COLUMBUS, CHRISTOPHER. [The Columbus Letter] Epistola Christofori Colom: cui etas nostra multu[m] debet: de Insulis Indie supra Gangem nuper inve[n]tis...in latinum co[n]vertit. [Translated into Latin by Leander de Cosco]. [Rome: Stephan Plannck, after 29 April 1493].
Chancery 4to, 189 x 137mm. [7 7/16 x 5 3/8in]. 4 leaves (8pp.) without foliation or signatures. Type 2:88G. 33 lines (type-page 145 x 92mm., 5 11/16 x 3 5/8in.]. One lombard three-line initial on first page. Stitched onto a modern guard and bound in crimson morocco gilt, upper cover gilt-lettered, blue watered silk linings, contained in a blue silk-lined matching crimson morocco box, upper cover and spine gilt-lettered, final leaf with small restorations slightly affecting seven words on recto, gutter strengthened. HC 5489; BMC IV 97 (IA 18551); GW 7177; IGI 3060; Church 5; Harrisse 4; Sabin 14630; Alden/Landis 493/5; Streeter sale 2; Goff C-758.
"AMERICANUM NUMBER ONE." COLUMBUS'S DISCOVERY OF THE NEW WORLD: Plannck's corrected Latin edition containing Queen Isabella of Castile's name ("Helisabet") and with the proper forms of the name of the royal treasurer, Gabriel Sanchis, and the translator, Leander de Cosco (in Plannck's slightly earlier uncorrected Latin edition Isabella's name is omitted and the treasurer and translator's names are incorrect). These editions by Plannck are preceded solely by the Spanish editio princeps (Barcelona 1493, known in one copy only at the New York Public Library) and are the earliest editions of the Columbus Letter to be seen on the market.
Columbus began his First Voyage on 3 August 1492 from Palos with a fleet of three small ships. The intended destination was China and Japan, in search of Marco Polo's lands of gold. Columbus believed, due to a miscalculation based upon Ptolemy, that the shortest route to the East Indies was westward and therefore he crossed the Atlantic. On 9 August he reached Grand Canary where he stayed until 6 September, when he proceeded on his voyage; sighting land (one of the Bahama Islands) on 12 October.
Early in 1493, after extensive exploration among the Caribbean islands Columbus left half his crew behind on Hispaniola with the wreck of the Santa Maria to build a fort while he began his homeward voyage. At sea he composed a letter to Ferdinand and Isabella detailing his discoveries. On 14 February, during the climax of a tempest, in which he feared for the loss of his report together with his ships, he cast into the sea near the Azores a parchment copy of his report, wrapped in waxed cloth and sealed in a cask. Fortunately, Columbus reached the Azores safely on 18 February, followed by Lisbon on 4 March and Palos on 15 March, from whence he was received in triumph at the royal court in Barcelona during the third week of April.
News of Columbus's discovery of the New World began to spread with the greatest rapidity in early March 1493, as soon as he had landed at Lisbon. During that month Ferdinand and Isabella received a manuscript copy of the Columbus Letter in Barcelona and the Duke of Medinaceli, near Madrid, learned of Columbus's return at about the same time. Various Italian cities were to receive at least three separate reports in April. The printing press was the key agent in the rapid dissemination of the news, beginning in Barcelona, apparently in April 1493, with an edition in Spanish, printed by Pedro Posa (undated, 2 leaves, folio, Goff C-756, known only by the NYPL copy). In Rome there was an urgent political reason to publicize the letter in the international language, Latin, resulting in Plannck's publication. Pope Alexander VI (Rodrigo Borgia), elected in 1492, was a Spaniard who eagerly supported the sovereigns of Castile and Aragon over their rival, Portugal. In a bull of 1454 Pope Nicholas V had given the Portuguese exclusive right of conquest along the eastern route to the Indies. On 3rd and 4th May 1493, Alexander VI issued two bulls Inter caetera specifying Spanish rights, based upon Columbus's discoveries, to all lands west of a line of demarcation running from north to south and established one hundred west of the Azores.
To inform the greater world outside Spain of Columbus's momentous discovery, Leander de Cosco, a Catalan resident in Rome, prepared a manuscript translation of the Letter in Latin and dated it 29 April 1493. Textual differences between this translation and Posa's Spanish edition indicate that the Latin version was a translation from another Spanish manuscript version, not from Posa's printed work. Plannck's first printing of this Latin translation (undated, Goff C-757) omitted the name of Queen Isabella of Castile, supposedly because Cosco the translator was of Aragonese descent and thus a subject of King Ferdinand. This apparently deliberate omission must have angered the Castilians (after all, had not the Queen been ready to pawn her jewels to defray the costs of the voyage!). An immediate emendation was required and this corrected edition was published (the present, here offered, Goff C-758). In addition to acknowledging both Ferdinand and Isabella, other corrections were added. The name of the Spanish royal treasurer, to whom Columbus was said to have sent a manuscript copy of his letter, to be delivered to Ferdinand and Isabella, was corrected from Raphael Sanchis to Gabriel Sanchis. At the same time the translator Cosco's first name was corrected from Aliander to Leander.
Although nine fifteenth-century editions of the Columbus Letter survive today (GW 7171-79), almost all examples are in institutional library collections. The first Spanish edition (Goff C-756, one copy only) was reprinted in Valladolid, probably in 1493 (GW 7172, one copy only). Both of these name Ferdinand and Isabella. Plannck's uncorrected Latin edition (naming Ferdinand only, Goff C-757) was reprinted in Basel (Goff C-760), in Paris (Goff C-761) and in Antwerp (GW 7176, one copy only). Plannck's corrected Latin edition (Goff C-758, here offered) was reprinted by Silber in Rome Goff C-759) and a German translation was printed by Bartholomaeus Kistler in Strassburg, 30 September 1497. Additionally, Giuliano Dati, the Florentine poet, composed a verse translation, Lettera delle isole nuovamente trovate, which was first published by Silber in Rome in June 1493 (GW 7999, one copy only) and survives in four further printings (GW 8000-8003, each save 8001 in one copy only). Finally the early library catalogue of Christopher Columbus's son, Fernando Columbus, contains an entry, Letra enviada al escrivano de racio, a. 1493 en catalan, referring presumably to a Catalan version which is not extant.
Columbus's voyage of discovery -- the discovery of the American continent by a modern European -- coincided in the late-fifteenth century with the discovery and wildfire spread of typographic printing. In the Columbus Letter, the two discoveries converge with immense historic, sociologic, and economic repercussions. "The 'Columbus Letter'...described at first hand what is undoubtedly the most momentous of all voyages of discovery. (The Norsemen had been there long before, but the rest of Europe was unaware of it.) The existence of an American continent was now made common knowledge and history was re-orientated...The centre of political and economic power was shifted from the Mediterranean [and the Baltic] to the Atlantic seaboard, resulting in the great westward migration from the old world to the new."--Printing and the Mind of Man *35.