U.S. repatriates a stolen Christopher Columbus letter to Italy : NPR


It was circulated in Europe after the letter, written by Columbus in 1493, was reprinted and published in Latin. In the U.S. several copies, including one that was stolen in Venice in 1980s, have been discovered.

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It was circulated in Europe after the letter, written by Columbus in 1493, was reprinted and published in Latin. In the U.S. several copies, including one that was stolen in Venice in 1980s, have been discovered.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

After years of being lost in Delaware, a 15th century Christopher Columbus letter has finally returned to Italy.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced on Wednesday that it had returned the letter to Rome following a “multifaceted investigation” conducted internationally.

The letter was stolen four times over the years.

Columbus wrote this letter in 1493 for his Spanish patrons, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. He described his discoveries of the Americas. The letter was reprinted as a pamphlet in Latin and sent to Rome. It ended up in libraries throughout Europe.

This letter is one of the rarest copies found in the last few years. It’s the first printing. ICE valued the letter at over $1.3 million in 2020 when it was discovered.

William Walker said, “Culturally important artifacts receive a monetary valuation in the markets where they are sold.” At the time, William Walker was the acting agent for Homeland Security Investigations, Philadelphia. “But their cultural and symbolism value is far greater than any dollar amount to the countries to which they rightfully belong.”

The U.S. and Italian officials met this week in Rome to return the letter. It is in the form a slim hardcover booklet.

The aforementioned is a series of tweetsGennaro sangiuliano, the Italian Culture Minister, thanked all the people involved in this effort. This includes the U.S. embassy in Italy, and the Carabinieri’s Cultural Heritage Protection Branch.

Sangiuliano said that Columbus was a key figure in Italy’s history and that a traveling museum will help contextualize the document.

What the letter actually says

It’s important to remember what Columbus accomplished in order to understand the importance of this letter. The explorer is famous for discovering the New World in 1492 — and launching centuries of European colonization and exploitation of the American continents and their indigenous inhabitants.

Columbus left Spain in August 1492 to find a water-only route to Asia. After reaching the Caribbean, he spent months exploring the islands of Juana (modern day Cuba) and Hispaniola (now split into Haiti & Dominican Republic). He left behind dozens of men to establish a settlement in modern-day Haiti.

Columbus kidnapped as many as 25 Native Americans to take back with him to Spain — only eight survived, according to the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. He also brought native birds and plants, as well as gold.

Upon his arrival in Spain, Columbus wrote a letter in Spanish to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, who had helped fund his voyage, informing them of what — and whom — he had found in the Americas.

According to an English translation, he wrote: “I discovered numerous islands inhabited with many people.” “I took them all for our lucky king by making a public proclamation, and displaying his flag without anyone making any opposition.”

Columbus noted the abundance and beauty of the islands, noting that they were “easy for him to traverse” as well as “most fertile in both cultivation and pasture.”

He also collected his observations of the local people. He described them as “destitute, without arms and completely unknown to them. They are not adapted for them… because of their timidity and terror.”

He added: “But once they realize that they’re safe and that all their fears are gone, they become very honest and generous with all they have.” “No one will refuse the asker any of his possessions; in fact they are the ones who invite us to request it.” They show us the most affection, trading valuable items for trifles and being content with nothing or the smallest thing.

Columbus wrote in his letter that he brought them “many beautiful things and pleasing things” to try and win them over. He hoped they would become Christians and loyal to Spain, and be “eager to search and gather what they are abounding in and we need greatly.”

He ends by thanking Jesus Christ and the Lord for their great victory, and calls for celebration, “not only of the exaltation our faith but also of the increase in temporal prosperity that not only Spain, but the entire Christendom, is about to enjoy.”

Columbus wrote a letter to King Ferdinand and queen Isabella of Spain in which he described his findings on the Caribbean islands as well as the people he met.

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Columbus wrote a letter to King Ferdinand and queen Isabella of Spain in which he described his findings on the Caribbean islands as well as the people he met.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

What happened to letter

Columbus’s letter was sent by ship to Rome. A prominent printer named Stephan Plannck then reprinted the document in Latin and distributed across the continent.

Plannck, by mistake, left Queen Isabella out of the introduction. He quickly realized his error and reprinted this pamphlet several days later. Plannck I, and Plannck II are the two editions.

The letter is a Plannck I. According to ICE, this makes it an “exceptionally rare” item.

ICE reports that the letter was purchased by the Marciana National Library in Venice in 1875 or thereabouts. The document was stolen between 1985-88, but the details are not given.

Unlike other recovered Columbus Letters, this Columbus Letter Plannck I had not been replaced by a forgery but rather was missing for decades from the Biblioteca nazionale Marciana, ICE added.

Investigators have determined that in May of 2003, an unknowing collector in “good faith” purchased the exact same letter at a rare books dealer in the U.S. It would be another 20 years before it made its way back to Italy.

How investigators crack the case

According to ICE, HSI Wilmington received in 2011 information regarding alleged counterfeits of Latin editions of Columbus’ letter.

HSI was able to find, seize, and return three stolen letters (all Plannck II), which had been taken from European libraries. One was returned to Florence in 2016 and the other two to Barcelona and Vatican City, in 2018.

In June 2018, HSI Wilmington and HSI Rome asked the rare book expert they had been working with — Paul Needham, a former librarian at Princeton University — to compile a full list of all known Columbus letters in Italy. They learned from this that a Plannck I was missing from the Venice collection since the 1980s.

According to ICE, “Based on the findings and analysis of the Smithsonian Institution Museum Conservation Institute staff and the rare book expert, the Plannck I Columbus Letter stolen from the Marciana National Library is likely the same Columbus Letter in a collection of a private library in the United States.”

HSI worked in conjunction with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for District of Delaware, to contact the collector and retrieve the letter. Authorities added that the collector was cooperative with the investigation.

Mark Olexa is an HSI Special Agent who has been leading the Columbus letter investigation for the last decade. a Twitter video It is “a great pleasure” for us to restore it to its proper place within the Italian government.

HSI investigations have facilitated the repatriation of more than 20,000 objects — including Nazi-looted art, Roman coins, Egyptian sarcophagi, Mongolian and Chinese dinosaur fossils and human remains — to over 40 countries and institutions since 2007, according to ICE.

It adds that in fiscal year 2022 the program will have returned cultural properties to more than fifteen countries, including France and Mali.



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