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Published: Saturday, 9/13/2008

Rare book stolen in Fremont is found

BY CHAUNCEY ALCORN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
The title page of  The Maxwell Code,  which was printed in 1795. It was the first book printed in what is now Ohio. The title page of The Maxwell Code, which was printed in 1795. It was the first book printed in what is now Ohio.
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COLUMBUS One of two missing rare books stolen earlier this summer from Fremont s Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center Library has been found, Toledo FBI officials said yesterday.

FBI agents said the two books together are valued at more than $130,000.

Toledo FBI Supervisor Dave Dustin said FBI agents on Thursday recovered a book commonly called The Maxwell Code in Columbus. They arrested three Columbus-area residents on Wednesday and filed federal charges against them.

The Maxwell Code, printed in 1795, was the first book printed in what is now Ohio, and it contains the first printed record of the laws of what was then known as the Northwest Territory.

Fewer than 10 copies are known to exist, and only a couple are in private hands, which adds to its value.

One of the more acclaimed copies is known as the Aitchison-Wessen-Dush-Emerson copy after some of its owners.

It was sold in December through Cowan s auction house in Cincinnati for $100,000, plus commission. The present owner is unknown.

It had previously changed hands only twice in four decades in 1967 and 1997.

That copy has two ties to northwest and central Ohio. One of its owners was Ernest Wessen, who died in 1974 and was a bookseller in Mansfield,

Ohio. Another owner was Joseph F. Dush, a lawyer, book collector, and local historian from Willard, Ohio.

The copy of The Maxwell Code stolen from Fremont is in the possession of the FBI in Columbus, Mr. Dustin said.

FBI agents from Cincinnati, whose area includes Columbus, did not return calls for comment about the book s condition.

Another book commonly called The Freeman Code, which was printed in 1798, is still missing. It is an updated version of the territory s laws.

FBI Agent Charles Holloway said in an affidavit that The Freeman Code was sold earlier this summer to a buyer in England through a Philadelphia-based book dealer.

This has become an international investigation, Mr. Dustin said. We ll reach out to our counterparts in other countries to see if there are leads.

Bonnie Magness-Gardiner, art theft program manager for the FBI, said once they are stolen, rare collectibles such as the two books can be hard to find.

The reason they can get into the marketplace is fine art doesn t have a serial number on it, she said. It s very hard [for buyers] to establish something is stolen immediately because it s not serialized.

Angela Bays, 19, and Joshua McCarty, 31, both of Columbus, and Zachary A. Scranton, 21, of Marysville, Ohio, have been charged with theft of major artwork. They are to appear next week in U.S. District Court in Toledo Ms. Bays and Mr. McCarty on Tuesday; Mr. Scranton on Thursday.

If convicted, they could spend up to 10 years in federal prison, Mr. Dustin said.

Mr. McCarty has a history of stealing rare collectibles, authorities said.

Agent Holloway s affidavit indicates he was arrested in 2007 in connection with the theft of antique maps, valued at $20,000, from a bookstore in Harrisburg, Ill.

He has a history of going after these types of items, so I wouldn t call him a common thief, Mr. Dustin said. I could walk into a presidential library and not know what these things are or their value, but he would have to have some basis of knowledge for that. He s probably more intelligent than your typical thief.

But Ms. Magness-Gardiner said despite what people see in the movies, art and collectible thieves aren t necessarily any more intelligent or sophisticated than any other thief.

Often the people who are responsible for the thefts are knowledgeable about that institution, she said. It might be a custodian or a patron of that institution. If they have knowledge about the institution, they have knowledge about the works that are valuable in it.

Mr. Holloway, in his affidavit, said that Mr. McCarty and Ms. Bays stole The Freeman Code from the Hayes center on June 27. The library at the time allowed visitors to view its rare books on site with no required security measures.

Mr. Holloway s affidavit said the suspects ripped The Freeman Code, a 32-page pamphlet, from its binding.

Some time after it was printed, the pamphlet was bound with dozens of blank pages to make the book look thicker, so library personnel, who never opened the book, didn t notice its original pages were missing until months later, according to the affidavit.

The affidavit indicates Mr. McCarty planned to steal The Maxwell Code later in the summer. But because he feared he d be recognized by library personnel, he paid $300 to his friend, Mr. Scranton, to steal it on Aug. 25.

After Mr. Scranton asked to view the book that day, he went outside supposedly to use a phone and never came back.

Employees realized he d stolen the book and they called Fremont police.

Center personnel sent e-mails about the theft to auction houses and book dealers, some of whom responded by informing them they d recently been contacted by a man looking to sell a copy of The Freeman Code, according to the affidavit.

A Philadelphia-based book dealer told investigators he sold an original copy of The Freeman Code for Mr. McCarty, but he was unaware it was stolen. The book dealer said the man also indicated he had a copy of The Maxwell Code.

Using cell phone records, investigators traced calls from one of the book dealers back to Mr. Scranton. When they arrested him, he told them about his deal with Mr. McCarty, the affidavit said.

Ms. Magness-Gardiner said private owners, libraries, museums, galleries, and presidential centers should take proper steps to protect themselves from such thefts.

They really need to protect it by having insurance, appropriate security, and an inventory, she said. If they don t have an inventory with a good photograph, if it s stolen, it will be very difficult to get back that material.

Nancy Kleinhenz, the presidential center s communications manager, said no library employees were fired after the thefts because they did not break the policies in effect at the time regarding the viewing of rare books. The policies have been changed.

The library now requires employees to get an identification card from visitors and hold it while they view rare materials. Their card is given back to them when the materials are returned.

Administrators plan to meet soon to discuss implementing even stricter rules, she said.

Contact Chauncey Alcorn at:calcorn@theblade.com or 419-724-6168.



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