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[BKARTS] Rare books spark row with English university



Rare books spark row with English university
By TSUTOMU YAMASHITA, The Asahi Shimbun


One of the world's most famous and influential books is at the center
of a row that is ruffling feathers in England and Japan more than 400
years after its publication.

The two-volume pocket-sized text, ``De Humani Corporis Fabrica'' (On
the Fabric of the Human Body) by celebrated Flemish anatomist Andreas
Vesalius, is on display at Nippon Dental University's medical museum
in Niigata city.

But the University of Oxford's Christ Church College claims the
texts, which date from 1552, comprise one volume of 74 books stolen
from its famous library between 1992 and 1995.

Oxford officials have requested Nippon Dental University return the
books, which are valued at around £7,000 (1.3 million yen).

But museum officials dispute Christ Church College's claims and say
the purchase of the books was above board.

``The books were donated for medical studies purposes and the copies
(we have) are not the only ones, so it isn't so easy to conclude they
are the ones stolen from Oxford,'' said museum head Teruo Higuchi.

``The books were bought legitimately and are legally owned by the
university. Even if they were initially stolen, we don't have to
return goods two years after buying them if we bought them without
realizing they were stolen.''

The museum clarified its stance in a letter to Oxford sent Monday,
Higuchi said.

The 74 books, including a rare edition of ``The Origin of Species''
by Charles Darwin and works by, among others, Issac Newton, were
stolen from Christ Church College's library by Simon Heighes, a
former BBC Radio host and a specialist in baroque music who used to
lecture at the university. Heighes was sentenced to two years in
prison for the thefts.

Seventy-three of the books have since been traced and returned to
Christ Church. Only the ``De Humani Corporis Fabrica'' texts, which
comprise one volume of Vesalius' seminal work, have yet to be
returned.

``It is common sense that stolen goods should be returned to the
original owner,'' said David Morris, the University of Oxford's Japan
representative, adding Nippon Dental University has a moral, rather
than legal, obligation to return the books.

``We have no wish to damage the reputation of the (Japanese)
university,'' Morris said.

Vesalius, who is referred to as ``the father of anatomy,'' was said
to have worked in Brussels during Roman Empire. ``De Humani Corporis
Fabrica'' was Vesalius' magnum opus and is credited with influencing
astronomer Galileo and changing the face of Western medicine.

Officials of Christ Church College library first noticed some of
their prize books had disappeared in May 1995. Heighes was arrested
soon after and admitted selling the volumes to auctioneers Sotheby's.


The two Vesalius texts were bought by a U.S. secondhand book dealer
in 1994, who later sold them to a Japanese dealer. Finally, an
unidentified buyer bought the books and donated them to the dental
university, Oxford officials say.(IHT/Asahi: October 1,2003) (10/01)


http://www.asahi.com/


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