involves books looted by the Nazis. The Nazis stole books, art, and everything else they could lay their hands on, primarily from Jews and others they considered enemies at home, and from the lands they overran during the war. All these years later, many of the books and artifacts are finally making their way back to their rightful owners, often heirs of owners they murdered.

 

So here is a different story. Some books were also looted from German libraries. This came primarily at the close of the war, when Allied soldiers captured and temporarily occupied Germany. Considering the atrocities committed by the Nazis, and the casualties inflicted on Allied soldiers, some may have had little sympathy for German institutions. Losing books pales in comparison to losing lives. They may have seen this as the spoils of war rather than stealing.

 

Stealing was not the major cause of books being lost. There was heavy bombing of Germany and the buildings of many institutions were destroyed. This was the case of the Bonn University and State Library. They lost 180,000 books, and most were almost certainly destroyed during the war. However, some were removed to safe places, in this case, a bunker in Bonn. Some of those books also disappeared. Fortunately for the library, it had extensive records of its collection. It knew what was missing, even it it didn't know the books' fate, whether they still existed or had been destroyed.

 

Over 600 of these books missing since around 1945 recently showed up at Sotheby's auction house in London. They had been consigned to Sotheby's by Tania Grégoire, a Belgian woman. She had no knowledge of their origin. She inherited them from her father. Sotheby's routinely checks consignments for legitimacy of their background. These books were particularly suspicious. Sotheby's noticed that most of the titles were the same as those missing from the Bonn library. Some were missing title pages or had torn pages where indicia was likely removed, signs that someone was hiding their origin. Some still had identifying markings, such as Bonn library numbers. Sotheby's contacted the Bonn University Library and it did not take long before the identity of these books was known.

 

It turned out that Ms. Grégoire's father was a Belgian soldier during the war. He had been stationed in Bonn after the war's conclusion. While how he ended up with the books cannot be ascertained with certainty, it is likely that he and/or other Belgian soldiers had taken these books back home with them from Bonn. Ms. Grégoire, unaware of their origin, proved to be very cooperative. She willingly returned the books, and did receive a finder's fee for her efforts. However, that amount was nowhere near as valuable as the books she returned.

 

Among the books were some valuable medieval manuscripts, dating as far back as the 13th century. There were also 15th century prints and historical maps. Of particular interest to Americans was a collection of bird books once owned by Prince Maximilian of Wied-Neuwied. Maximilian visited America in the 1830s and provided one of the best accounts of America's midwestern Indians before their way of life was too deeply altered by Europeans. He was accompanied by artist Karl Bodmer, whose illustrations of American natives are among the best ever created. Among Maximilian's bird books was a first octavo edition of John James Audubon's Birds of America.

 

The Bonn University Library has received some stolen books back before, though nothing on this level. In 2011, an American soldier returned a book himself. In 2018, three more books were returned from America, this time by the heirs of an American soldier.

 

According to Charlotte Miller, Specialist in Books and Manuscripts at Sotheby's in London, their restitution and specialists department examines approximately 15,000 books, manuscripts, art works and other lots annually brought to their European locations. Typically, only a few dozen items need further attention, and these are usually only single items. "So," she noted, "the scope of the present return is unprecedented for Sotheby's."

Rare Book Monthly

  • <center><b>Hindman Auctions<br>Selections from the Library of<br>Gerald and Barbara Weiner<br>Live and Online<br>October 8, 2020 / 10am CT</b>
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Oct. 8:</b> DARWIN, Charles Robert. <i>On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection.</i> London: W. Clowes and Sons for John Murray, 1859. [With] autograph note signed. $60,000 to $80,000.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Oct. 8:</b> [FINE PRESS & LIVRE D'ARTISTE]. -- [KELMSCOTT PRESS]. CHAUCER, Geoffrey. <i>The Works ... now newly imprinted.</i> Edited by F.S. Ellis. Hammersmith: Kelmscott Press, 1896. $60,000 to $80,000.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Oct. 8:</b> LAWRENCE, Thomas Edward. <i>Seven Pillars of Wisdom, a triumph.</i> [London: Privately Printed], 1926. $60,000 to $80,000.
    <center><b>Hindman Auctions<br>Selections from the Library of<br>Gerald and Barbara Weiner<br>Live and Online<br>October 8, 2020 / 10am CT</b>
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Oct. 8:</b> SHAKESPEARE, William. <i>Mr. William Shakespear's Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies…</i> London, Printed for H. Herringman, E. Brewster, R. Chiswell, and R. Bentley, 1685. $60,000 to $80,000.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Oct. 8:</b> AUDUBON, John James. <i>The Birds of America…</i> [1839-] 1840-1844. -- AUDUBON, John James and John BACHMAN. <i>The Quadrupeds of North America.</i> 1849-1854. $60,000 to $80,000.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Oct. 8:</b> OGILBY, John, trans. [MONTANUS, Arnoldus]. <i>America: being the latest, and most Accurate Description of the New World…</i> London: Printed by the Author, 1671. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <center><b>Hindman Auctions<br>Selections from the Library of<br>Gerald and Barbara Weiner<br>Live and Online<br>October 8, 2020 / 10am CT</b>
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Oct. 8:</b> HOBBES, Thomas. <i>Leviathan, or The Matter, Forme, & Power of a Common-Wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civill.</i> London: printed for Andrew Crooke, 1651. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Oct. 8:</b> BLACKWELL, Elizabeth. <i>A Curious Herbal, containing Five Hundred Cuts of the most useful Plant which are now used in the Practice of Physick…</i> London: John Nourse, 1739. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Oct. 8:</b> MILTON, John. <i>Paradise Lost.</i> London: Printed by S. Simmons ... to be sold by T. Helder, 1669. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <center><b>Hindman Auctions<br>Selections from the Library of<br>Gerald and Barbara Weiner<br>Live and Online<br>October 8, 2020 / 10am CT</b>
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Oct. 8:</b> MALCOLM X. Typed letter signed ("Malcolm X"), to Alex Haley. Cairo, Egypt, 18 September 1964. " 1 page, 8vo. $6,000 to $8,000.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Oct. 8:</b> TOLKIEN, John Ronald Reuel. Autograph letter signed (“JRRT”). To George Sayer, Oxford, 7 August 1952. 2 pages, 8vo, creased; morocco folding case. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, Oct. 8:</b> WRIGHT, Frank Lloyd. Autograph manuscript signed ("Frank Lloyd Wright"), entitled "To the Countryside." N.p. [Taliesin?], [June 1926]. 2 pages, 4to, creased. $4,000 to $6,000.
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 24:</b> John Richard, sketchbook kept by soldier-artist during last months of Civil War, 55 drawings, 1865. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 24:</b> Guest register for Catskill Mountain House, with signatures of many notable guests, 1839-43, 1846-52. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 24:</b> Manuscript confirmation of arms & nobility, Esquivel y Vargas family, Salvatierra, Guanajuato, Mexico, 1731. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 24:</b> Elizabeth Shoumatoff, 3 watercolor studies for famous “Unfinished Portrait” of FDR, 1945. $40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 24:</b><br><i>Sa Ga Yean Qua Rash Tow, Coning Vande Maquas alias Coning Brant,</i> engraving by Pieter Schenck, Netherlands, c.1710s. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 24:</b> Stamp from the Stamp Act of 1765, embossed, “II Shillings VI Pence.” $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 24:</b><br><i>The Law of God,</i> five volumes, first edition, first Jewish translation of the Pentateuch into English, 1845-46. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 24:</b> Diary of James W. Bentley, a cavalry officer protecting settlers on the Overland Trail, 1865. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 24:</b> Pedro de Arenas, <i>Vocabulario manual de las lenguas castellana y mexicana,</i> complete first edition, Mexico, 1611. $12,000 to $18,000.
  • <center><b>Forum Auctions<br>A further selection of<br>16th and 17th century English books from the Fox Pointe Manor Library<br>24 September 2020</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 24:</b> Locke (John). <i>An Essay Concerning Humane Understanding in Four Books,</i> first edition, second issue, 1690. £12,000 to £18,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 24:</b> Plutarch. <i>The lives of the noble Grecians and Romanes, compared together by that graue learned philosopher and historiographer, Plutarke of Chæronea,</i> first edition of this translation, 1579. £8,000 to £12,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 24:</b> [Allott (Robert, editor)]. <i>Wits Theater of the little World,</i> first edition, 1599. £5,000 to £7,000.
    <center><b>Forum Auctions<br>A further selection of 16th and 17th century English books<br>from the Fox Pointe Manor Library<br>24 September 2020</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 24:</b> Execution of Quakers in Boston.- Stephenson (Marmaduke). <i>A Call from Death to Life,</i> first edition, 1660. £4,000 to £6,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 24:</b> Boyle (Robert). <i>The sceptical chymist: or Chymico-physical doubts & paradoxes…,</i> 2 parts in 1 vol., second edition, 1680. £3,500 to £4,500.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 24:</b> Atlases.- Morden (Robert). <i>[Geography Rectified: or, A Description of the World],</i> [c.1688]. £3,000 to £4,000.
    <center><b>Forum Auctions<br>A further selection of 16th and 17th century English books<br>from the Fox Pointe Manor Library<br>24 September 2020</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 24:</b> Bread.- Penkethman (John). <i>Artachthos or a New Booke declaring the Assise or Weight of Bread,</i> 1638. £2,000 to £3,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 24:</b> Anatomy.- Collins (Samuel). <i>A Systeme of Anatomy, treating of the Body of Man, Beasts, Birds, Fish, Insects, and Plants,</i> 2 vol., first edition, 1685. £2,000 to £3,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 24:</b> Wine.- [Ames (Richard)]. <i>The Bacchanalian Sessions; or The Conten' tion of Liquors: With a Farewel to Wine,</i> first edition, 1693. £2,000 to £3,000.
    <center><b>Forum Auctions<br>A further selection of 16th and 17th century English books<br>from the Fox Pointe Manor Library<br>24 September 2020</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 24:</b> Witchcraft.- Bekker (Balthasar). <i>The World Bewitch'd; or, An Examination of the Common Opinions Concerning Spirits,</i> vol. 1 (all published), first English edition, 1695. £2,000 to £3,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 24:</b> Great Plague and Great Fire of London prophesied.- Lilly (William). <i>Monarchy or No Monarchy in England,</i> first edition, 1651. £1,500 to £2,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 24:</b> Swimming.- Thevenot (Melchisédec). <i>The Art of Swimming. Illustrated by Proper Figures. With Advice for Bathing,</i> first edition in English, 1699. £1,500 to £2,000.
  • <center><b>Koller International Auctions<br>Books, Manuscripts & Autographs<br>23 September 2020</b>
    <b>Koller Auctions, Sep. 23:</b> Diderot, [Denis] - D'Alembert, [Jean Le Rond]. <i>Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers...</i> 17 text volumes, 4 supplement volumes, 11 plate volumes. €21,930 to €30,700.
    <b>Koller Auctions, Sep. 23:</b> [Philipon, Ch.]. <i>La Caricature,</i> Journal. No. 1-251 in 4 volumes. With 526 lithographs by H. Daumier, Grandville, A. Devéria, P. Gavarni, M. Delaporte, Adam, Raffet, Huot et al. €7,020 to €10,530.
    <b>Koller Auctions, Sep. 23:</b> Chagall, Marc. <i>Le Cirque</i>, Paris 1967. With 38 (of which 23 coloured and 3 double-page) original lithographs by M. Chagall. €61,400 to €78,950.
    <b>Koller Auctions, Sep. 23:</b> L'Isle, Guillaume de. <i>Atlas nouveau, contenant toutes les parties du monde.</i> [AND:] Sanson, Guillaume. <i>Inleidinge tot de geographie. 3 volumes.</i> €19,300 to €28,070.
    <center><b>Koller International Auctions<br>Books, Manuscripts & Autographs<br>23 September 2020</b>
    <b>Koller Auctions, Sep. 23:</b> Roberts, David. <i>The Holy Land, Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt, & Nubia…</i> Lithographed by Louis Haghe. 6 parts in 6 volumes. 238 original lithographs and 2 engraved maps. €19,300 to €28,070.
    <b>Koller Auctions, Sep. 23:</b> Berlèse, Lorenzo and Johann Jakob Jung. <i>Iconographie du genre camellia ou description et figures des camellia les plus beaux et les plus rares.</i> 3 volumes. With 301 coloured engraved plates. €17,540 to €21,930.
    <b>Koller Auctions, Sep. 23:</b> Merian, Maria Sybilla. <i>Over de voortteeling en wonderbaerlyke veranderingen der Surinaamsche insecten...</i> With engraved frontispiece, title vignette and 72 copperplates. €17,540 to €26,320.
    <b>Koller Auctions, Sep. 23:</b> Burckhardt, Johann Ludwig, Explorer. Collection of 24 handwritten letters from his youth and student days to his eldest (step) brother, Johann Burckhardt-Gemuseus and his wife Anna Elisabeth. €2,630 to €4,390.
  • <center><b>Forum Auctions<br>Fine Books, Manuscripts<br>and Works on Paper<br>25 September 2020</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 25:</b> Chagall (Marc). <i>Cirque,</i> one of 270 copies on Arches signed by the artist, 38 lithographs, 23 colour, Paris, Tériade Éditeur, 1967. £100,000 to £150,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 25:</b> Sangorski (Alberto).- Poe (Edgar Allan). <i>Annabel Lee and Other Poems,</i> illuminated manuscript in gold and colours, bound in turquoise morocco tooled in gilt and inlaid with 35 jewels, [c.1928]. £50,000 to £70,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 25:</b> Darwin (Charles) and Alfred R. Wallace. “On the Tendency of Species to form Varieties...,” contained in <i>Journal of the Proceedings of the Linnean Society,</i> 1859. £12,000 to £18,000.
    <center><b>Forum Auctions<br>Fine Books, Manuscripts<br>and Works on Paper<br>25 September 2020</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 25:</b> Ornament.- Basque metalwork.- Zuloaga (Eusebio) and Workshop. Collection of twenty-three original ornament designs for damascening, [19th century]. £8,000 to £12,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 25:</b> Arms and Armour.- Rugendas.- <i>Der Harnisch Von Seinem Entstehen Bis Zu Seinem Wiedervergehen In Bildern Dargestelt Und Gezeichnet,</i> [1714 and later]. £6,000 to £8,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 25:</b> Webster (John). <i>A Monumental Columne, erected to the liuing memory of the euer-glorious Henry, late Prince of Wales,</i> rare first edition, Printed by N[icholas]. O[kes]. for William Welby, 1613. £6,000 to £8,000.
    <center><b>Forum Auctions<br>Fine Books, Manuscripts<br>and Works on Paper<br>25 September 2020</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 25:</b> Donne (John). <i>Poems, by J.D. with elegies on the Authors Death,</i> first edition, Printed by M[iles]. F[lesher]. for Iohn Marriot, 1633. £6,000 to £8,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 25:</b> Brangwyn (Frank). <i>Venice,</i> oil on canvas, [c. 1908]. £4,000 to £6,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 25:</b> Sewell (Anna). <i>Black Beauty: his Grooms and Companions. The Autobiography of a Horse,</i> first edition, original cloth, [1877]. £3,000 to £4,000.
    <center><b>Forum Auctions<br>Fine Books, Manuscripts<br>and Works on Paper<br>25 September 2020</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 25:</b> Gray (John Edward). <i>Gleanings from the Knowsley Menagerie and Aviary at Knowsley Hall,</i> first edition, one of c.100 copies privately printed for the author, 1850. £3,000 to £4,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 25:</b> George III (King). Warrant signed "George R" for the payment of £60,634 granted for the North American Provinces to the Province of Massachusetts Bay, D.s., manuscript, [c. 1761-62]. £2,000 to £2,500.
    <b>Forum Auctions, Sep. 25:</b> Mecca, Medina & Damascus.- 2 manuscript plans of Mecca and El Medinah and a map of Damascus, 3 detailed pen and ink drawings with 3pp. of manuscript notes, [late 19th century]. £1,000 to £1,500.

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions