The Island of Lost Maps: True story of cartographic crime

by Miles Harvey

Harvey, M. (2000). The island of lost maps: True story of cartographic crime. New York: Random House.

The Island of Lost Maps is a wonderful journey and exploration into cartographic history, library rare books librarians, and the deeds of one Gilbert Bland—notorious map thief.  Harvey takes us on a personal journey with him as he tracks down Bland and tries to reconstruct the actions of this “unremarkable” man who stole hundreds of thousands (possibly millions) of dollars worth of rare maps from libraries across the country.

He had gotten into trouble with the law before, but was basically let off the hook if he agreed to join the army (during the Vietnam War), which he did. After Vietnam he went into business for himself but that was failing. Apparently Bland then stumbled upon the idea of going into rare book rooms and cutting valuable maps out of valuable rare books and then selling the maps to other map dealers or collectors.

This story is not just a recount of a criminal’s activities, but a personal journey of the author’s as he tracks down not just Bland but people in the field of cartography and associated with libraries, maps or FBI involved in the case. It is an eye opening book into the world of rare book rooms of libraries and the librarians who work there; into the world of map dealers and collectors; and into the history of maps and mapmaking itself.

A wonderful tour de force.