Rare Book Monthly

Articles - April - 2024 Issue

The Discovery of America catalogue of works will be offered for sale at the New York International Antiquarian Book Fair 2024

R. David Parsons assembled one of the most important collections of early explorations to the Americas and to Asia.  David passed away in 2014, and his collection was recently acquired from the Parsons family by the William Reese Company, Peter Harrington of London, James Cummins Bookseller, and Hordern House, collectively. Here’s an opportunity to see this material at the ABAA New York International Antiquarian Book Fair (NYIABF).  The fair opens on the 4th.

 

In April 1524, Giovanni da Verrazzano made history as the first European to sail into New York Harbour, marking a pivotal moment in the exploration of the Americas. To commemorate the 500th anniversary of this significant milestone, a remarkable collection of printed works and manuscripts will be unveiled at the New York Antiquarian Book Fair 2024, documenting the earliest accounts of European explorers first setting foot on the uncharted shores of the New World.

 

From the book by Waldseemüller that first named America, to the first eye-witness description of the North American mainland by Fr. Juan Diaz, the first printed description of Brazil in Vespucci’s Mundus Novus, and the famed 1513 Ptolemy, the very first atlas to contain a map of America, the collection chronicles several exceptional “firsts” from the Age of Discovery.

 

Drawn from the esteemed rare book collection of R. David Parsons (1939-2014), this unparalleled assemblage includes, in the words of Parsons himself, "the texts of seaborne discovery, exploration and settlement from the era of Columbus until that point in the first half of the nineteenth century when little remained to be discovered."

  

Many of these exceptional texts have not come to market in the last quarter century, when Parsons first began assembling his collection of rare books charting the two world-defining movements that marked the Age of Discovery: the earliest Spanish push that led to the discovery of the Americas in the West, and the earliest Portuguese voyages to the East. Also included in the collection are several pre-Columbian texts that prompted their exploratory and expansionist thinking. The Eastern Voyages from Parsons’s extensive collection are to be offered separately later this year.

  

Highlights of the Discovery of America collection, include:

  • The first published eye-witness description of the North American mainland by Fr. Juan Diaz, one of only four known copies and the only one believed to be in private hands.
  • An extremely scarce early edition of Martin Waldseemüller’s Cosmographiae, the first book to name America in print.
  • An extraordinary copy in contemporary binding of the famed 1513 Ptolemy atlas, featuring the first printed map of America.
  • The earliest obtainable document relating to Hernan Cortés and the discovery of Mexico, published in a very rare German news sheet from 1520. It precedes the 1521 account by Peter Martyr and the more widely available 1524 edition of Cortés’s second letter.
  • Vespucci’s Mundus Novus, the first published account of Brazil and the New World, and the first to describe it as such.
  • The first printed history of Mexico and the first work to name California in print, this exceedingly rare work by Francisco López de Gomára includes the first Spanish map of the American continent, the first Spanish map of the west coast of America, and the first illustration of a buffalo.
  • The Pillone set of Ramusio, adorned with painted fore edges by a pupil of Titian, including the earliest printed account of Verrazzano's “discovery” of New York harbour.
  • The first and only edition of Bernardinus Carvajal’s pivotal 1494 oration which ignited a geopolitical contest for global dominance, one of the earliest printed documents to mention the discovery of the New World.
  • Rare first edition of the first three Decades of New World historian Peter Martyr, containing the first account of the sighting of the Pacific in 1513 by Balboa.
  • A 16th century manuscript epic poem on the life of Columbus, the earliest entirely original poem inspired by the contemporary sources on his life and discoveries (circa 1550).
  • The first Latin edition of the first printed collection of voyages by Fracanzano da Montalboddo, considered after Columbus’s letter to be the most important contribution to the early history of American discovery.
  • The first complete edition of Peter Martyr’s Eight Decades. It ranks next in interest, value, and rarity to the edition of 1511 and is considered in some respects more correct than Hakluyt’s edition (Paris, 1587), which is usually considered the best.
  • Several of the earliest works on the “Columbian Exchange”, that is, works on the origins of syphilis, including a medical incunable by Joseph Grünpeck de Burckhausenn.

 

“We are honored to be entrusted with this collection by Mary Parsons and her family. These rare texts stand as witnesses to the dawn of a new era that changed the world as it was known at the time, preserving the voices of those who shaped our understanding of it. Their value lies not only in their rarity but in the profound insight they offer into a pivotal chapter of history,” says Nick Aretakis of leading Americana dealer William Reese Company. “It's our hope that these catalogues will serve as fitting tributes to the extraordinary legacy of David Parsons as a collector of early exploratory texts.”

 

Parsons was a passionate and knowledgeable figure in the rare book world. He was a board member of the John Carter Brown Library (which awards an endowed fellowship in his name) and the Folger Library, an active member of the Grolier Club, and a benefactor and supporter of a number of libraries including those of Emory University.

 

For collectors, historians, institutional curators and enthusiasts, the fair will offer an unparalleled opportunity to delve into Parsons's remarkable collection.

 

The Discovery of America collection will be jointly presented at the New York Antiquarian Book Fair 2024 by the William Reese Company (stand D15), Peter Harrington (stand B17) and James Cummins Bookseller (stand E1). All items will be offered for sale individually.

 

Littera mandata della Insula de Cuba de India in la quale se contie ne de le insule Citta Dente et animali novamente trovate de l’anno M.D.XIX. p. li Spagnoli by Juan Fr. Diaz (1520)

 

 The earliest published account of any exploration of the North American mainland, an eyewitness account of the expedition of Juan de Grijalva to the Mexican coast in 1518: an Americanum of the greatest possible interest and importance.

~

Cosmographiae introductio cum quibusdam Geometriae ac Astronomiae principiis ad earn rem necessariis, Instiper quattuor Americi Vespucii navigationes. Universalis Cosmographiae descriptio tam in solido quam plano, eis etiam insertis quae Ptholomaeo ignota, a nuperis reperta stint. by Martin Waldseemüller (1509)

 

 Extremely scarce, early edition of one of the icons of discovery literature – the work which named America. The work, first published in 1507, begins with an introduction to geography and the globe, providing definitions of basic technical terms, terrestrial and celestial zones, descriptions of the winds, and, in the final chapter, descriptions of the continents and other geographical features of the earth's surface.

~

Geographie opus novissima traductione e Greco cum archetypis castigatissime pressum. by Claudius Ptolemaeus, Martin Waldseemüller (1513)

 

 The atlas is a major Americanum as it contains the first appearance of the map of the world known as "the Admiral's map", from a cartographic source variously believed to be Columbus or, rather less probably, Vespucci. This, the first map of America to appear in an atlas, preceded in print only by the map that should accompany the 1511 Peter Martyr, of which Burden could only locate ten copies worldwide.

~

Ein Auszug ettlicher sendbrieff dem aller durchleüchtigisten grossmechtigiste[n] Fürsten und Herren Herren Carl römischen und hyspanische[n] König [et]c. by Hernan Cortés (1520)

 

 This very rare German news sheet is the sole edition of the first printed account of the discovery of Mexico, and of the Cordova expedition of 1517. Since it includes a German translation of the Vera Cruz Council’s letter to Charles V, widely attributed to Cortés, it is cited by Wagner as “the earliest known printed account” of Cortés’s expedition.

~

Mundus Novus. by Amerigo Vespucci (1504)

   

 Vespucci's first published work about his American voyages. A rare and important Americanum by the man after whom the Americas would be named. The letter to Vespucci’s patron Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de Medici describes his voyage along the coast of Brazil carried out in the service of King Emmanuel of Portugal between May 1501 and September 1502.

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Primera y segunda parte dela historia general de las Indias con todo el descubrimiento y coas nota bles que han acaccido dende que se ganaron ata el ano de 1551. Con la co[n]quista de Mexico y de la Nueva Espana. by Francisco López de Gomára (1553)

   

 One of the most important early chronicles of the Spanish conquest of the New World, López de Gomára’s work is one of the two chief accounts of Cortés’ conquest of Mexico. He served as Cortés’ secretary and chaplain and made use of his position to gather information relating to the extraordinary exploits surrounding the overthrow of the Aztec empire.

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Delle Navigationi et Viaggi...in Tre Volume divise. by Giovanni Battista Ramusio (1550)

    

 A unique and beautiful set of the first scholarly voyage collection assembled in the 16th century, one of the first in a modern language, with more maps and illustrations than any prior anthology, containing accounts not previously published, and here in a highly personalized copy, with bespoke fore-edge decoration created for one of the most noteworthy private collections of Northern Italy during the 16th century.

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Oratio super praestanda solenni obedientia Sanctissimo D.N. Alexandro Papae vi ex parte Christianissimorum dominor Fernandi & Helisabe Regis & Regina Hispaniae. by Bernardinus Carvajal (1493)

    

 Exceedingly scarce first and only edition of one of the earliest printed documents to mention the discovery of the New World – a mere four months after Columbus’s return from his first voyage – the work is a lynchpin in the geopolitical contest between Spain and Portugal over the division of the newly discovered lands, and a foundational document in providing a justification for the usurpation of these territories by Spain. 

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De Orbe Novo Decades. by Pietro Martire d'Anghiera [Peter Martyr] (1516)

    

 Rare first edition, first issue, of the first three Decades of Peter Martyr, containing the accounts of Columbus’ voyages, the first printed account of the expedition of Sebastien Cabot to North America, and the first account of the 1513 sighting of the Pacific Ocean by Vasco Nunez de Balboa. A cornerstone Americanum of supreme importance and rarity and among the earliest obtainable editions of any of Martyr’s famed Decades.

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Manuscript poem in Italian, being a long biographical account of Columbus (1550)

 

 The only known copy of this long biographical account of Columbus, it is the earliest poetical work in vernacular inspired by the contemporary sources on his life and discoveries. An extraordinary survival, the anonymous epic poem is composed in ottava rima by a skilled versifier and follows the Renaissance model of Boccaccio, Boiardo, Pulci, and Ariosto.

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Itinerarium Portugallensium e Lusitania in Indiam et in de in Occidentem et demum ad aquilonem. by Fracanzano da Montalboddo (1508)

   

  First Latin edition of the first printed collection of voyages, written by Francanzano (aka Fracanzio) da Montalboddo, and considered “after Columbus’s letter the most important contribution to the early history of American discovery”. This copy with the second state woodcut map on the titlepage naming the Arabian Gulf.

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De Orbe Novo Petri Martyris ab Angleria Mediolanen sis Protonotaij C[a]esaris senatoris decades by Pietro Martire d'Anghiera [Peter Martyr] (1530)

   Very rare first edition of all eight of Peter Martyr's Decades, the indispensable source for the discovery period by the first historian of the New World. An intimate of Columbus and contemporary of Vasco da Gama, Cortes, Magellan, Cabot, and Vespucci, Martyr had access to numerous firsthand voyage accounts and became the foremost chronicler of the discovery of the New World.

~

Tractatus de pestilentiali Scorra sive mala de Franzos Originem Remediaque eiusdem continens co[m]pilatus a vene rabili. by Joseph Grünpeck de Burckhausenn (1496)

    

Perhaps the earliest global epidemic, cases arrived in Europe with the return of Columbus from his first voyage in 1493 and quickly spread among the army of Charles VIII after the French king invaded Naples. Although over the years some have doubted the Columbian exchange theory as to the origin of the epidemic, modern genetic analysis has all but confirmed the American origins.

 

Questions?  Contact Nick Aretakis at nick@reeseco.com or amorder@reeseco.com or Jeremy Markowitz at jeremy@jamescumminsbookseller.com

Rare Book Monthly

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    Swann, Apr. 11: Lot 45: Book of Hours in Latin, Use of Rome, illuminated with miniatures, Lyon, circa 1475-1500. $40,000 to $60,000.

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