Rare 19th century Russian books worth an estimated €500,000 (£434,000) have been stolen from a library and replaced with dummy versions.
Around 80 volumes were taken from the University of Warsaw’s library in Warsaw, Poland, its rector revealed, and some have already been sold at auction.
Prosecutors have launched an investigation into the thefts, which are thought to have happened over a period of at least ten months and carried out by one individual.
The crime came to light in mid-October, when staff noticed eight 19th century Russian books borrowed from the library had been replaced by empty book covers and dummies, reports news site, Notes From Poland.
This prompted an inspection of all 19th century Russian books in the building, and it was found around 80 were missing.
In a statement issued this week, Warsaw University rector Alojzy Nowak said: ‘During the ten months (from December 2022 to 16 October 2023), valuable items from the BUW’s collection were being stolen. It could have possibly started even earlier than that.’
He said some of the books, which all have library stamps, have already been sold at auctions outside Poland, where they fetched ‘impressive prices…ranging from several thousand to tens of thousands of euros per copy (e.g. one of the stolen first editions of Pushkin was sold on 22 December last year for €30,500)’.
Mr Nowak said that most of the stolen volumes were first or early editions with historic and scientific value, adding: ‘These books have survived a significant period of partition and wars, including two world wars. It is therefore an irreparable loss.’
The library’s director, Anna Wołodka, reported the thefts of the eight books as soon as they were found to be missing, but has since been dismissed from her job on the grounds of negligence.
Ms Wolodko issued a statement to say she was appealing the decision, arguing she took all the necessary steps as soon as she realised the books were missing.
But in his statement this week, Mr Nowak said police had told her that a person suspected of stealing from the Latvian National Library last year had also visited the Warsaw library within the same 12 months.
Despite this information Ms Wolodko did not take the necessary steps to stop the books from being stolen, he said.
This included not immediately checking the books that had been borrowed and returned by the suspect.
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