April 2013 | Nate Pedersen

Lambeth Palace Recovers Stolen Rare Books

In 1975, the librarian at Lambeth Palace (the London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury) noticed there were gaps in the library's holdings.  He concluded that roughly 60 volumes were missing, including an early edition of Shakespeare, and several important works related to exploration and discovery such as Bry's America. The theft was reported to the police, who investigated the trail, but came up empty-handed.  Nothing more was heard about the case for nearly 40 years.

Then, in February of 2011, the books were discovered hidden away in a London attic.  The thief, who had just passed away, left a full confession with his solicitor and included directions to the attic where he hid the books.  In effect, the thief willed the stolen books back to the library.  When investigators entered the attic, however, they found many more books than the 60 originally thought missing. In the end, the final number of stolen volumes was closer to 1,400.  

The library revealed the news to the British press on Monday, after having spent the past two years conducting restoration work on the books.  Many of them were damaged by the thief, who had attempted to remove ownership markings.  Despite his efforts to obscure the provenance of the books, the thief does not appear to have sold any of them.  

While details of the theft remain unclear, it appears the thief had some sort of connection with the library at Lambeth Palace.