Feds Return Stolen Christopher Columbus Letter to Italy

Columbus wrote the letter in 1493 to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain.

— -- U.S. federal authorities returned a stolen 1493 copy of Christopher Columbus’ letter describing his discoveries in the Americas on Wednesday.

The letter, which was bound in a volume, was stolen from the Riccardiana Library in Florence, Italy, at an unknown time and was donated to the U.S. Library of Congress in 2004.

It was discovered at the library after an investigation was launched in 2012 to recover it.

The investigation kicked off when special agents got a tip that a letter in the Riccardiana Library had been replaced with a fake.

"Preserving records and chronicles of our past, like this letter, is of utmost importance not only to the special agents who investigate these crimes, but to the global community at large," said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Deputy Director Dan Ragsdale.

Columbus left the harbor of Palos in Spain with three ships for his first transatlantic expedition in August 1492.

The letter, which was a report to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella about Spain’s findings in the "new world," was written while Columbus was still on the high seas in February 1493, and was reportedly dated when he arrived in Lisbon, Portugal, on March 4, 1493, according to the Department of Justice, which seized the stolen property for return.

The letter about Spain’s findings was copied by printers throughout Europe after Columbus' return. It was issued across Spain, Italy, France, Switzerland and the Netherlands.

The copy that was returned today is known as the Plannck II Columbus letter because it was published by Rome printer Stephan Plannck in 1493.

Despite the widespread prints, the copies are very rare today. There are believed to be no more than 80 surviving copies of all the various editions, according to the DOJ.

An analysis of the letter by subject matter experts revealed the presence of bleach, which was likely used to remove the Riccardiana Library’s stamp from the volume, according to the U.S. government.

"Documents such as the ‘Plannck II’ Columbus Letter are of significant cultural value as they provide historical facts about critical events in world history, and we are humbled to return this historic document back to its home country," said said U.S. Attorney Charles M. Oberly, III.

The repatriation ceremony was held in Rome where the U.S. formally handed over the letter to the Italian government.