Nobody realized anything! For years, the priceless original – kept at the National Library of Catalonia of Barcelona (Spain) – of a letter sent by Christopher Columbus to the Catholic monarchs Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon, announcing his discovery of the unsuspected lands of the New World (1492), had been surreptitiously replaced… by a fake! The original version of the “Epistola Cristophori Colom of Insulis Indiae supra Gangem nuper inventis” (The Islands of India Beyond the Ganges*), published in Rome by Stephen Plannck in 1493, was simply stolen without anyone noticing.
After seven years of an investigation worthy of the best crime novels, the Spanish Civil Guard Special Units have announced that they have finally recovered, thanks to the help of the United States Immigration and Customs Service (ICE) a document whose value is all the more priceless as it is an incunable, as are called the first printed history of humanity produced by the invention of the printing system of Johannes Gutemberg (1400-1468). The precious folios were in the state of Delaware (USA), in the hands of a buyer apparently unaware that it was a stolen original. They were officially handed over to the Spanish ambassador in Washington on Wednesday, June 6, 2018.
Everyone still does not know today the name of the clever criminal who succeeded in replacing the original by a fake without the officials of the library of Catalonia noticing, or on what date the package took place. “In the United States, the police investigation actually began in 2011 when the US Immigration and Customs Agency learned that the letter was on the market and its resellers looking for a wealthy buyer,” says the Spanish daily El Pais, which reports the affair. Alerted, the library of Catalonia then called on an expert, who confirmed in 2012 that the document kept in Barcelona was indeed a forgery.
It is also perhaps through the same expert that the case has probably been partly resolved! It is indeed to him that the last potential buyer of the stolen letter had recently chosen to appeal, wanting to verify the authenticity of the document that was proposed to him. The specialist then managed to convince him to hand the letter to the authorities. The opportunity for investigators to discover the hectic course of the invaluable missive that had already changed hands twice since its flight! Sold for the first time for 600,000 euros “by two Italians” in 2005, it was then acquired in Brazil in 2009 for a million dollars.
The unknown author of this unusual flight may not be his first attempt. Indeed, 16 copies of this letter of Christopher Columbus are preserved throughout the world, the latter having been “printed” in Latin in several copies from 1493 to allow to spread the incredible news throughout Europe. However, the Catalan newspaper La Vanguardia – which also relays this information – recalls that the same ploy had been used at the Riccardiana Library in Florence (Italy) as well as at the Holy See (Vatican) where there were two other versions of this letter. To date, only the first letter has been found – also in the United States – and returned to Italy in 2016.
Wanting to reach Asia from the west, the Genoese navigator imagined himself at the gate-gate of Asia, India beyond Ganges, when he reached by the way of the Atlantic the coast of a new continent that would later be called America.