What Can Collectors Do to Prevent Map Theft?

Roger Baskes, president of the International Map Collectors’ Society, responds to the Forbes Smiley business (covered here at great length) with an article on what collectors can do to deter map thieves. In the article, which first appeared in the IMCoS quarterly journal but has been reprinted on Tony Campbell’s Map History/History of Cartography site, he looks both at collectors’ self-interest and in the greater good that collectors can support.

Clearly there are practical, legal, and financial reasons why collectors should not wish to buy stolen maps. Many of these have been discussed in connection with the current publicity. Certainly, in most jurisdictions, even an innocent purchaser for value cannot acquire good title to a map when claimed by a party from whom it has been stolen. The complications of this are manifold. A map stolen from a library may be sold to another dealer, or a third, then to a collector, who in turn may sell it at auction or give it to another library (or even the victimized library itself). Running the stolen map back up the chain may or may not work— is each party willing and solvent? Does the refund bear interest? The successive prices may be higher or even lower. Commissions are paid by auction buyers and sellers. Donors, especially in America, have claimed tax benefits. The suggestion sometimes made to secure a mitigating tax benefit by giving it back to the victimized library is at least problematical when the donor does not have good title.
I would urge also that there are significant ethical reasons why collectors should be actively involved in preventing map theft, reasons which extend beyond the criminal law and the eighth of the Ten Commandments. The first reason is also a practical one: if there were no efficient market for stolen maps, maps would seldom be stolen. Collectors themselves are likely to have occasionally stolen maps, but most maps certainly were taken to sell to collectors. But another reason, at least as compelling to my mind, is to preserve the integrity of our cultural, intellectual, and bibliographical heritage.

He urges collectors to support libraries’ security efforts and to establish where a map came from when doing business with a dealer. Via MapHist.