Bookworm Plays Crucial Role in Map Theft Case.

Posted on November 22, 2008

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Ancient Texts DamagedFarhad Hakimzadeh, the 60-year-old Harvard educated businessman convicted of stealing pages from British Library books, has had his sentencing postponed until January 16, 2009.

Over nearly a decade, the millionaire publisher and intellectual defaced books in the private reading room in the British and Bodleian Libraries. He would cut pages out with a razor, and use them to replace damaged pages in his own collection. Hakimzadeh was ultimately given away by a book worm – a map in his home was identified by a bore hole as one missing from a British Library book.

The damage has been stated by various news sources as ranging from £71,000 to £1 million. One map that he cut out was worth £30,000 alone.

Hakimzadeh pled guilty to 14 counts of theft in May– 10 from the British Library and 4 from the Bodleian. The British Library is pursuing a civil claim for damage to another 150 books. Further, the Bodleian says another 47 books were damaged.

The case starkly resembles that of Edward Forbes Smiley III, the 50-year old rare map dealer who was sentenced in 2006 for stealing $3 million worth of maps out of books from various collections, including a map from the British Library worth £53,000. Smiley admitted to stealing 98 maps, using a razor blade to cut them from the bindings. He was caught at Yale University with maps valuing £500,000 in his pockets and briefcase.

Smiley was sentenced to 3 1/2 years and ordered to pay $2.3 million in restitution. The British Library expressed disappointment in Smiley’s sentence, pointing out that it amounted to 12 days of prison for every page stolen.

The British Library has similarly expressed disappointment with Hakimzadeh’s thefts. Dr Kristian Jensen, Head of British and Early Printed Collections at the British Library, said of Hamkinzadeh, “He is an author with a profound knowledge in this field and that makes it worse because he knew the importance of what he was damaging.”  (As a note, this sort of sentiment is misguided. Just because someone has an understanding of the commodified value of a heritage resource does not lend way to an appreciation of the item as an invaluable part of the “nation’s collective memory.”)

I will report back on Hakimzadeh’s sentence in January.

Interested in learning more? You might consider reading The Island of Lost Maps: A True Story of Cartographic Crime by Miles Harvey.

News Articles:

History’s Missing Pages: Iranian Academic Sliced Out Pages From Priceless Collection on the Guardian

Book collector awaits thefts ruling from the UK Press Association.

The gentleman thief who took a leaf out of the British Library’s rarest travel books on Times Online.

British Library’s fury over map thief’s ‘soft sentence’ on the Times Online (don’t get too excited, ‘fury’ was a bit of an overstatement).


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