LONDON – Oxford University will ask Nippon Dental University in Tokyo to clarify whether it owns a groundbreaking 16th century book that was stolen from Oxford in the early 1990s, the university said Thursday.
According to news reports Wednesday in Britain, the two-volume set of the 1552 edition of Andreas Vesalius’s “De Humani Corporis Fabrica” (“On the fabric of the Human Body”) is believed to have been bought legitimately by Nippon Dental University.
The book was stolen from the Christ Church College library between 1993 and 1995.
A lecturer who smuggled rare books from Christ Church’s library was convicted of theft and sentenced to two years in prison.
Oxford University has retrieved all the stolen books except that by Vesalius. Like the other books, the Vesalius was sold at an auction in London for £7,000 to an American who later sold it to a dealer in Tokyo.
Christ Church discovered the identity of the Japanese dealer after the Antiquarian Book Sellers Association of America intervened. The college wrote to the Japanese dealer in Tokyo but the dealer refused to reveal the identity of his buyer.
Oliver O’Donovan, professor of moral and pastoral theology and the librarian at Christ Church, said Oxford will contact Nippon Dental University and ascertain whether it has the stolen book, of which there are thought to be only around 12 copies in the world.
“I know there’s speculation that a certain institution bought it, but we have no definite confirmation,” O’Donovan told Kyodo News. “There’s no doubt that the dealer in Tokyo bought our book.
“The question is whether the institution being named (in news accounts) is the institution which bought it from him. They should be able to tell us that.”
According to an article in The Times newspaper on Wednesday, Izumi Nakahara, president of Nippon Dental University, told reporters his library was collecting the works of Vesalius and that the 1552 edition was an essential part of the collection. He said it was bought by fair means and is legally owned by the university.
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