Wednesday, February 1, 2012

More Appraising Stories

I was surprised...and see your interest in my opinions as an appraiser.

I take this work very seriously. Very seriously. It means a lot of study and research, recertifying periodically, and continuing to take classes. The vocabulary can be mind-numbing, and the classes tough to stay awake in at times. But the research...that's fun!

I just bumbled across yet another cautionary appraiser story, in The Island of Lost Maps by Miles Harvey. If you haven't read this one yet, you should. It's a zippity look at rare books, libraries, and cartography -- and a map thief, Gilbert Bland, who plied his trade for decades.
     Bland's modus operandi: visit a rare book room at a university or government group. Have them bring an atlas for you to 'study.' Wait until their back is turned, ply your razor blade - and in a moment, the map is safely folded and hidden inside your shirt. Make it out the front door, and you've got a resource to hoard for yourself, or sell for big bucks. (In fact, one of the dealers Harvey interviewed called the faint traces on maps "library folds," and implied this happens a lot more than is reported.)
    Bland got caught, all right, but served a minimal sentence. And it seems he is suspected of stealing far more than he was ever prosecuted for. As recently as 2008, he's been apparently selling on Ebay, though it's lower-end stuff. (In other words, be careful what you're purchasing there. Ask for credentials and background, if you have any uneasiness.)

The Island of Lost Maps is a cross between history, travel and treasure hunting, all chased down at a fast pace.  Of special fun, if you're a bibliophile of any kind. Anyways, Harvey mentions an interesting story:

In 1996, a dealer, Graham Arader (a fascinating, though controversial, man in his own right), purchased, for $8,000, a map thought to be the earliest depiction of Houston. He had it restored, then put it up for sale for $98,000. (Yow -- but only one other copy is extant, a later version, kept at the Houston Public Library.)

Soon after, he was sued by a man named John Fox, who claimed that his sister-in-law brought the map to Arader...but only to have it appraised. SIL wasn't even the rightful owner. Fox won the suit -- Arader agreed to return the map, plus pay court costs.

Here's where it gets stranger. Fox didn't own the map, either. 

Employees at the Houston Title company started to wonder whether their early map of Houston, which had disappeared some years previous, had anything to do with Fox's map. (Fox had been employed at Houston Title.)
     Eventually the map was quietly returned. Fox, who claimed he'd purchased it, was let go. No charges. All of which infuriated Arader, who said his part in this affair was totally innocent. 

I just hope the Houston Public Library has good security.

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