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370-Year-old “Hamlet” Stolen, Recovered

March 1, 1990

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ The FBI recovered a 1611 edition of Shakespeare’s ″Hamlet″ worth up to $1 million and five other rare classics that had been stolen from a University of Pennsylvania library, police said.

A part-time employee of the Van Pelt Library, Kathleen Wilkerson, 33, was charged with theft Wednesday night, police said. The FBI recovered the books Tuesday from a rare bookseller.

The ″Hamlet″ edition, printed five years before Shakespeare’s death and eight years after the play was first published, is worth between $500,000 and $1 million, police said.

The other books were 1619 editions of Shakespeare’s ″The Merchant of Venice″ and ″Henry V,″ worth between $100,000 and $250,000 each; a 1491 edition of Dante’s ″Divine Comedy,″ a 1542 edition of Geoffrey Chaucer poems worth up to $10,000 and a 1776 copy of Thomas Paine’s revolutionary pamphlet ″Common Sense,″ valued at $50,000-$100,000.

Police were unable to put a value on the Dante edition.

About 20 copies of the ″Hamlet″ edition and about 30 copies of ″The Merchant of Venice″ are believed to exist, said Elizabeth Niemeyer, acquisitions librarian at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. Investigators and school officials said they were unsure when the books were stolen. Patricia Renfro, assistant director of libraries at the university, said some of the books were found missing about 11 days ago.

The books were spotted last Saturday at Bauman Rare Books by a book dealer, Steven Lowentheil of Baltimore, who suspected they were from the library, police said. On Monday, he notified university officials and the FBI.

The proprietor of the bookstore, Natalie Bauman, was out of town Tuesday and Wednesday, police said.

Wilkerson was charged with theft, receiving stolen property and theft of library books, police said.

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