See it Now: Columbus’s Book of Privileges

Columbus's "Book of Privileges." 1502. Manuscript Division.

Columbus’s “Book of Privileges.” 1502. Manuscript Division.

On January 5, 1502, prior to his fourth and final voyage to America, Christopher Columbus gathered several judges and notaries in his home in Seville to authorize the authentic copies of his archival collection of original documents through which Queen Isabella of Castille and her husband, King Ferdinand of Aragon, had granted titles, revenues, powers and privileges to him and his descendants. These 36 documents are popularly called Columbus’s “Book of Privileges.” Four copies of this volume existed in 1502 – three written on vellum and one on paper.

John Herbert, former chief of the Library’s Geography and Maps Division, talks about the book in this video presented in partnership with the History Channel.

The Library’s copy of the “Book of Privileges” – one of the three on vellum – is the only one to contain the Papal Bull Dudum siquidem, the four-page letter that Pope Alexander VI composed on Sept. 26, 1493, which is thought by some scholars to contain the first written reference to a New World.

The papal letter is among the 91 full-size, full-color facsimile pages bound into the Library’s new book, “Christopher Columbus Book of Privileges: The Claiming of a New World,” which also contains the first authorized facsimile of the Library’s copy of the royal charters, writs and grants.

In addition, the pages of the letter have been printed on four loose sheets that are pocketed inside. A translation of the papal bull, which was authenticated in the 1930s, is included.

Levenger Press printed the book in the U.S. to rigorous production standards that include a Smythe-sewn binding and archival-quality paper, both to ensure the book’s longevity. The 184-page hardcover book is available for $89 from the Library of Congress Shop.

The Library debuted “Christopher Columbus Book of Privileges: The Claiming of a New World” at this year’s National Book Festival. A webcast of the presentation is forthcoming.

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