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Thieves steal $2.5 million worth of rare books by Newton, Da Vinci, Dante, and others

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It’s described as a Mission Impossible-style heist

It sounds like something out of a Dan Brown novel: thieves cut open the skylights of a warehouse, rappelled into the building, and made off with nearly $2.5 million dollars of rare books. But the heist truly happened to a shipment of books destined for last weekend’s California International Antiquarian Book Fair.

The heist took place on January 29th, in a warehouse in Feltham, West London, with the inventories from three separate dealers targeted. The thieves spent several hours sorting through the books before making off with 160 volumes that they checked against a list, leaving behind the books they didn’t want.

The books stolen include rare books, such as a 1566 second edition of Nicolaus Copernicus' De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres); a 1777 edition of Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy) by Isaac Newton; a 1651 edition of Trattato della pittura (A Treatise on Painting) by Leonardo Da Vinci; as well as books by Galileo, Euripides, Aesop, Dante, and many others.

According to a representative from London’s Metropolitan Police Service, detectives are investigating the incident. The have made no arrests thus far and refrained from commenting further. According to Brian Lake, the Security committee chairman for the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers, the heist is an anomaly: “Quite honestly I have never heard of a heist like this involving books – it is extraordinary.”

The ILAB has published a pair of lists of the books that were stolen in the heist, urging anyone who comes across any copies to contact the police or the organization. It will be difficult for these books to be resold to other parties, given their rarity.

Despite that, Lake pushed back against the idea that the heist was commissioned: “I think it was an opportunistic crime, they knew how to get in and saw the books with the cutting lists and so realized the values.”