Collector Pleads Not Guilty to Rare Maps Thefts from Yale University

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) - A renowned dealer in antique maps pleaded not guilty Tuesday to looting Yale University's rare map collection.

E. Forbes Smiley III, 48, of Cape Cod and Sebec, Maine, was arrested June 8 and accused of using a razor blade to remove maps from centuries-old books.

His arrest sent librarians around the world scurrying to review their map collections and at least three libraries in Boston, Chicago and London have reported finding gaps in their collections.

"We know that Smiley looked at four books, so we have taken those four books, we've turned every page and we think he may have taken two maps," said Charles T. Cullen, president of the Newberry Library in Chicago.

Smiley, 49, was arrested on larceny charges June 8 after a librarian at Yale's Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library found a razor blade on the floor. Police confronted Smiley, who had been reviewing rare books, and asked whether the blade was his.

"Yes it is," he nervously replied, according to a police report. "I must have dropped it. I have a cold."

Officers searched Smiley's briefcase and pockets, and recovered three maps stolen from Yale and four maps that investigators are trying to trace. Smiley told investigators the maps were his and he wanted to compare their quality to those in Yale's collection.

The arrest touched off an FBI investigation and prompted a review of rare map collections worldwide. Rare maps frequently are contained in old books or folios, making it easy for thieves to remove them without the library noticing they are missing.

The British Library in London recently discovered that two world maps from the 1500s and a map of New England from 1624 were missing. Newberry librarians said a 1673 map of Virginia and a map of South Carolina from the 1700s were missing from books Smiley had reviewed.

The Boston Public library also discovered maps missing from books Smiley had studied. The New York Public Library is still reviewing the many books Smiley used there.

Ronald E. Grim, map curator at the Boston Public Library, said Smiley was always friendly with librarians.

"He had a good way of making friends," he said. "He had a good rapport."

But in the small community of antique map dealers, Smiley had a mixed reputation.

"Forbes was turning up things that aren't possible to turn up, and at a third or fourth of the wholesale price," said Pennsylvania map dealer W. Graham Rader, who said he told federal agents that he's been warning collectors about Smiley for years. "Things were too good to be true."

Tony Campbell, former head of the map collection at the British Library, said collectors complained that Smiley had an exclusive air about him.

"Their comments were always critical," Campbell said. "But I don't think anyone thought - I think we were all surprised by this."

Though Smiley reviewed many of the books that librarians have since realize are missing maps, the FBI has so far been unable to link him to the thefts, librarians said.

At the Newberry, Cullen said curators know the maps were in the books when they were catalogued, that Forbes was the last person to view the books and that the maps are now missing. But they don't know whether they were in the books when Forbes reviewed them, he said.

"Obviously, I think that Smiley took it, but I couldn't go into court and say that," Cullen said.

The Boston Public Library is having the same problem.

"Proving that those items were there when he looked at the book is almost impossible," Grim said.

Frank Turner, director of the Beinecke Library, said curators and librarians are constantly working to protect their archives without burdening scholars who need access to the materials.

"We're all now reviewing those procedures," Turner said.