annually on March 20th
Stephen Blumberg loved books. It has been written that "it was his habit to read constantly through the night, cat-napping, walking, reading, dozing, waking, reading again, never fully sleeping." Stephen Blumberg didn't just love books, he was a bibliomaniac. Bibliomania is when someone has a strong love of books, where they collect them to the point of hoarding, and social relations and health may suffer. Symptoms may include acquiring more books than would be useful for any reason or getting many copies of the same book. The term was coined by John Ferriar, who published a poem in 1809 with the word as its title, for his friend Richard Heber, who had the condition. The term became used to describe obsessive book collectors. That same year, Reverend Thomas Frognall Dibdin published Bibliomania; or Book Madness. Bibliomania is different from bibliophilia, which is a healthy form of love for books.
On March 20, 1990, Stephen Blumberg's bibliomania caught up with him. He was arrested for stealing more than 23,600 books (weighing 19 tons) from 268 libraries, universities, and museums. It had taken him over 20 years to steal them, and he got them from 45 states, Washington D.C., and Canada. After originally being thought to be valued at around $20 million, the value of the books was estimated at $5.3 million. He is known as the number one book thief in American history and became known as the Book Bandit. The books he stole, which included a first edition of Uncle Tom's Cabin among other rare books, became known as the "Blumberg Collection."
An acquaintance of Blumberg, Kenneth J. Rhodes, turned him in for a $56,000 reward. During Blumberg's trial, a psychiatric doctor let it be known that Blumberg had gone through psychiatric treatment as an adolescent. The defense claimed that Blumberg had stolen the books because of psychiatric issues beyond his control. According to the defense, Blumberg had thought he was saving the books from destruction by stealing them. He thought that the government was trying to keep them so that everyday people wouldn't have them, and he thought he was acting as custodian of the books and doing something good. Because he was well-intentioned, he said he would have never sold any of the books for a profit, and hoped they would go to another person who would take good care of them after he was gone. Nonetheless, he was sentenced to 71 months in prison and given a $200,000 fine, and insanity or psychology wasn't factored into the decision. He was released on December 29, 1995, and has since been arrested for burglary multiple times.
On Bibliomania Day, we remember Stephen Blumberg and his remarkable feat of stealing over 23,600 books. Could you buy, steal, or gather together that many books? Probably not, but you aren't the world's most famous bibliomaniac. Perhaps on Bibliomania Day, you could at least try.
How to Observe Bibliomania Day
Celebrate the day by getting as many books as possible. It's probably best not to steal them as Stephen Blumberg did, but that's a decision you will have to make for yourself. You could start by getting some books about bibliomaniacs, such as A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books or The Man Who Loved Books Too Much: The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession. After that your options are limitless. As bibliomaniacs tend to collect any and all books, regardless of their value, you could just start trying to gather up any books you can find. But maybe it's best to start by getting some of the best fiction or non-fiction books of all time.