A businessman was jailed for two years today after admitting stealing pages from rare and priceless books at two historic libraries.
Wealthy Farhad Hakimzadeh cut leaves out of works at the British and Bodleian libraries and inserted the pages into his own copies of the same books, Wood Green Crown Court heard.
Police found the altered editions along with several loose pages in the large library at his home in Knightsbridge, central London.
British Library staff believe he smuggled a scalpel into the building and positioned himself out of the sight of security cameras to commit his crimes.
Experts found that around 150 books which he had accessed had been defaced.
Head of collections at the British Library Dr Kristian Jensen said: "Obviously I'm angry because this is somebody extremely rich who has damaged something which belongs to everybody, completely selfishly destroyed something for his own personal benefit which this nation has invested in over generations.
"Some of the objects which we believe are damaged have been cared for by the nation for centuries."
Hakimzadeh, who is a director of the Iranian Heritage Foundation and a published author, pleaded guilty to 14 counts of theft in May.
The 10 British Library works which he admitted defacing were worth £71,000 alone.
The works dated from as early as the 16th century and all concerned European interaction with the Middle East.
A map worth £30,000 was cut out of one of the books.
Dr Jensen said some of the stolen pages were in a significantly better condition than those in Hakimzadeh's books, leaving the Iranian with what appeared to be a much improved copy.
His crimes came to light when a reader alerted British Library staff that a book had been damaged.
From there, two teams meticulously examined 842 books he had accessed, some in multiple volumes, to see if they had been defaced.
Some of the cuts Hakimzadeh made were so precise they were barely visible, Dr Jensen said.
He called the vandalism "an attack on the nation's collective memory of its own past".
Detective Chief Inspector Dave Cobb, of the Metropolitan Police, said Hakimzadeh avoided detection by choosing rare material that only an expert would spot had been damaged.
Hakimzadeh first became a member of the British Library in 1998, and his reader card was suspended in 2006 when the damage was discovered.
His thefts from the Bodleian, in Oxford University, dated back to 2003.
The businessman, 60, of Rutland Gardens, Knightsbridge, is director of a company which publishes books on the Middle East.
Separate civil proceedings have been launched by the British Library against him.