WILMINGTON, Delaware, USA (AP) – Federal agents of the United States recovered a copy made more than 500 years ago of a letter from Christopher Columbus, which had disappeared decades ago from an Italian library.
The federal prosecutor’s office in Delaware and researchers from the Department of Homeland Security specialists in the recovery of rare books and stolen historical artifacts announced the finding on Wednesday. The letter is one of several dozen printed copies of the original handwritten letter of Columbus, dated April 1493 and reprinted in Latin by Roman printer Stephan Plannck.
It is the fourth similar recovery in recent years. Upon the complaint of an expert in rare books, the researchers determined that several copies of Columbus’s letter had been stolen from European libraries without their managers knowing. They said that the most recent finding – “Carta Colón Plannck I”, which recounts the discoveries of Columbus in America_ was the rarest of the four.
The letter, with an estimated value of 1.3 million dollars, was found in the possession of an unidentified private collector who was ordered to deliver it to the Marciana Nazionale Library in Venice, Italy. The researchers, in collaboration with the Police Command for the Protection of Italian Cultural Heritage, determined that the collector acted “in good faith” by buying the letter from a seller of rare books in the United States in 2003.
Plannck’s first edition of the letter addressed by Columbus to King Ferdinand of Aragon is exceptionally rare, the federal prosecutor’s office said in a statement, Plannck also printed the second edition of a letter addressed by Columbus to the Catholic kings, Fernando and Isabel. They were published to spread the discoveries of Columbus from 1492.
The Venetian library acquired a copy of the first edition of Plannck around 1875 and investigators believe it was stolen more than 100 years later, in the 1980s, the prosecution said. Unlike other thefts, this letter was not replaced by a counterfeit copy.
The buyer, who had her authenticated by an expert from Princeton University, said he agreed to hand it over to the authorities and the document will soon arrive at the library in Venice.