Extraordinarily scarce 1494 Basel edition of Christopher Columbus' letter to Ferdinand and Isabella, announcing his discovery of the new world, along with all 6 woodcuts, 3 of which depict the new lands. Basel: Printer Johann Bergmann von Olpe, 1494. Entitled "Christophorus Columbus, De insulis nuper in mari Indico inventis" translated to "Christopher Columbus, Has recently been found in the sea, from the islands of the Indian Ocean", Columbus pens the letter upon his return from the "Indian" isles in March 1493, addressed to Ferdinand and Isabella, his patron Luis de Santangel and also the Royal Treasurer Raphael Sanxis, confirming that the new lands justified the expensive and risky expedition. Leander de Cosco translated the letter into Latin for this 1494 Basel edition, of which only one has sold at auction in the past 41 years, at Sotheby's in 1985; in fact, the Library of Congress states that of the 17 editions of Columbus' letter published between 1493 and 1497, only 8 copies of all the editions are still extant, with the earlier editions such as this one being even scarcer than the later editions. This copy is from the Robert Menzies collection, also with private library labels from famed turn of the century socialite Elizabeth Wharton Drexel and long-serving Pennsylvania Senator Boies Penrose.
The six woodcuts in the edition were done by Albrecht Durer and represent the first depictions of the New World. They show the arrival of the Spanish at the insula hyspana, a quasi-map of the Antilles, the construction of the fort La Navidad on the island of Hispaniola and Columbus' caravel under full sail. There is also a portrait of Ferdinand of Aragon holding the shields of Castile and Leon, which forms the title woodcut of this edition, and a coat of arms. Octavo book is missing signature "bb", containing 16 pages of Carolus Verardus' telling of the capture of Granada from the Moors by Ferdinand, but with all other 56 pages present, including the title page, imprint, all woodcuts and, most importantly, the entire letter by Columbus. Bound in citron morocco by W. Matthews, with paneled sides and gilt edges. Front free endpaper has some tape residue and writing above the Drexel label reading "21 copies in U.S. / The Menzies copy". Tight binding with clean interior other than very light spotting on some pages. Overall very good plus condition. An important book cited by Sabin of extreme rarity.
Accompanied by full translation of the letter, with Columbus' description of the native people ("so unsuspicious and so generous"), as well as "monsters" he found. The letter reads in small part: "To the first island I discovered I gave the name of San Salvador, in commemoration of His Divine Majesty, who has wonderfully granted all this. The Indians call it Guanaham. The second I named the Island of Santa Maria de Concepcion; the third, Fernandina; the fourth, Isabella; the fifth, Juana; and thus to each one I gave a new name. When I came to Juana, I followed the coast of that isle toward the west, and found it so extensive that I thought it might be the mainland, the province of Cathay.
I heard from other Indians I had already taken that this land was an island, and thus followed the eastern coast for one hundred and seven leagues, until I came to the end of it. From that point I saw another isle to the eastward, at eighteen leagues’ distance, to which I gave the name of Hispaniola.
There are many spices and vast mines of gold and other metals in this island. They have no iron, nor steel, nor weapons, nor are they fit for them, because although they are well-made men of commanding stature, they appear extraordinarily timid. The only arms they have are sticks of cane, cut when in seed, with a sharpened stick at the end, and they are afraid to use these. Often I have sent two or three men ashore to some town to converse with them, and the natives came out in great numbers, and as soon as they saw our men arrive, fled without a moment’s delay although I protected them from all injury.
At every point where I landed, and succeeded in talking to them, I gave them some of everything I had—cloth and many other things—without receiving anything in return, but they are a hopelessly timid people. It is true that since they have gained more confidence and are losing this fear, they are so unsuspicious and so generous with what they possess, that no one who had not seen it would believe it. They never refuse anything that is asked for. They even offer it themselves, and show so much love that they would give their very hearts. Whether it be anything of great or small value, with any trifle of whatever kind, they are satisfied. I forbade worthless things being given to them, such as bits of broken bowls, pieces of glass, and old straps, although they were as much pleased to get them as if they were the finest jewels in the world.
As for monsters, I have found no trace of them except at the point in the second isle as one enters the Indies, which is inhabited by a people considered in all the isles as most ferocious, who eat human flesh."