The Boston Public Library (B.P.L.) announced on Friday, December 4, 2015, the recovery of a 403-year-old map that had been stolen over ten years ago. Entitled Carte Geographique de Nouvelle France, it was drawn by Samuel de Champlain (1574-1635).
It is a map of the French colony of New France, which stretched from modern New England to the Midwest. In a ten-year-long period between 1603 and 1613, Champlain made twenty voyages across the Atlantic.
After his voyages of exploration, he drew up several maps. The Carte Geographique de Nouvelle France was the first published map to reflect his early explorations.
It depicted New England, the Canadian Maritime Provinces, the St. Lawrence River Valley, and the Great Lakes. The map is seventeen inches high and thirty inches wide.
Illustrations of Canadian flora and aboriginal peoples adorn the map. In 2007, The Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library assumed responsibility for the B.P.L.’s collection of atlases and maps.
Norman B. Leventhal Map Center Curator Ronald E. Grim identified the map, which was on sale for $285,000 by distinctive marks. The B.P.L. did not identify the antiques dealer, but in the Boston Globe Shelley Murphy stated the firm was Cohen & Taliaferro.
Mr. Grim compared the marks on the map for sale with those seen on a map in a digital scan of a 4” x 5” photographic negative from 1992. This map that had gone missing had tears on its left side on its left hand side, and a hole at the juncture of two fold lines above the central tear. The map the antiques dealer offered for sale had undergone conservation, but Grim determined the marks on the map were consistent with the digital record.
Scott Gerson, a third party expert, examined the map and confirmed Grim’s suspicion the one for sale was the same one that was missing. The firm has cooperated with the B.P.L. and the map has been recovered. The Carte Geographique de Nouvelle France went on display in the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Central Library in Copley Square on Friday and it will remain on display through February 29, 2016.
“I want to recognize Ronald Grim for his attention to detail and passion for his work at the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library,” said Mayor Walsh. “The library has one of the nation’s premier map collections, and I’m pleased we have restored this centuries old historic map to the collection.”
“This is a very significant collection managed by the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center. The combined holdings include nautical charts, ornate maps, atlases, and some of the earliest printed maps in the world,” said David Leonard, Interim President of the B.P.L. “I want to thank Ronald Grim for his incredible expertise and thoroughness in identifying this map and taking action to report it. The cultural and educational value of this collection will be all the stronger with its return. This return is a triumph of BPL’s curatorial diligence and early digitization expertise at their best.”
“I was stunned to come across the map, and thrilled to determine it indeed belongs to the Boston Public Library,” said Grim. “I’m proud it’s been returned to its rightful home.”
Shortly after Grim arrived at the B.P.L. in 2005, he discovered that the map was missing from a book describing Champlain’s exploration in North America, Les Voyages du Sieur de Champlain, published in Paris in 1613.
Grim made this discovery while he conducted an inventory of maps following the arrest of E. Forbes Smiley III for the theft of maps at Yale University in June of 2005. Grim, who had formerly worked at the Library of Congress, helped write a book about historically significant maps in the archives of the Library of Congress. In 2007, Little, Brown & Company published a 266-page hardcover book Cartographia: Mapping Civilizations by Vincent Virga, the Library of Congress, Grim, and James H. Billington.
As a result of Grim’s inventory, it was determined that sixty-nine maps of the B.P.L. atlases and books were missing. Smiley confessed to stealing thirty-four maps from the B.P.L.
He admitted he stole a total of ninety-seven maps from the B.P.L., Yale University, New York Public Library, Harvard University, The Newberry Library, and The British Library. Consequently, he served three-and-a-half years in prison and paid $2,300,000 in restitution for stealing historic maps.
Thirty-four of the items missing from the B.P.L. have since been recovered (not including the Champlain map). Ms. Murphy noted, “Smiley did not confess to stealing the Champlain map, yet library records indicate he was the last person to view it, on Jan. 2, 2003, before it disappeared, according to Grim. It was one of two maps torn from a book and the other one remains missing.”
“As part of a plea agreement, Smiley confessed to stealing 97 rare maps worth an estimated $3 million from libraries in five cities,” Ms. Murphy observed. “He helped return many of the maps to the libraries. Thirty-four maps were ultimately returned to the Boston Public Library as a result of the investigation. However, some of the libraries discovered they were missing more maps than Smiley accounted for and accused him of failing to admit to all of his misdeeds.”
It is a matter of public record that Cohen & Taliaferro was one of a few firms that sold maps Smiley had stolen from libraries. Smiley had to compensate these firms, which had to repay their customers and return the stolen maps to the victimized libraries.
Ms. Murphy wrote, “Cohen & Taliaferro was one of a handful of dealers who sold some of Smiley’s stolen maps and suffered significant losses when the federal case unfolded. The dealers repaid their customers, who had purchased the stolen maps and were required to return them to the libraries. Smiley was ordered to make restitution to the dealers, including $938,400 to Cohen & Taliaferro and a company it purchased.”
The B.P.L. has a Central Library, twenty-four branch libraries, a map center, a business library, and a Web site with digital content and services. Founded in 1848, the B.P.L. introduced public library service in the U.S.A.
The first free municipal library in the U.S.A., it was the first American public library to lend books, the first to have a branch library, and the first library system to have a children’s room. Each year, the B.P.L. has thousands of programs.
It serves millions of Bostonians and visitors to the city. All of its programs and exhibitions are free and open to the public.
Founded in 2004, the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center is a non-profit organization created as a public-private partnership between the Boston Public Library and the late philanthropist Norman B. Leventhal (1917-2015). Its raison d’être is to use the B.P.L.’s permanent collection of 200,000 maps and sea charts and 5,000 atlases and Mr. Leventhal’s collection of rare maps for the edification and enjoyment of all through exhibitions, programs, and a Web site that includes thousands of digitized maps at maps.bpl.org.
The Leventhal Map Center is ranked amongst the top ten map centers in the U.S.A. for the size of its collection, the significance of its historic (ore-1900) material, and its digitation program. It has the second-largest collection of maps and atlases in our federation to be in a public library.
Its presence in a public library means scholars, educators, and the general public have unlimited access to the collection. The Leventhal Map Center has educational programs and teacher-training programs.
Leventhal was a graduate of the Boston Latin School and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.). During World War II, he served as a naval architect.
In 1945, he founded Beacon Construction Company, not to be confused with Beacon Construction Group. Skansa AB acquired Beacon Construction Company, which was then a subsidiary of Beacon Properties Corporation, from Beacon Properties, as Upendra Mishra reported in the Boston Business Journal in December of 1996.
In 1999, M.I.T. Press published a book that Norman B. Leventhal caused to be written, Mapping Boston. The editors were Alex Krieger and David Cobb. Amy Turner was a contributor.
The B.P.L.’s collections are global in scope. They date back to the 15th Century. The strengths of the collections are maps of Boston and maps of New England.
Through a civic organization, Friends of Post Office Square, Norman B. Leventhal built a privately-owned, but publicly-accessible park at Boston’s Post Office Park. Located in the Financial District, it is bounded by Franklin Street, Pearl Street, Milk Street, and Congress Street.
Like Grant Park in Chicago, it has subterranean parking. Garage at Post Office Square has 1,400 parking spaces.
Revenues generated from the underground garage fund Norman B. Leventhal Park. Thus, the garage supports the park financially as well as structurally, as the organization Friends of Post Office Square likes to joke.
Friends of Post Office Square developed as well as operates both the park and the garage. Leventhal founded Friends of Post Office Square in 1983. It has thirteen volunteer trustees, three volunteer officers, and a small management staff.
Norman B. Leventhal was a life member emeritus of the M.I.T. Corporation. In addition to having been Chairman of the Board of the Friends of Post Office Square, he was also Chairman of Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital. He was Founding Chairman of ABC: A Better City (formerly known as the Artery Business Committee). He was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences as a Fellow in 2007.
In 1997, Mayor Thomas Menino named the park Norman B. Leventhal Park. Ten years later, in 2007, Mayor Menino also renamed The Walk to the Sea the Norman B. Leventhal Walk to the Sea.
 In 1997, the managers also sold Beacon Properties Corporation, a publicly-traded real estate investment trust (R.E.I.T.), to Equity Office Properties Trust. Norman B. Leventhal’s son, Alan M. Rosenthal, a graduate of Northwestern University (1974) and Dartmouth University’s Amos Tuck School of Business Administration (1976), served as President and Chief Executive Officer (C.E.O.) of Beacon Properties Corporation. In 1998, Alan Rosenthal and the other senior managers from Beacon Properties Corporation formed Beacon Capital Partners, which has raised $11,000,000,000 of equity for real estate investment. He is the Chairman and C.E.O. of Beacon Capital Partners. Alan Rosenthal is Chairman of the Board of the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation, a member of the M.I.T. Corporation, a trustee of Boston University (of which he was formerly Chairman of the Board of Trustees), a life trustee of Northwestern University, a member of the Friends of the Post Office Square, and a member of the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library.