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2009 Symposium


The Fourth Annual Caxton Club / Newberry Library Symposium on the Book

April 4, 2009

Pillage, Punishment, and Provenance: Books as Victims of Crime

Books embody religion, history and philosophy, science and art; literature and criticism. But their very value to readers and collectors also makes them vulnerable to forgery, fakery, and invading armies. Churches and governments destroy books in the name of stability. Those who want to overturn the social order assail books too. Greed and ego are among the motives of thieves and forgers. And it is hard to bring to justice those who commit crimes against books. The fourth annual Caxton Club / Newberry Library Symposium on the Book will explore the various ways attacks on books have been framed, executed, uncovered, punished or not, and prevented.

The morning program begins with a historical perspective on wartime plunder, will next analyze Victorian attitudes toward punishment for literary plagiarism and forgery, and concludes with a contemporary view of how the rare book market has reacted to and dealt with crimes against books and book owners.  A roundtable afternoon session, with audience participation, continues the discussion and includes rare book librarians, a Chicago attorney and collector, a bookseller, and a representative from the FBI.

Program Outline

Session I:  9:00 a.m., Ruggles Hall, The Newberry Library

Sem Sutter, University of Chicago Libraries
Habent sua fata libelli: The Fate of Libraries in Wartime

In times of war and national upheaval, the enemy’s books often become objects of hatred, fear, envy, reverence, or of uncomprehending disregard. The fate of libraries can hang in the balance.  An examination of libraries in ancient and modern wars offers some insights into the confiscatory mentality of conquerors and the lengths to which librarians and others have gone to protect the written word.

Sara Malton, St. Mary’s University, Halifax
A Capital Past: Forgery, Wilkie Collins, and 19th-Century Cultural Memory

Focusing on the life and works of Wilkie Collins in particular, this talk will consider how nineteenth century authors frequently compared the severe punishment accorded financial forgery, namely execution, with the relatively limited penalties doled out for crimes against intellectual property, such as plagiarism.  The former, with monetary consequences more immediate and direct, nevertheless influenced the latter, and it affected how various forms of forgery, including that of art and literature, were represented in the Victorian cultural imagination.

10:30 – 11:00 a.m. Coffee Break

Session II:  11:00 a.m., Ruggles Hall, The Newberry Library

Jennifer Larson, Jeffrey Marks Rare Books, Rochester
Caveat Emptor / Caveat Venditor

Ms. Larson will address the need for ethical standards from the viewpoint of someone active in the rare book trade for thirty years. Larson is the former
Ethics Committee Chair for the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America, a major trade and professional organization.  She will speak about best ethical practices for dealers, changes in the way the rare book market views emerging legal issues of title and authenticity, and whether provenance and other research is better left as a duty of the dealer or as an obligation of the buyer.

12:00 noon – 2:00 p.m. Lunch break.

Session III:  2:00 p.m., Auditorium of the Alliance Française

Panel Discussion: Book Crime History, Detection, Prevention
Moderator:  Alice Schreyer, University of Chicago Library
Panelists:  Susan Allen, Getty Research Institute Library; Michael Thompson, Chicago attorney and collector; Brian Brusakas, FBI Art Crimes Task Force; William L. Butts, Main Street Fine Books and Manuscripts, Galena, Illinois.

4:00 p.m. Reception.

The Caxton Club and The Newberry Library gratefully acknowledge the Bibliographical Society of America as co-sponsor of this program.


The program is free and open to the public, but seating is limited and advance registration is required. Please use this form to preregister.