As It Happens

'This was a big job': Thieves nab $3M worth of rare books in Mission Impossible-style heist

A group of seemingly well-organized thieves has stolen $3.27 million worth of antique books from a warehouse in London, in a complex heist straight out of a Hollywood movie.
The old books collection area with several rare books is seen at the Municipal Library of Lyon in this 2010 file picture. About $3 million worth of rare books have been stolen from a warehouse in West London. (Robert Pratta/Reuters)

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A group of seemingly well-organized thieves has stolen more than $3 million worth of rare, antique books from a warehouse in London, England.

According to the U.K.'s Guardian newspaper, police believe the culprits climbed onto the building's roof on Jan. 29, drilled holes through reinforced fibreglass skylights and rappelled down on 12 metres of rope to avoid setting off the warehouse's door alarms. 

They left the way they came, carrying with them 160 books, among them 15th- and 16th-century works by Galileo, Isaac Newton and Leonardo da Vinci. They were worth £2 million ($3.27 million Cdn).

This 1777 edition of Isaac Newton's Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy was among the books stolen from the warehouse. (Kuehn Books)

"This was a big job," rare book dealer Alessandro Meda Riquier told CBC Radio As It Happens guest host Helen Mann. "Police said that it took more than three hours to complete."

Meda Riquier lost about $1.6 million worth of books in the heist. Among them were a 1569 edition of Dante's Divine Comedy and a second-edition copy of Copernicus's On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, "the book that explained for the first time that the centre of the universe was not the Earth but the sun." 
This 1569 edition of Dante's Divine Comedy was one of the books stolen in the heist. (Meda Riquier Rare Books Ltd.)

"I lost many important books," Meda Riquier said.

Fortunately for Meda Riquier, the books were insured.

"But having the money back does not mean I will be able to find them again and purchase them again," he said. 

Collecting antique tomes is more than a hobby for Meda Riquier,

"This is my job," he said. "So this will affect my job in the future for a long time."

The burglary has left rare book dealers distressed — but also baffled. Because the stolen books are so well-known, Meda Riquier said, they would be "quite impossible" to fence. 

One source familiar with the case told the Guardian: "There must be a collector behind it."

Asked if he thinks he'll ever see his prized texts again, Meda Riquier told As It Happens: "I don't really have great expectation."

Alessandro Meda Riquier lost 'many important books' in the London heist. ( Alessandro Meda Riquier )


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