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A Stolen Christopher Columbus Letter Found in Delaware Returns to Italy Decades Later

By: Elliott Chu

In a private Delaware library, a Christopher Columbus letter reappeared in 2008 after decades of disappearance. This letter was a reprinted Latin version of the original letter. Christopher Columbus wrote this letter to Spain’s King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella to tell them what he found in the New World.

“I discovered many islands inhabited by numerous people,” he wrote, according to an English translation. “I took possession of all of them for out most fortunate King by making public proclamation and unfurling his standard, no one making any resistance.” He also wrote that there was fertile land and fresh water, and that he traded the Native Americans pleasant things exchange for their land.

Columbus’s letter was sent to Rome, where a printer named Stephan Plannck reprinted it in Latin and distributed it around the world. The Marciana National Library in Italy acquired an original copy of the letter sometime around 1875. The document was stolen between 1985 and 1988.

HSI Wilmington, a detective, received information in 2011 regarding alleged forgeries of several Latin editions of the Columbus letter. HIS found three stolen letters and returned them to Florence, Barcelona, and Vatican City. HSI Wilmington asked Paul Needham, a rare book expert, to compile a full list of all known Columbus letters in Italy. That’s how he learned that a Columbus letter was missing from the Venice library since the 1980s. HSI Wilmington found out that the Columbus letter stolen from the Maciana National Library was likely the same Columbus letter in the collection of a privately owned library located in the US.

Italian officials were more than happy to bring this letter back to Italy. HSI Wilmington worked with the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Delaware to contact the collector and recover the letter. The collector cooperated with the investigation. HSI investigations have also found more than 20,000 objects, including art, coins, fossils, and human remains; they returned these to the countries that they belong to.

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