Book thief deserves a scarlet letter, but Dallidet Adobe tours shouldn’t be shut down

An 1893 edition of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter” — the literary classic many of us endured in high school lit class — has gone missing from a shelf inside the Dallidet Adobe in San Luis Obispo.

Someone apparently absconded with the book late last month, during a public tour of the historic home that’s now owned and operated by the nonprofit History Center of San Luis Obispo County.

If the thief thought this was a valuable book, guess what?

The starting bid for a similar edition on eBay is just $32, and an even older edition starts at just $34. It’s only the first printings that are fetching prices in the thousands of dollars; $6,500 in one case.

That doesn’t mean the crime isn’t audacious, awful, alarming, atrocious, appalling, anti-social ... and any other inflammatory ‘A’ adjectives you can come up with. (Except adulterous; let’s leave poor Hester Prynne and her infamous scarlet “A” out of this.)

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This 1893 edition of “The Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne was stolen from the Dallidet Adobe in SLO. Courtesy SLO County History Center

The book may not be worth much money, but it’s still an important artifact.

“... The true value was the connection to our county’s past,” History Center Executive Director Thomas Kessler said in a news release.

It’s also a violation of the public trust, not to mention a rotten thing to do, when an item — no matter how small or insignificant — is stolen from a historic site, a national park, or any other special place that’s carefully curated and operated for the enjoyment of everyone.

The History Center has announced that it will close the Dallidet Adobe to public tours a few weeks early, to evaluate the security system at the historic landmark.

That’s a shame.

It amounts to punishing prospective visitors for the bad conduct of a misguided individual or two — albeit ones with a taste for literary classics.

Couldn’t the History Center enlist a couple more docents to keep a close eye on things for the few remaining weekends in September, when the adobe would normally be open?

Who knows?

Maybe the book thief will have a change of heart, and the novel will mysteriously reappear on the shelf.

We’ll even offer an incentive to the culprit: An old high school copy — along with the CliffsNotes — in exchange for the Dallidets’ “Scarlet Letter.”

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