Forbes Smiley: Library Thief Looking for the “Good Life” in Maine

BlandingEncountered a brief, but fascinating excerpt from a new book about Forbes Smiley, a bibliophile bent on creating a little Eden in Sebec, Maine, who resorted to theft from famous libraries to fund his utopia and the legal battles it required. From the book, by Michael Blanding:

It was around this time that the stress and financial difficulties became too much for Smiley. Sitting in a library one day, he told me, Smiley found himself looking down at a map that he knew he could sell the next day for tens of thousands of dollars and make payroll up in Maine that Friday. He folded it up, slipped it into a pocket, and walked out.

The mash up of preservation vs. improvement, people “from away” who are  interlopers to the “natives,” and endless legal battles; well that’s just an ordinary day in Maine, where “how it used to be-ism” and “how it should be-ism” are in a death match. But funding this craziness by stealing maps from places like the Beinecke Library at Yale University adds a novel twist.

When I worked at the Library of Congress, there was a notorious manuscript thief who had been raiding there and at the Archives, then selling his booty, Civil War docs and John Singer Sargent letters in Boston. Like Smiley, he had a vintage Social Register name, Charles Merrill Mount.

Blanding’s book looks to be a fascinating read.

The old-fashioned solution to book theft: chain the books to the shelves, a library in the UK from

Photo credit: Wimborne Minster: the chained library (Chris Downer) / CC BY-SA 2.0

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