Recent Publications | August 15, 2014

Facsimile Edition of Columbus’s “Book of Privileges” Is Published

The earliest manuscript reference to the New World is the centerpiece of a facsimile edition published by Levenger Press in association with the Library of Congress.

"Christopher Columbus Book of Privileges: The Claiming of a New World" contains the first authorized facsimile of the Library’s copy of the royal charters, writs, grants and papal letters that comprise Columbus’s "Book of Privileges." An assemblage of legal documents between King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain and Christopher Columbus, the "Book of Privileges" laid the foundation for the exploration and conquest of the New World, irrevocably changing the course of the Americas’ history.

The Library of Congress owns one of only four principal copies of the "Book of Privileges," and the only one to contain the Papal Bull Dudum siquidem, the four- page letter that Pope Alexander VI composed on Sept. 26, 1493, which is thought by some scholars to contain the first written reference to a New World.

The papal letter is among the 91 full-size, full-color facsimile pages bound into the book. In addition, the pages of the letter have been printed on four loose sheets that are pocketed inside. A translation of the papal bull, which was authenticated in the 1930s, is included.

John W. Hessler provided the translation and is one of the book’s three authors, together with Chet Van Duzer and Daniel De Simone. In essays accompanying the facsimile, each author focuses on a different aspect of the "Book of Privileges."

Hessler examines the structure of medieval and Renaissance law on which the Book of Privileges is based, explaining how the documents would have been written and, just as significant, how they would have been read. In addition, Hessler translates key passages from the documents.

Van Duzer also translates key sections and provides geographic context—including why, given the cartographic knowledge of the time, Columbus was convinced he had reached Asia.

De Simone discusses the bibliographic resources pertaining to Columbus that the Library of Congress has amassed and the role that the "Book of Privileges" plays in them. He also recounts how the Library acquired its rare copy of the work, which narrowly escaped a fire.

Hessler is curator of the Jay I. Kislak Collection for the Archaeology and History of the Early Americas at the Library. De Simone, Librarian at the Folger Library, is the former curator of the Library’s Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection. The Kislak and Rosenwald Collections are housed at the Library’s Rare Book and Special Collections Division. Van Duzer is an invited research scholar at the John Carter Brown Library in Providence, R.I. This publication is among special projects he has worked on for the Library’s Geography and Map Division.

‘Columbus’s Book of Privileges’ is one of the Library’s rare treasures that few are able to see firsthand. Having this facsimile puts this important part of America’s history in the hands of many more people," says Margaret E. Wagner of the Library’s Publishing Office.

Levenger Press printed the book in the U.S. to rigorous production standards that include a Smythe-sewn binding and archival-quality paper, both to ensure the book’s longevity. The 184-page hardcover book is available for $89 from Levenger starting Aug. 22, or call 800-544-0880) and in the Library of Congress Shop, 10 First St. S.E., Washington, D.C., 20540-4985. Credit-card orders are taken at (888) 682-3557.

The Library will debut "Christopher Columbus Book of Privileges: The Claiming of a New World" at the Library of Congress National Book Festival. The event, which is free and open to the public, will be held from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 30 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. The authors will discuss the book at 3:30 p.m,. in the Library of Congress Pavilion, on the second floor of the convention center. For a complete schedule, go to

The authors also will discuss the book at noon on Oct. 28 in the Mary Pickford Theater in the Library’s James Madison Memorial Building.

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