Forbes Smiley and Cortés’s Map
If you had thought you’d heard the last about Forbes Smiley — who is currently serving a three-and-a-half-year federal sentence after having admitted to stealing nearly 100 maps from various libraries — then you were mistaken. The Hartford Courant’s Kim Martineau has the strange tale of a 1524 woodcut map of Tenochtitlan that illustrated a letter from Hernán Cortés to the king of Spain. Yale’s Beinecke Library had one of only a few copies — until, of course, Mr. Smiley came for a visit.
[I]n May 2005, Smiley asked to see the second Cortés letter, the one with the map. Smiley toted his prize to midtown Manhattan and sold it to Harry Newman, owner of the Old Print Shop, for what Newman called “mid-five figures.”
When he confessed last summer to stealing more than 100 maps from libraries around the world, Smiley didn’t mention Yale’s Cortés map. But Yale advertised the theft and posted a picture online. Initially, the New York dealer breathed a sigh of relief. His map didn’t seem to have pinholes poked in the fold like Yale’s. A day later, he looked again. Faintly, he could make out where the holes had been feathered over.
“The image was the clincher,” he said.
The map made it home to the Beinecke before Christmas, for the last weeks of an exhibition on the mapping of early Mexico.
Interestingly, Smiley did confess to stealing a copy of the same map from Harvard. Which is where things get strange:
The case is closed, but another mystery remains. Smiley confessed to stealing Harvard’s copy of the Cortés map, but no one knows how two facsimile reproductions found their way into the book the map came from. Harvard discovered the two facsimiles — and its missing map — after Smiley’s arrest.
New York Public Library, it turns out, is missing a Cortés facsimile. Did Smiley steal it and put it in the Harvard book to disguise his earlier theft? If so, what about the second facsimile?
Stealing one map to replace another? Curiouser and curiouser. Smiley’s exploits may well have been more complicated than we thought. His lawyer says his client continues to cooperate, but does not have an eidetic memory. So far, four maps have shown up since Smiley was sentenced.
Via MapHist; thanks, Tony.