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Secrets of the Archives: The ‘Columbus Letter’

By December 20, 2023June 14th, 2024No Comments

In this installment of “Secrets of the Archives” from the University of Minnesota Libraries, Marguerite Ragnow discusses with host Tim Johnson the “Columbus Letter,” a version of which is owned by the James Ford Bell Library at the University of Minnesota.

The letter was published in Rome by German printer Stephan Plannck in April or May of 1493. It is the first printing of Latin translation of the letter, which was originally written in Spanish. It was addressed to Gabriel Sanchez, treasurer of the Kingdom of Aragon under Ferdinand and Isabella, who financed Columbus’ first voyage across the Atlantic in 1492. It reports Columbus’ discoveries in the west, declaring that he has found the “Indian Sea” and innumerable islands, which he believed were the Spice Islands, the East Indies.

Our edition at the University of Minnesota is known as “Plannck I” — it was revised and reprinted almost immediately due to errors in the preface, which included incorrect names, including the wrong first name of Sanchez, and left out attribution to Queen Isabella.

Columbus’ letter not only gives us insight into both his sense of his own accomplishments and the manner in which he “spun” them for his financial backers, but it also inspired a host of other men and countries to sail west across the Atlantic in search of fortune and fame.

About Tim Johnson and Marguerite Ragnow

Tim Johnson is host of Secrets of the Archives and curator of both the University of Minnesota’s Sherlock Holmes Collections and its Rare Books Collection. Marguerite Ragnow is curator of the James Ford Bell Library at the University of Minnesota Libraries.

Mark Engebretson

Author Mark Engebretson

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