Available online! Hunting Stolen Books
1,185 books. That is how many items went missing from Marsh’s Library in the 133 years after its inauguration in 1707 as the first public library in Ireland. We know these exact figures from surviving, hand-written stock-checks of the Library from the years 1766, 1767, 1780, 1828 and 1840. See the online exhibition here.
If Hunting Stolen Books had focussed on lost items, there would have been nothing to show. Instead, we celebrate the small number of stolen books which were found and returned to Marsh’s Library during the nineteenth century — and one more recent item returned in 2012! — and those which were bought as part of a campaign in the 1920s and 1930s by the then Keeper, Dr Newport B. White, to purchase as many replacement copies as he could.
So, were staff remarkably lax in their approach to security, or were some of them implicated in these activities? It seems likely that members of the reading public were responsible for most thefts, either to possess an intriguing or fascinating item, or in the belief that they could get a good price for it from a bookseller or book collector.