A stolen copy of Christopher Columbus’ account of his voyage in 1492 to the New World is being returned to the Old World. The book had been stolen from a library in Florence and then ended up as a donation to the Library of Congress in 2004. Last week American officials returned it to Italy.
"It's a print of undisputed historical value, said Fulvio S. Stacchetti, head of the Riccardiana library in Florence, “and has made a unique two-way trip ... five centuries after its writing. And now it's back home.
The investigation began several years ago when U.S. agents, working with the Italian Carabinieri art department, received a tip that the "Plannck II edition" at the Florence library had been replaced with a forgery.
Examinations of the forged copy carried out by scientific experts with the military police in Italy discovered that: "the text of the forged letter was a high-quality photocopy, that there was no original library stamp from the [Riccardiana] Library and that the stitching patterns did not match original stitching patterns for known Plannck II Columbus Letters."
Experts at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington carried out their own studies and found that chemical agents had been used “to remove the ink of the Riccardiana library stamp and that printed characters had been retouched to further disguise the letter's provenance, or place of origin.”
Officials said that the Florentine letter was bought by a rare-books collector in Switzerland in 1990 and was sold to an anonymous buyer for $330,000 at Christie’s auction house in New York in 1992, the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s first voyage to the New World.
Mr. Franceschini, the culture minister, said on Wednesday that the original letter would soon be returned to the Riccardiana library, “its legitimate home.” This is “the story of a very sophisticated theft,” he added. “For many years, we didn’t discover that the libraries had copies of the original. It shows that our level of attention has to remain high.” Particularly at a time when collecting is taking off in emerging markets, he said, “the temptations start now.”