Rare Books Return to DOJ Library after 45 Years

Pat Saine of Blue Plate Books in Winchester, Virginia, got more than he bargained for when a missionary with a box of old books walked into his shop. In the box was a 1881 edition of Jefferson Davis’ history of the confederacy and an 1832 life of George Washington by John Marshall. The books, however, were also stamped as property of the Department of Justice’s Library. After some back and forth with the librarian at the DOJ, it turned out that these books had been missing for so long they weren’t even in the new catalog system, but an older inventory showed that they had never been withdrawn. Where did they come from? The seller, Robert Cole, had been given them by a widow whose husband told her he found them in the trash sometime in the mid-sixties.

Amazing finds in the trash -- it’s a story that gets recycled every so often. I asked Pat to tell me more about his adventure with these books and how he helped reunite them with the DOJ Library. Here’s what he wrote:

In general, people come to my store store with their books to sell. Often people are moving, cleaning off their shelves to make room for more books, or finding a good home for books from a relative who passed away. Sometimes there is a story involved: with this batch of books the gentleman was selling them to raise money for a church mission trip to Romania.

In general, as a used book dealer I don’t deal in ex-library books. The reason I turn library books away, besides the poor condition, is that I don’t want to encourage people removing items from libraries as a moneymaking venture. In this particular instance, I recognized these books as from a rare book room, from the Department of Justice Library, and not withdrawn or deaccessioned. I researched the Department of Justice Library - who was not publicly accessible on the web. So I contacted the Library of Congress and briefly described the issue and they steered me to a contact in the Department of Justice Library. They did a significant amount of research, checking previous catalogs and asking me to describe specifically how the articles were stamped and marked so that they could determine when and how the books could have left the library. Many conversations and e-mails later, they determined that these particular books were indeed missing from the library.

Is it plausible that the books were found in the trash? I do believe the story of the person in possession of the books: he says that he obtained them from a widow, who in turn was left them by her husband. How did her husband get ahold of them? He’s passed away, so I’ll leave it to thriller writers to conjecture.


Good idea! To read more, see “Justice Served” from Saine’s local paper, the Winchester Star.  

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