Boston curator spies, retrieves stolen Champlain map

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BOSTON – One of dozens of historic maps missing from the Boston Public Library turned up in the hands of a New York City antiques dealer, who was offering it for sale at $285,000 last summer before a sharp-eyed library curator spotted it.

The 1612 map, compiled by French explorer Samuel de Champlain, has been returned to its rightful owner as a result and is on display at the library in Copley Square. The map was taken out of a 1613 book describing Champlain’s voyages to the New World, “Les Voyages du Sieur de Champlain,” and was discovered missing in 2005 by the curator, Ronald Grim. Grim was credited Thursday with finding the document, called the “Carte Geographique de Nouvelle France,” last summer as he perused an antiques publication.

“I was stunned to come across the map, and thrilled to determine it indeed belongs to the Boston Public Library,” Grim said in a statement distributed by the library. Using an image of the map made by the library in 1992, a third-party expert, Scott Gerson, confirmed it was the missing document and the antiques dealer returned it, the library said. The dealer had been trying to sell it for a client.

The map shows much of the Atlantic coast from southeastern Canada to the New York City area, and inland areas as far west as the Great Lakes, the library said. The document measures 17 inches by 30 inches and is illustrated with drawings of American Indians and native plants.

Grim noticed the map missing shortly after he arrived at the library in 2005. He began making an inventory of the collection’s old maps after E. Forbes Smiley, a dealer in rare maps, was arrested on charges of stealing maps from Yale University in June 2005, the library said. Grim determined that 69 maps were missing from the collection he oversaw.

Since then, 34 of the missing items have been recovered, including the Champlain map. Smiley, a Martha’s Vineyard native who confessed to stealing 34 documents from the library, served three years in jail for thefts from the institution as well as from Yale, the New York Public Library, Harvard University and the British Library.

“I want to thank Ronald Grim for his incredible expertise and thoroughness in identifying this map and taking action to report it,” said David Leonard the Boston library’s interim president. “The cultural and educational value of this collection will be all the stronger with its return.”

The map will be displayed at the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center through Feb. 29.