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One of the more worrying problems facing the international map trade in the past year has been the spate of thefts from map collections in the British Isles and across Europe. The thieves seem to have been thorough in their preparation, knowing what atlases, and what maps in those atlases were most valuable and it is presumed that all these maps have found their way into the trade, from whence some have been subsequently recovered. 

What is as disturbing, in some ways, is the lack of co-operation and co-ordination between the libraries, the police and the international map trade, and the often quite entrenched and conflicting viewpoints adopted by these different groups. In my view, these different stances have greatly handicapped the search for the stolen maps and the individuals involved. 

I am, therefore, greatly encouraged to see that the National Library of Wales at Aberystwyth, one of the institutions affected, will host a full day seminar on "Responding to theft" (see the separate announcement in this issue), in an endeavour to bring together representatives from libraries, the Antiquarian Booksellers' Association, and the antiquarian map trade to discuss the problem of theft, and how to respond in case of a theft. 

The seminar is to be chaired by Tony Campbell, recently retired Map Librarian of the British Library, who is in the near unique position of having been an important figure both in the map trade and in the library world, and so can approach the matter with an appreciation of the viewpoints of the two sides. 

As he wrote, in a posting to the Map History discussion group: 

"This is a highly complex and sensitive issue, mainly because many institutions (for understandable reasons) do not wish to reveal that they have been targeted.  Then again, some police forces take the view that a publicity blackout makes it easier to catch the thief.  It is for that reason that few details have yet emerged ..." 
However, material of the type being taken can be very difficult to identify once removed from the 'parent atlas'.  From the trade point of view, it is imperative to have the information quickly so that if the items emerge on the market, they can be recognised as a group, before being dispersed around the trade world-wide, where they can so easily drop out of sight. 

What is necessary is to introduce some mechanism that makes available information on stolen material quickly and accurately, that can be part of the 'due diligence' inquiries that dealers (and perhaps even collectors) make before purchase, while protecting the anonymity of the institution in question. 

I would hope that these discussions will produce a model that can be instituted world-wide, as it is in everyone's interest - librarian, dealer, collector, researcher, donor - to discourage would-be thieves, and make it as difficult as possible to dispose of the pillaged item. 

I believe that it is necessary for the trade to take a leading role in this.  Ultimately, it is our livelihood that is being threatened, with the risk of customer confidence being irreparably damaged. 

The trade is also well-placed to assist the police who have neither the time or budget to gather expertise in this narrow field.  I think it is our responsibility to offer our own knowledge, and I would like to see a mechanism where the police, of any force, know that they can approach the Antiquarian Booksellers' Association, or British Antique Dealers' Association, for that matter (several of the leading English map-dealers belong to both associations) for the specialist advice to carry forward their investigation.  If this facility had been in place, I am sure the current inquiries would have been more successful. 

If the existing prejudices from these different groups cannot be properly overcome, I fear that the problem of thefts from libraries will spiral ever upwards, and do inestimable damage to the reputation of the individual library, to libraries generally, and to the map trade. 

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We have also been asked to post a note announcing the creation of the International Antiquarian Mapsellers Association, finally giving map dealers an organisation to equivalent to the ABA for the book trade. Although the IAMA will not be officially open for new members until early June, interest can be registered on their fledgling website at: www.antiquemapdealers.com.    I believe this is an important development for the Map Trade (see above) and so wish them every success.
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