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Missing for 30-Plus Years, $1.3M Columbus Letter Found

Copy of note sent to Spain's King Ferdinand was stolen from Italy in the '80s
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 24, 2020 6:33 AM CST
Stock photo.   (Getty Images/bdsklo)

(Newser) – In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue; in 1493, he wrote a letter about his trip across the sea to Spain's King Ferdinand, and two editions of it were printed to spread across Europe. Only about 30 copies of the first edition of the Plannck I letter still exist, and one has been missing for more than 30 years after it was stolen from a library in Venice, Italy—until now. Per the News Journal, the US Attorney's Office in Delaware and investigators from the Department of Homeland Security have announced the recovery of that long-lost letter, said to be worth up to $1.3 million, from a private collector. Authorities say it was taken from the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana sometime between 1985 and 1989; it wasn't seen from again until about 2005, when rare books expert Paul Needham was asked to examine it.

The letter hadn't been reported missing yet, so Needham forgot about it—until 2018, when he found out the letter he'd seen might be the stolen Columbus letter. He contacted authorities, and the owner—who bought the letter from a rare book dealer in 2003—turned it over. "The American owner really did the right thing," Needham tells CNN, which reports a Delaware court ordered the letter returned to Venice. This is the fourth copy of the letter to be recovered in four years: In 2016, a version was found at the Library of Congress and returned to a library in Florence, while in 2018, two other stolen copies were discovered and returned to a Spanish library and a library in Vatican City. It's still not clear how the most recent letter made its way into the US. (Read more Christopher Columbus stories.)

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