Sweden’s Biggest Criminal…A Librarian?!

The 1597 Wytfliet atlas (the earliest printed atlas of the Americas.) – Marilynn K. Yee / The New York Times

The “Royal Library Man” definitely sounds like fiction, and a mini-series was written about him, but Anders Burius was a real-life Swedish criminal who made millions from his thefts. The unusual part…he was a librarian. And the books he stole were some of the oldest, rarest, and most expensive in the world.

For a time, Sweden’s biggest criminal was a wayward librarian. Nobody suspected the librarian had been stealing rare and valuable books, even though he was living the life of luxury, with “Armani suits, silk ties, Cuban Cohibas and a Mercedes.” After he was caught, he committed suicide, and became a posthumous celebrity in Sweden, with a TV mini-series and radio documentary. Now, one of his stolen manuscripts, containing the first Atlas of the Americas, has been recovered, a map worth almost half-a-million.
[Art Fag City]

Check out the full story in the New York Times here.

I’d love to check out the mini-series. I have a lot of questions that I’m curious if it (or any other material) addresses — i.e. why did he do it and how did he get started? Did he aim for his privileged position in order to take advantage of its access to the rare and valuable pieces? Or did he actually love books and get swept away by a lucrative offer he couldn’t refuse? See, this just sounds like a mystery novel (or, um, TV mini-series).

Has anyone seen the mini-series? Thoughts on it?

What are your thoughts about the real life story? To many, old and rare books are almost sacred. They’re irreplaceable connections to our past that are to be protected — just as  Burius was supposed to be doing. So how do you weigh a crime such as his? Did he deserve the outcome he received (even if it was at his own hands — and injured others and put many at risk)?

And there are still more of the stolen books out there, so this story isn’t over yet!

A page of the 1597 Wytfliet atlas. – The New York Times

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