Stolen Letter Describing Columbus Voyage Is Returned to Italy after discovery in US
Stolen Letter Describing Columbus Voyage Is Returned to Italy after discovery in US

Stolen letter describing columbus voyage is returned to Italy after discovery in US, Report

Italy has found a stolen letter written by Christopher Columbus in which the famous explorer announces his discovery of the Americas.

A precious copy of a letter written by Christopher Columbus in 1493 regarding his discovery of the New World, which had been stolen from a library in Florence, has now been returned to Italy by the US after it was found in the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.

Historians say Columbus wrote the original document during a storm on his return trip from the Caribbean to Spain. He put the letter in a wooden cask and tossed it overboard. It has never been recovered.

He wrote a copy of that letter for the King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain.

The Osher Map Library at the University has the Basel edition of the Columbus letter. Dr. Harold Osher purchased the letter in 1996. It is one of only two copies in the Northeast. The other is in the New York Public Library.

“Everyone knows 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. This was made [two] years later,” said Osher Map Library director Ian Fowler. “It’s often correlated — for people in literature — to Shakespeare’s First Folio.”

The Basel edition was printed in Switzerland. The copy at the OML is one of 80 surviving copies of the 3000 printed.

It is the first edition to feature maps, according to Fowler, and it written in Latin.

“These are the first images of the area Columbus found,” said Fowler. “It’s a vital letter for the history of the discovery of the Caribbean, Central South America and North America. It really launches the entire enterprise.”

Fowler said Columbus’ documentation of the economic advantages of the New World — the gold, the cotton, the spices — encouraged Europeans to conduct future voyages westward.

One unique aspect of the copy at the OML, is that it is available to the public.

“That’s rare, especially for items of this importance,” said Fowler. “It’s still kind of breathtaking every time you pull one out and are actually able to interact with it and learn from it.”

It is extremely delicate because the pages are made of cotton. Fowler said he must wash his hands before touching it, because it is unsafe to wear gloves.

“The fibers in the glove can get caught in the fibers of the paper,” said Fowler.

He also said the gloves can get caught in the holes made by bookworms, causing potential tears.

“One of the great ways to tell if you have an authentic copy of an old, cotton-paged book is to see that the worm holes line up,” said Fowler. Obviously, the holes in this book line up.

Gloves can also prevent the handler from knowing how gently (or not gently) they are holding or turning a page, which could also rip this very valuable document.

The book is kept in a temperature and light-controlled room, but is still available for people to see.

“It’s really here through Doctor Osher’s vision and the purpose of the University of Southern Maine to provide resources to the public and to our students,” said Fowler.


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