Su Vanity Fair, Marc Wortman racconta la storia di uno spettacolare furto di libri rari – tra cui un’edizione del 1777 di Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica – portato a termine in un magazzino di Feltham, a ovest di Londra, nel 2017. L’autore ripercorre l’indagine che ne è scaturita e che ha visto la collaborazione tra le forze di polizia di Regno Unito, Germania, Italia e Romania venire a capo dell’intricata vicenda.
“Impossible,” said David Ward. The London Metropolitan Police constable looked up. Some 50 feet above him, he saw that someone had carved a gaping hole through a skylight. Standing in the Frontier Forwarding warehouse in Feltham, West London, he could hear the howl of jets from neighboring Heathrow Airport as they roared overhead.
At Ward’s feet lay three open trunks, heavy-duty steel cases. They were empty. A few books lay strewn about. Those trunks had previously been full of books. Not just any books. The missing ones, 240 in all, included early versions of some of the most significant printed works of European history.
Gone was Albert Einstein’s own 1621 copy of astronomer Johannes Kepler’s The Cosmic Mystery, in which he lays out his theory of planetary motion. Also missing was an important 1777 edition of Isaac Newton’s Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, his book describing gravity and the laws of physics. Among other rarities stolen: a 1497 update of the first book written about women, Concerning Famous Women; a 1569 version of Dante’s Divine Comedy; and a sheath with 80 celebrated prints by Goya. The most valuable book in the haul was a 1566 Latin edition of On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, by Copernicus, in which he posits his world-changing theory that Earth and the other planets revolve around the sun. That copy alone had a price tag of $293,000. All together, the missing books—stolen on the night of January 29, 2017, into early the next day—were valued at more than $3.4 million. Given their unique historical significance and the fact that many contained handwritten notes by past owners, most were irreplaceable.
Scotland Yard’s Ward was stunned. He couldn’t recall a burglary like this anywhere. The thieves, as if undertaking a special-ops raid, had climbed up the sheer face of the building. From there, they scaled its pitched metal roof on a cold, wet night, cut open a fiberglass skylight, and descended inside—without tripping alarms or getting picked up by cameras. “Dangerous work,” he says. “This is not something ordinary burglars try to accomplish.”
Immagine da Wikimedia Commons