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Cambridge announces the safe return of the Darwin notebooks

Many will have seen the international news coverage this morning on the safe return of the Darwin notebooks. The International League of Antiquarian Booksellers and the Antiquarian Booksellers Association in the UK want to draw attention to this positive outcome of a large publicity campaign by Cambridge University Library.
Notebooks Darwin

In an extensive collaborative effort, the library went public, searching for Darwin's notebooks that had been missing since 2001. Institutions worldwide, the international trade and the press disseminated the library's appeal back in November 2020 to find these items of historical value; one of the notebooks contains Darwin's famous 1837 "Tree of Life" sketch.

A short while ago, an anonymous gift bag with an envelope was placed on the floor outside the librarian's office with a note "Librarian - Happy Easter - X". The envelope contained the notebooks wrapped in cling film.
The library has now officially announced the safe return of the notebooks which will be displayed among other items at an exhibition "Darwin in Conversation" (opens 9 July).

"ILAB booksellers across the world were absolutely delighted to learn of the return of the Darwin notebooks. We were also inspired by Cambridge University Library taking the non-traditional, and no doubt somewhat uncomfortable, approach of publicly announcing their loss which undoubtedly contributed to their return. ILAB applauds Dr Jessica Gardner and her colleagues at the Cambridge University Library for taking this path and hopes that other institutions learning of their success will follow in their footsteps." Sally Burdon, ILAB President

Cambridge University Library writes:

"Their return comes 15 months after Cambridge University Librarian Dr Jessica Gardner launched a worldwide appeal for information, in partnership with Cambridgeshire Police and Interpol.

The notebooks were returned anonymously to the Library on March 9, 2022, and are in good condition, with no obvious signs of significant handling or damage sustained in the years since their disappearance.

They were returned in a bright pink gift bag containing the notebooks’ archive box and inside a plain brown envelope addressed to the University Librarian with the printed message:

Happy Easter

"The sole aim of our public appeal was to have the manuscripts safely returned to our safekeeping and I am delighted to have had such a successful outcome in such a relatively short space of time.

"The notebooks can now retake their rightful place alongside the rest of the Darwin Archive at Cambridge, at the heart of the nation’s cultural and scientific heritage, alongside the archives of Sir Isaac Newton and Professor Stephen Hawking.

"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.

"That’s why we’re also thrilled to be able to be able to put the notebooks on display this summer, to give everyone the opportunity to see these remarkable notebooks in the flesh.

"They may be tiny, just the size of postcards, but the notebooks’ impact on the history of science, and their importance to our world-class collections here, cannot be overstated."

Dr Jessica Gardner, Cambridge University Librarian

The full article can be accessed here:

For all security-related matters, please never hesitate to contact the ILAB Secretariat and make active use of the recently relaunched ILAB Missing Books Register: These collaborative efforts can make a very practical contribution to finding missing antiquarian material, stopping it from circulating, and discouraging theft in the first place.

All images are courtesy of Cambridge University Library