The United States has returned to Italy a letter written by Christopher Columbus in 1493 about his discovery of the New World that was stolen from a Florence library and unwittingly acquired by the Library of Congress.
The letter, an 8-page litany of Columbus’ impressions about the people, flora and fauna of the Americas that he had sent to Spain’s King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, had been replaced at Florence’s Riccardiana library with a forgery that no one noticed until a few years ago.
The original, meanwhile, had been sold to a rare book collector in Switzerland in 1990, then purchased by another collector at a Christie’s auction in 1992 in New York.
It was finally bequeathed to the Library of Congress in 2004 by the estate of its final owner, Italian and US officials said.
“Five hundred years later, it did the same trip (as Columbus), round-trip,” Italian Culture Minister Dario Franceschini told a press conference in Rome with the U.S. ambassador by his side to announce the letter’s return.
US Ambassador John Phillips declined to identify the estate that gave the letter to the Library of Congress.
The auction price was €400,000 but Italy’s carabinieri art squad estimates its true value at €1 million.
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