Long overdue: This book was stolen in 1840. Now it’s back on the library shelf

The Book of Common Prayer, published by the Church of England, 1666.
The Book of Common Prayer, published by the Church of England, 1666.

A book published in 1666, believed to be one of only two in the country of its kind, was returned to Marsh’s Library in Ireland after going missing for nearly 180 years.

The book, a prayer guide of sorts for members of the old Church of England, was brought back to the library by none other than a priest, who found the 17th Century tome while going through a pile of dusty books in his Monkstown parish rectory, according to the Irish Sun. It had been missing since 1840, when it was taken from the library’s reading room. This wasn’t one that could be checked out.

What Rev. Roy Byrne found was a Book of Common Prayer, stamped with Marsh’s Library seal. Now it can gather dust in its rightful place.

Marsh’s Library is the oldest public library in Ireland, formally incorporated by an act of Parliament in 1707. Its current exhibits include one on books stolen from its shelves during the library’s first 133 years in existence, until 1840.

Marsh’s Library in Dublin, Ireland Wikimedia Commons

“If ‘Hunting Stolen Books’ were to focus on lost items, the display cases would be empty,” the library’s web site says. “Instead, we celebrate the small number of stolen books which were found and returned to Marsh’s Library during the nineteenth century, and those which were bought as part of a campaign in the 1920s and 1930s by then Keeper, Dr. Newport B. White.”

It looks like Marsh’s current keepers will have to make room for one more item in that exhibit — probably its rarest find yet.

But the New York Society Library has Marsh’s beat for the 18th Century’s longest overdue book. That dubious distinction is reserved for a copy of “The Law of Nations,” identical to one checked out Oct. 5, 1789, and never returned, by one George Washington, according to the New York Post. Representatives of the first U.S. President’s Mount Vernon Estate returned the book in 2010.

“I hereby absolve George Washington and his representatives for any overdue library fees incurred,” said Charles Berry, the New York society Library’s chairman at the time, according to the Post.

According to The Week, when adjusted for inflation, Washington’s fine would have been about $300,000.