The Parsons Collection of the Discovery of America from Four Booksellers

- by Michael Stillman

The Parsons Collection of the Discovery of America from Four Booksellers

A group of booksellers joined together to purchase the collection of the late R. David Parsons of Atlanta. Parsons, an actuary, was well-along in life when he began serious book collecting. He focused on voyages and travel, and put together a magnificent collection of early explorations. The travels covered in this part of his collection were those that went from Europe west. We know that what they found there was America, but in the earliest voyages, they didn't know what the would find, let alone calling it “America.” The land's namesake, Amerigo Vespucci, is found in the catalogue, as are accounts of the man who preceded him there, Christopher Columbus.


The four dealers who have combined forces to offer books from the Parsons collection are the William Reese Company, Peter Harrington, James Cummins Bookseller, and Hordern House. They come from America, England, and Australia. The title of the catalogue is The Discovery of America. The Parsons Collection. These are some selections from this catalogue of travels and discoveries to the west.


Amerigo Vespucci made as many as four voyages to what he called the “New World,” now known as America, between 1497-1503. There is some debate over whether he actually made that many or whether his accounts were written by him, though much appears to be true. His explorations took him to South America and he was first to find Brazil. His writings were extremely popular in Europe as people wanted to learn more about this new world but there were few sources of information available. This is a copy of Mundus Novus, published in Rome in 1504. This is considered to be the fourth Latin edition. Vespucci spent almost a month onshore and wrote about the natives. He described them as naked cannibals wearing colorful ornaments in perforated ears, noses, and lips. He offered many details about the people, places, customs, food, animals and plants. The name “America” was given to this new land on Martin Waldseemuller's 1507 map. Waldseemuller later dropped Amerigo's name as the name of this new land on later maps as he no longer considered him the discoverer, but it was too late. “America” stuck. Item 5. Priced at $425,000.


Columbus' journey set off a series of explorations to points both west and east. Fifteen years later, in 1508, Fracanzano da Montalboddo had enough material to publish a collection of voyages. Item 7 is Itinerarium Portugallensium e Lusitania in Indiam et inde in occidentem et demum ad aquilonem (the voyage of the Portuguese from Lusitania to India and thence to the west and finally to the north), published in 1508. It is the first collection of voyages ever published and is considered one of the most important and influential books concerning early America and other lands. This is a first Latin edition. Outside of a couple of trips along northwestern Africa, the voyages are from Columbus' journey to 15 years later. It includes Columbus, Vespucci, da Gama, and others. It contains the first map of Africa showing the entire continent surrounded by water. Item 7. $550,000.


This is a Ptolemaic atlas published by cartographer Martin Waldseemuller in 1513. The title is Geographie Opus Novissima Traductione E Greco Cum Archetypis Castigatissime Pressum: Ceteris Ante Lucubratorum Multo Prestantius (a work of geography with the newest translation from the Greek, with the architecture of the best press: much more excellent than the others before). It is the first atlas, and only second printed book, with a map of America. It contains 27 maps from the Ulm Ptolemy of 1482 plus 20 new ones, including America, unknown at the time of the earlier atlas. One shows part of eastern South America along with the islands of Isabella and Spagnolla (Cuba and Hispaniola). This is known as the “Admirals's map,” the description of which makes it most likely to be Columbus' map, though Vespucci is a less likely possibility. A second map shows more of the same area plus the southeastern portion of North America. It contains 60 place names. At this point, Waldseemuller had stopped using Amerigo Vespucci's name as the name of this new world, calling it “Terra Incognita” instead. Item 11. $1,250,000.


Next is Praeclara Ferdina[n]di. Cortesii de Noua maris Oceani Hyspania Narratio (The excellent Ferdinand. Cortes's Narrative of the New Sea of the Ocean of Spain). This is a collection of three works, Cortes' second and third letters, plus Peter Martyr's De Rebus, an account of the Spanish conquest of New Spain. The map, which is “nearly always lacking,” includes a plan of the Aztec capital before Cortes destroyed it. It is the first plan of an American city, and the map is the first accurate delineation of the Gulf of Mexico and is the first to use the name “Florida.” The second letter describes Cortes' march to Tenochtitlan and the people he encountered on the way. The third letter describes the city's destruction and the end of the Aztec empire. Martyr's book provides some of the information from the lost first letter. Item 26. $650,000.


Who could be better suited to write the story of the life of Christopher Columbus than his son? This book is Historie del S. D. Fernando Colombo; nelle quali s'ha particolare, & vera relatione della vita, & de fatti dell'Ammiraglio D. Cristoforo Colombo, suo padre (History of S. D. Fernando Colombo; in which there is particular, & true relation of the life & deeds of Admiral D. Cristoforo Colombo, his father). It was written by Fernando Columbus and published in 1571. Fernando was only four years old when Columbus undertook his first voyage, but Fernando accompanied him on his fourth and final journey. It is the only source of some of the information we know about Christopher Columbus, and as such is an important document of American history. Item 49. $17,500.


You can reach the William Reese Company at 203-789-8081 or