The pair, one of which contains the 1837 ‘Tree of Life’ sketch, were returned anonymously on March 9 to the library in a pink gift bag with the printed message Librarian Happy Easter x. They had been missing for two decades.
For many years, the library believed that the notebooks had been misplaced somewhere in the vast storerooms that are home to around 10 million books, maps, manuscripts and other objects across more than 130 miles of shelving.
However, after subsequent checks it was realised they had been stolen and a public appeal was issued for information in autumn 2020. Cambridge University librarian Dr Jessica Gardner launched the appeal in par tner ship wi th Cambridgeshire Police and Interpol. ATG and news outlets across the world then publicised the theft.
Sense of loss
After the notebooks had been returned Gardner said: “Everyone at the library was incredibly touched by the response to our appeal and to know that so many others felt the same sense of loss we did only reaffirmed our decision to ask the public for their help.
“We believe that decision has had a direct bearing on the notebooks being returned and we’d like to take this opportunity to give the public our heartfelt thanks.”
Angus O’Neill of Omega Bookshop in London, past president of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association (ABA) and security chair for the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (ILAB), said: “I believe that, if we learn one lesson from this, it is that institutions should be more proactive in reporting missing items than they have been in the past. I congratulate the staff of Cambridge University Library for their courage in publicising the loss of the notebooks and share in their delight at the outcome.”
The notebooks were originally removed from the Special Collections strong rooms for photography in September 2000. By January 2001 they were noted to be missing but presumed somewhere within the library’s large storage facilities.
Going on display
Cambridge University Libraries will be putting the notebooks on display from July, as part of the exhibition Darwin in Conversation.
A Cambridgeshire Police spokesman said it had renewed the appeal for anyone with information about the case to call 101 quoting crime reference 35/71468/20.
The International League of Antiquarian Booksellers has a Missing Books Register online detailing other missing items: missingbooksregister.org/