Columbus Letter Achieves World Record at Bonhams

image.jpgNew York−The September 26 sale of Fine Books and Manuscripts including Exploration and Travel achieved US$1,377,250 and the top lot of the sale was The Christopher Columbus Letter on the Discovery of America, which realized $751,500, a world auction record for a Christopher Columbus letter.

About The Columbus Letter: The Columbus Letter on the discovery of America, the Menzies copy described by Joseph Sabin in 1876, is of the greatest rarity. According to American Book Prices Current only four copies of this Basel edition sold at auction in the past 80 years. Of Plannck's Rome, 1493 edition, the only other obtainable edition, only three copies sold in the past 80 years. For the first edition published in Barcelona in 1493 and the first illustrated edition published in Basel 1493 only a single copy of each edition is recorded in institutional hands.

Second illustrated edition. "The 'Columbus Letter,' as it is commonly called, described at first hand what is undoubtedly the most momentous of all voyages of discovery. The existence of an American continent was now made common knowledge and history was reoriented. An immense impetus was given to the rise of capitalism, both the exploitation of the riches of America and by providing a new outlet for European trade. The center of political and economic power was shifted from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic seaboard, resulting in the great westward migration from the old world to the new" (PMM).

"Christopher Columbus's 1493 announcement of the success of his voyage westward across the Atlantic Ocean quickly became one of the earliest 'best sellers' of European publishing. No less than eleven editions were published in 1493! They were issued across western Europe, in Spain, Italy, France, Switzerland, and the Netherlands. Six more editions were published in 1494-97. They are however all quite rare today; several of the editions survive in only a single copy; in total there are no more than 80 extant copies of all the editions" (Osher Map Library).

This important edition is made all the more significant through the combination of text and woodcut illustrations attributed to a Swiss artist. The very same blocks used to illustrate the first Basel edition of 1493, which is known in only one complete copy, now at the New York Public Library, were used to make these impressions. The five woodcut illustrations of the Columbus letter are: 1. A depiction of Columbus landing in a small boat, from a galleon in the foreground, on the island of "Insula Hyspana." Groups of natives stand on the shore. 2. The first map depicting a part of America illustrates Columbus's ships among the West Indian islands of Fernanda, Hyspana, Ysabella, Saluatorie, and Conceptionis Maria. 3. The building of a fort along the coast, "Insula hyspana" in the background. 4.The crowned arms of Spain. 5. Columbus's galleon, "Oceanica Classis," in full sail. 6. A portrait of Ferdinand II of Aragon appears on the title page of the first text.

The beginning of the Columbus letter, addressed to Gabriel Sanchez, Treasurer General of the kingdom of Aragon and translated from Spanish into Latin by Leandro di Cosco reads: "The Discovered Islands. Letter of Christopher Columbus, to whom our age owes much, concerning the islands recently discovered in the Indian sea. For the search of which, eight months before, he was sent under the auspices and the cost of the most invincible Ferdinand, king of Spain." The letter is preceded by a drama by Carolus Verardus celebrating the capture of Granada, during the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella, with signature bb missing. "In all other respects it is a most superior copy and a volume of extreme rarity" (Sabin in his 1876 description of this copy). The account of the most famous voyages ever undertaken is one of the greatest high points of book collecting that can be obtained. BMC III,794; BSB-Ink V-77; Church 8; Goff V-125; GW M49579; HC 15942; Sabin 98923; See PMM 35 (first edition, Barcelona, 1493, known in only one copy at the New York Public Library); Wilberforce Eames, The Letter of Columbus on the Discovery of America. New York, 1892. See Osher Map Library, "The Diffusion of Columbus's Letter through Europe, 1493-1497 (online); "Treasures of the New York Public Library" (online); Herbert Reichner, Philobiblion, "Boise Penrose" volume 4, 1931, p 379-384.

 

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