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Alert collector helps UH retrieve stolen rare books

The 218 volumes were missing from the shelves at Hamilton Library

By Lynn Nakagawa

LAST UPDATED: 4:55 p.m. HST, Jul 2, 2011

More than 200 rare books are back in Hamilton Library at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, thanks to a California rare book collector.

Police are investigating the theft of the 218 books, whose total value is estimated by officials at $50,000 to $100,000.

"Hamilton Library is about 100 years old, and some of these books could have been purchased from the very beginning. Not a lot of places have these types of books," said UH associate librarian Alan Grosenheider.

Grosenheider said discovery of the theft began when someone in Hawaii contacted collector Michael Hollander of Hollander Rare Books in San Rafael, Calif., offering to sell a large number of rare books. The volumes are from the mid-1800s to early 20th century and include Pacific and Asian exploration books.

The prospective seller mailed Hollander six books to examine. They were stamped as property of the University of Hawaii and had UH library bar codes.

The seller also sent Hollander a list of the 218 books.

Hollander contacted Hamilton Library two weeks ago to verify that a number of its books were for sale.

That set off red flags for Grosenheider.

"We don't sell our books like other libraries," he said. Librarians discovered gaps on the library shelves where the books should have been, he said, indicating they had been recently removed.

Police, using the seller's return address that Hollander provided, raided a Waikiki apartment and recovered the books, Grosenheider said. Hollander sent back the other six.

A 23-year-old man turned himself in at the main police station Friday, was arrested on suspicion of second-degree theft and was released pending investigation.

Grosenheider said a book's value often has as much to do with its history as its content.

"For book collectors it isn't necessarily the content, but usually they are most interested in the binding, what printing press was used and the condition of the book," he said.

He said the library is improving security measures.

"We've been conducting the inventory to see what's there and see if everything has been returned and the numbers were matching," Grosenheider said. "We're grateful to Mr. Hollander and the police."


A previous version of this story said one book was valued at $30,000. That is not the case.

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