Rare Book Monthly

Articles - March - 2020 Issue

Another Stolen Columbus Letter Returned from America to its Rightful European Owner

7b08a6fb-fe8d-459b-9cf5-cc62c9d62f1a

The stolen Columbus Letter (U.S. Attorney Delaware photo).

In what seems to have become a distressingly common occurrence, yet another stolen Columbus Letter has made the journey over and back from Europe to America in recent years. This is the fourth time since 2016 a Columbus Letter stolen from an Italian or Spanish library has been discovered in America and returned to its rightful owner. That now equals the number of journeys of discovery Christopher Columbus himself made to the Americas. This particular copy was stolen from the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana in Venice. Unlike the previous three, no forgery was placed on the shelf to disguise the theft. It was just taken.

 

As generations of American children know, Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492. He returned the following a year with a letter for the King and Queen of Spain recounting his discoveries. Printings were made of that letter to tell others in Europe of the news, but the print runs were short. Of the various editions printed in the ensuing years, only about 80 copies are known to still exist. The Marciana was a special one, being a first edition, known as a Plannck I. It is the first edition printed by Stephan Plannck and is distinguishable from a Plannck II in that it is addressed to just King Ferdinand, while the second edition is addressed to both the King and Queen Isabella. The Plannck I has been estimated to be worth $1.3 million.

 

According to the U. S. Attorney's Office, District of Delaware, the Marciana Library acquired this Columbus Letter in or around 1875. It was stolen sometime between 1985-1988. If they know who took it, or where it was between then and 2003, they have not let on. In May of 2003, it was sold by an American dealer to a “good faith” collector. The names of these individuals were not released either. It is not surprising the buyer was in the dark as the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana had not even reported the letter missing at this time.

 

In 2019, authorities in the U.S. were contacted by their counterparts in Italy who suspected this was the Marciana copy. They requested the collector submit the letter to inspection by Dr. Paul Needham of Princeton University, an expert on the subject. The collector agreed to the inspection. Using information supplied by Italian authorities, including sewing marks, Dr. Needham determined that this was the Marciana copy. The collector voluntary released any claims to title of the letter.

 

Other copies of the Columbus letter recently returned from America to rightful European owners include a copy held by Mary Parsons, widow of David Parsons of Atlanta, who innocently purchased his copy in 2004 in New York. That copy was returned to the Vatican Library in 2018. That same year another copy was returned to the Library of Catalonia in Spain. In 2016, a copy held by the U.S. Library of Congress was returned to a library in Florence, Italy.


Posted On: 2020-03-01 20:45
User Name: JohnWindle

Most librarians, collectors, and dealers are appalled that no one has been named in these criminal acts whereas the recently convicted librarian and bookseller in Pittsburgh were named almost at once as were a few other prominent criminals from other major Cities in the US, England, France, Italy, etc. The cone of silence and the large legal fees protecting the guilty makes a joke of the. guarantee that the ABAA/ILAB Fairs are vetted. Caveat emptor indeed and Marino Massimo De Caro, who now stands accused of stealing thousands of volumes, including centuries-old editions of Aristotle, Descartes, Galileo and Machiavelli working closely with very well established dealers has as part of his plea deal promised to reveal the dealers he brokered with and where the books and the money went. Stay tuned...


Rare Book Monthly

  • <center><b>Sotheby’s<br>Collection of a Connoisseur:<br>History in Manuscript, Part 2<br>27 April 2021</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s, through Apr. 27:</b><br>Ronald Reagan. Series of 37 letters to Senator George Murphy, and related material, 1968-90. £50,000 to £70,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, through Apr. 27:</b><br>Chaim Weizmann. Autograph letter signed, to General Sir Gilbert Clayton, 6 September 1918. £20,000 to £30,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, through Apr. 27:</b><br>Sir Winston Churchill. Autograph letter signed, to Pamela, Lady Lytton, 1942. £20,000 to $30,000.
    <center><b>Sotheby’s<br>Collection of a Connoisseur:<br>History in Manuscript, Part 2<br>27 April 2021</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s, through Apr. 27:</b><br>Oscar Wilde. Five autograph letters signed, to Alsager Vian, 1887. £15,000 to £20,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, through Apr. 27:</b><br>Napoleon I. Letter signed to Admiral Ganteaume, ordering the invasion of England, 22 August 1805. £10,000 to £15,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, through Apr. 27:</b><br>Horatio, Viscount Nelson, and Emma Hamilton. Two autograph letter signed, to Catherine and George Matcham, 1805. £6,000 to £8,000.
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Frances Palmer, <i>Battle of Buena Vista,</i> chromolithograph, New York, 1847. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Antonio Colmenero de Ledesma, the earliest publication concerned solely with chocolate, first edition, Madrid, 1631. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Romans Bernard, <i>An Exact View of the Late Battle at Charlestown, June 17th, 1775,</i> engraving, 1776. $40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> <i>A Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre in Boston,</i> English edition, London, 1770. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> William Soule, <i>Lodge of the Plains Indians,</i> albumen print, 1872. $1,500 to $2,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Manuscript document to enforce New York’s “Agreement of Non-Importation” during the heyday of the Sons of Liberty, New York, 1769. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Clarence Mackenzie, <i>Drummer Boy of the 13th Regiment of Brooklyn,</i> salt print with applied color, 1861. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Moses Lopez, <i>A Lunar Calendar,</i> first Jewish calendar published in America, Newport, RI, 1806. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b><br>The Book of Mormon, first edition, Palmyra, 1830. $30,000 to $40,000.
  • <center><b>Doyle<br>Stage & Screen<br>Auction April 28</b>
    <b>Doyle, Stage & Screen:</b> Lot 12. OKLAHOMA! Celeste Holm's vocal score for Oklahoma! inscribed by Richard Rodgers. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Doyle, Stage & Screen:</b> Lot 20. WILSON, DOOLEY. Fine inscribed photograph to Celeste Holm with Casablanca reference. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Doyle, Stage & Screen:</b> Lot 79. Original production script of the Broadway musical CATS with notes written by Claude Tessier. $600 to $900.
    <center><b>Doyle<br>Stage & Screen<br>Auction April 28</b>
    <b>Doyle, Stage & Screen:</b> Lot 139. STEPHEN SONDHEIM. Autographed musical manuscript signed for "Broadway Baby" from Follies. $500 to $800.
    <b>Doyle, Stage & Screen:</b> Lot 180.<br>Cecil Beaton. Headdress for Liza at the Ball, from My Fair Lady, circa 1962. $700 to $900.
    <b>Doyle, Stage & Screen:</b> Lot 177.<br>Cecil Beaton. Set Design for The Gainsborough Girls, 1951. $2,000 to $3,000.
  • <b>Old World Auctions (April 28):</b><br>Lot 54. Fanciful engraving of earth's interior with magma core and errupting volcanoes (1682). $1500 to $1800.
    <b>Old World Auctions (April 28):</b><br>Lot 165. Rare state of Jefferys' influential map of New England in contemporary color (1755). $8000 to $9500.
    <b>Old World Auctions (April 28):</b><br>Lot 177. Mouzon's foundation map of the Carolinas (1775). $10000 to $13000.
    <b>Old World Auctions (April 28):</b><br>Lot 183. Very rare first state of De Fer's map of the Lower Mississippi Valley (1715). $20000 to $25000.
    <b>Old World Auctions (April 28):</b><br>Lot 253. Scarce Scottish edition based on Ellicott's plan of Washington, D.C. (1796). $2400 to $3000.
    <b>Old World Auctions (April 28):</b><br>Lot 313. Stunning view of Philadelphia by John Bachmann (1850). $3250 to $4250.
    <b>Old World Auctions (April 28):</b><br>Lot 338. Rare Civil War map based on Bucholtz map of Virginia (1862). $9500 to $12000.
    <b>Old World Auctions (April 28):</b><br>Lot 667. First map to accurately show Luzon in Philippines (1590). $6000 to $7500.
    <b>Old World Auctions (April 28):</b><br>Lot 682. Rare map of Shanghai International Settlement published just after WWI (1918). $7000 to $9000.
    <b>Old World Auctions (April 28):</b><br>Lot 738. Coronelli's superb map of the Pacific showing the Island of California (1697) Est. $2400 - $3000
    <b>Old World Auctions (April 28):</b><br>Lot 743. A cornerstone piece in the mapping of Australia and New Zealand (1726) Est. $6000 - $7500
    <b>Old World Auctions (April 28):</b><br>Lot 781. An uncommon signature during Jefferson's Governorship of Virginia (1779) Est. $9500 - $11000

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions