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A book stolen from Marsh’s Library in Dublin 177 years ago has been returned.
The Book of Common Prayer, which was printed in 1666, was returned to the country’s oldest library last week, having gone missing from its reading room in 1840.
The book was returned by Rev Roy Byrne last Thursday who found it in the Church of Ireland rectory in Monkstown.
Jason McElligott, the library’s keeper explained it is currently running an exhibition on books that were stolen but subsequently returned.
“He [Rev Byrne] was in looking at the exhibition and it sort of sparked a memory that when he moved into the rectory there was a whole series of books and he went back and checked. One of them had the Marsh’s Library stamp on it,” he told The Irish Times.
Mr McElligott said the library had a “huge problem” with theft in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries with around 1,200 books stolen.
“They brought in cages that they used to lock readers into but the theft still continued with people putting the books into their bags or up their coats,” Mr McElligott said.
“The book that was returned is unusual because most of the books that were stolen weren’t religious or theological books. They were literature, books about Irish history or ones with maps. Anything to do with travel just walked off the shelves.”
While the Book of Common Prayer is estimated to be worth no more than €1,000, books with a much higher monetary value remain missing.
Robert Boyle’s The Sceptical Chymist (1661) was stolen from the library in 1767 and is believed to be worth around €500,000 while The Nuremberg Chronicle (1493), stolen sometime in the eighteenth century, is estimated at about €200,000.
“They turn up in the weirdest of places,” Mr McElligott added. “The books are lying in attics or have been passed down through families.
“About four years ago somebody came in with a book wrapped up in The Irish Times and he said “I think this belongs to you” and it did.
“He had found it in a junk shop in Harold’s Cross and it was a medical book from 1538 that had been stolen sometime in the nineteenth century. The books are out there, it’s interesting to see where they turn up.”