Rare Book Found Slashed in Fine Arts Library

A valuable book of rare engravings was found mutilated in the stacks of the Fine Arts Library two weeks ago, according to the Harvard police.

Seventy-five pages of engravings were selectively and carefully cut out of a 19th-century illustrated volume, said Jeffrey L. Horrell, librarian of the Fine Arts Library.

The book was one volume of 12 volume set, which in its entirety is worth $30,000 to $50,000, Horrell said. The book was located in the basement level of the library, which is part of the Fogg Art Museum.

"It is shocking [and] very disheartening," Horrell said, "to think that people are taking advantage of the library [like this]."

Horrell said the culprit probably removed the pages in order to sell them.


"They were beautiful engravings," he said. "It wasn't just... vandalism."

The Harvard University Police Department is currently investigating the book mutilation, Chief Paul E. Johnson said. There are no suspects so far, he said Tuesday.

Horrell said that only those who have Harvard identification or who have the library's special permission can enter the stacks. He said the culprit was probably "someone in those categories."

Library employees discovered the damage on April 20. Since then, they have cordoned off the library's portfolio section--where the book was located--with steel cages, Horrel said. People now must specifically request to see the selection, he said.

"It's unfortunate, but it's a way of protecting the collection so that they will be available to the Harvard community," he said.

The Fogg Art Museum hires Harvard University security guards to guard its areas, some of whom are posted at the entrance to the Museum and some of whom patrol the stacks of the library, Horrell said.

Still, the guards cannot provide foolproof security, Horrell said.

"There are ways people can remove things from the libraries that the guards can't detect," he said.

This incident is not the only time Harvard has had trouble with book "slashers."

Last fall, former University employee and Arlington resident Stephen L. Womack was arrested for destroying millions of dollars of rare books at Harvard and libraries around the area. He was motivated by mental illness, according to police.

Police said that Womack was responsible for the spree of book-slashings at the Widener library from 1990 to 1992, which cost the University millions of dollars in damages and tens of thousands of dollars in surveillance in an effort to catch the slasher.

Johnson would not say whether the Fine Arts Library incident was related to the Widener slashings. But in the Widener incidents, pages were not selectively cut but the entire texts were slashed from the covers, according to the police.