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A stolen Christopher Columbus letter found in Delaware returns to Italy decades later

By: Gabby Zhou

In 1988, a letter penned by Cristopher Columbus was reported missing from the Marciana National Library in Venice. For over ten years, Homeland Security Investigators have collaborated with international partners to investigate the disappearance of this rare 15th century Columbus letter. It was finally found in 2020.

Columbus wrote this letter in 1493 to his patrons, Spain's King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, describing his findings in the Americas. As NPR reported, “the letter was sent to Rome and reprinted in Latin as a pamphlet that ended up in libraries across Europe.” NPR, 2023

This particular document is the rarest of all the others found. It is estimated to have a worth of $1.3 million.

Columbus set sail from Spain in August 1492, looking for an all-water route to Asia. He made it to the Caribbean and spent several months exploring the islands. Some of which include Juana (modern-day Cuba), and Hispaniola (which is now split into Haiti and the Dominican Republic). He left dozens of men back in present-day Haiti to build a new civilization. During this time, he kidnapped about 25 Native Americans back to Spain. Only 8 survived. “Upon his arrival in Spain, Columbus wrote a letter in Spanish to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, who had helped fund his voyage, informing them of what — and who — he had found in the Americas.” NPR, 2023

Furthermore, there are two different versions of the letter. Columbus’ letter was addressed to Rome. A prominent printer named Stephan Plannck reprinted this letter in Latin and distributed it around the continent. Plannck left Queen Isabella’s name out of the first few copies. He quickly realized this mistake and fixed it for the rest. The two versions are Plannck I and Plannck II. The letter found is Plannck I, a rarer version, and therefore, is worth more.

Now back in Italy, the letter will be featured in a traveling exhibition. Gennaro Sangiuliano, the country’s culture minister, announced the exhibit on Twitter. Today, many can see the letter back in Italy.

The return of this letter has also been very important evidence for historians to find the purpose of Columbus’ missions. From the letters, it was very evident that he wanted the land and slaves to find new and valuable resources on the land.

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