Stolen Columbus Letter Returned to Spain

743px-Portrait_of_a_Man,_Said_to_be_Christopher_Columbus.jpgAn extremely rare 1493 letter from Christopher Columbus to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain was returned last month to Spain after the United States Justice Department uncovered a clever bit of forgery. The letter, in which Columbus described his first impressions of the Americas, was formally returned to Spain in a June repatriation ceremony. The letter was stolen sometime before November of 2005 from the National Library of Catalonia in Barcelona and replaced with a near-perfect fake. The original was subsquently sold for $1 million by two Italian rare book dealers in late 2005.


A seven-year investigation by Homeland Security and the US Attorney in Delaware, operating on a public tip, successfully tracked the letter to a private collector who agreed to surrender possession of the letter after “extensive negotiations.” Experts subsequently deemed the letter, “beyond all doubt,” to be the original. The thief replaced the original letter with an extremely convincing fake, a fact uncovered after experts subsquently visited the National Library of Catalonia to examine the letter in its possession. The letter was then returned to Spain in the June repatriation ceremony, held at the residence of the Spanish ambassador.


U.S. Attorney David C. Weiss said in a prepared statement, “The recovery of this Plannck II Columbus Letter on behalf of the Spanish government exemplifies not only the significance of federal agency partnerships in these complicated investigations, but the close coordination that exists between American and foreign law enforcement agencies.  We are truly honored to return this historically important document back to Spain - its rightful owner.”


More details are available in an official US Attorney press release here.


[Image from Wikipedia]





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