$2.5 Million Worth Of Rare Scientific Books Stolen In “Mission: Impossible-Style Heist”


Tom Hale

Senior Journalist

clockFeb 22 2017, 13:18 UTC

Text from the Copernicus's De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium. Antonio Zugaldia/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

A gang of extremely well-read thieves have stolen over $2.5 million worth of famous antique scientific books in a “Mission: Impossible-style heist.”

The smooth criminals escaped with over 160 books – including early editions by Leonardo da Vinci, Isaac Newton, Galileo Galilei, and Copernicus – from a warehouse in west London, where they were due to be flown over the pond to the 50th California International Antiquarian Book Fair, according to the Mail on Sunday.


The jewel of the heist is a 1566 copy of Nicolaus Copernicus's De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres), thought to be worth over $268,000. This is one of the earlier editions of the book, which proposed the truly Earth-shattering idea that the planets orbited the Sun in the Solar System, challenging the millennia-old belief that Earth was the center of the universe. This “Copernican Revolution” is regularly cited as one of the most important steps in humanity's understanding of the world and wider universe.

So while the books could certainly fetch a lot of cash, their true worth is more than merely their monetary value. This is leading experts to believe the heist was orchestrated by a "specialist collector", perhaps a wealthy supervillain who loves science a bit too much.

The three burglars are believed to have drilled holes in the building’s fiberglass skylights then used ropes to drop 12 meters (40 feet) to the warehouse’s ground. Over a period of several hours, they managed to break into the four sealed containers containing the books while ignoring all of the other items in the building. It isn't clear how they knew the gold-mine of books were in the warehouse, however, it's most likely they got the information through hacked emails. 


“Quite honestly I have never heard of a heist like this involving books – it is extraordinary," Brian Lake, of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association, told the Mail. "Nothing like this has hit the rare books trade before.”

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