Pa. state police seize old prison logbook sold at 1999 auction

PHILADELPHIA (AP) – An antiques dealer says state police illegally seized a rare prison logbook that he had purchased legally, but authorities insist the volume was stolen.

Edward Marshall bought the Eastern State Penitentiary Prison Entry Record Book in 1999 from Freeman’s auction house in Philadelphia for $920. The book lists the 744 convicts incarcerated in the historic prison – now a museum – from 1839 to 1850.

On Sept. 17, Marshall listed the book on eBay with a $5,000 starting bid. Eastern State placed a bid of $10,101.

“We were going to give it to the state archives,” said Sara Jane Elk, Eastern State’s executive director. She said a member of her staff contacted the archives in Harrisburg and was told the book “was missing from their set of volumes and it was an official state document.”

The museum ended up being outbid by $100 by state police troopers who later acknowledged “they were never going to pay a cent,” Marshall said. On Sept. 24, troopers arrived at Marshall’s shop in the city’s Fishtown neighborhood and seized the book, claiming it had been stolen.

“There was no legal justification for the forced surrender of the valuable book that he owned,” his attorney, David Rudovsky, told The Philadelphia Inquirer for an Oct. 7 story. “As far as we know, there is no proof that this was stolen. We think it’s an illegal seizure.”

State archivist David Haury disagreed, saying “once a state record, always a state record.”

The archives own the prison’s other record books, Haury and state police attorney Thomas Jakubiak said. Because Marshall’s record book is the only one missing, they said, it belongs in their collection.

Eastern State Penitentiary closed in 1970 and was effectively abandoned until the mid-1980s. It is now a popular tourist attraction.

David Bloom, Freeman’s vice president of rare books and manuscripts, said the book came from a reputable source, which he did not identify. He said that the auction house would notify the FBI if they suspected that an item had been stolen.

“It’s not unusual for these documents from institutions to be thrown out, recovered by trash pickers, then find their way back in the historical chain,” Bloom said. “In my 25 years of business, this is the first time we’ve sold something that I’ve heard of being labeled as stolen.”

Marshall, 63, who has worked in antiquities for four decades and as an adviser to auction houses, said he is emotionally and financially hurt.

If the book is returned, which he believes it should be, “I would like to have the underbidder pay the amount she bid, $10,101,” he said.

Information from: The Philadelphia Inquirer,

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AP-ES-10-07-08 1422EDT