Columbus’ America letter hits new record

A 15th century printing of Christopher Columbus’ letter announcing the discovery of the Americas led a recent sale at Bonhams New York.

It made a massive $751,500, a record for a Columbus letter.

Columbus letter Bonhams

Columbus letter spread like wildfire across Europe 

This is the illustrated second edition, published in Basel, Switzerland in 1493.

Columbus appears to have composed the letter, addressed to his financial backers Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, on his return journey from the New World in 1492.

His discovery coincided with the printing revolution, allowing the news to spread across Europe at (for the time) breakneck speed.

In the text Columbus is unaware that he has discovered a new continent. He relates how he and his crew landed on a series of islands in the Indian Ocean (he was actually in the Caribbean).

Bonhams explains: "The 'Columbus Letter,' as it is commonly called, described at first hand what is undoubtedly the most momentous of all voyages of discovery.

“The existence of an American continent was now made common knowledge and history was reoriented.

“An immense impetus was given to the rise of capitalism, both the exploitation of the riches of America and by providing a new outlet for European trade.

“The centre of political and economic power was shifted from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic seaboard, resulting in the great westward migration from the old world to the new".

We have this signature from Henry VIII dating to 1499, a few years after the Columbus letter was printed.

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