Vanishing Prints: The Engravings Which Were Lost and Then Found Just Steps Apart

lostartBy Sherah Ndjongo

The 2014 disappearance of two precious prints from the Boston Public Library sent its staff of librarians into a worrying frenzy that has only recently received public attention. However, little did they know that the valuable art pieces were a mere 80 feet away from their correct places due to an accidental case of misplacement.

At the beginning of June, the missing Rembrandt engraving from 1634 as well as the Dürer print from 1504 were discovered among a pile of print stacks by a conservation officer. The recovery of the etchings, which were specifically found in the library’s storage room in Row 14B, Bay 3 on Shelf 2, was a pleasant and unexpected revelation. Lauren Schott, who found the artwork in the 8,300-square-foot room, was reported expressing her surprise in an article featured in The Boston Globe, “I was shocked to find the two prints, but it really was just luck of the draw.” In the same account, Boston Library President Amy Ryan proclaimed, “It’s a cloud lifted, a burden off our shoulders. Everyone is happy.”

However, before the arrival of this long-awaited celebration was a period marked with distress and tension. When Dürer’s “Adam and Eve,” which costs $600,000, and Rembrandt’s “Self-Portrait With Plumed Cap and Lowered Sabre,” valued between $20,000 to $30,000, were thought to be lost, an immediate police investigation was launched. Additionally, Susan Glover, a veteran librarian who was in charge of Boston Public Library’s special collections, was put on paid administrative leave the following April. Her lawyer, Nicholas DiMauro, went on to state that Glover believed the prints were temporarily lost, but authorities currently have different ideas in mind. It was documented in police reports filed on April 29, 2015, that the absence of the art pieces was first noticed on April 8, 2014, which is a considerable gap in time on the library’s part to disclose the disappearance to the police. On the other hand, an anonymous source insists that the police already knew about this incident, but city officials still may place all responsibility on the Boston Public Library administration for this “possibility of criminal activity” or “theft.”

A library representative by the name of Melinda Schuler doesn’t agree with this theory and stands firmly by the belief that this peculiar occurrence was simply “human error.” She remarks in The Boston Globe report mentioned earlier, “It is not unusual for two prints by two different artists to be shared in one sitting. It was not surprising that they were together. The prints were misfiled… That’s how the library feels about this.” Furthermore, the accusatory audit also sparked heated debate over the effectiveness of the library’s organizational and security methods. City officials say that the library’s lack of a central inventory list of what it owns and a catalog of every single item is ineffectual, but librarians argue that they adopted and grew accustomed to an advantageous collection practice that didn’t allow them to keep records.

The Boston Public Library, which is the first library funded by a city in the United States in addition to being one of the first free public libraries in the world, is starting to recover from this puzzling event. Although the situation isn’t entirely resolved yet, the library is lucky to have both Rembrandt and Dürer’s etchings back in their proper places.

About the Author: Sherah, 17, has been homeschooled for three years. “I am passionate about raising awareness about topics such as current events and culture and being able to effectively deliver a message that matters to me. I also enjoy researching and writing in hopes of educating, informing, and inspiring others.”

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