"All Go Naked, Men and Women": Columbus's Letter to Santángel

Columbus's first word of his discoveries was sent ahead from the Azores in two copies, one addressed to Luis de Santángel and a duplicate to Gabriel Sanchez, treasurer of Aragon. It is a detailed and colorful account that subsequently served as a public announcement to all of Europe through various printed editions. In his epistolary report, Columbus appeals alike to the piety and the cupidity of the important people in the Spanish court who will read it, including King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, and refers to future voyages he hopes to make. He reports that he has "so far found no human monstrosities, as many expected"; and that the people of the new lands "all go naked, men and women ... although some of the women cover a single place with the leaf of a plant." This "letter" (the original manuscript does not survive) went through nine editions in 1493. The New York Public Library owns six of them, including this unique copy of the first edition, the bibliophile's ultimate Americanum. Luis de Santángel, a wealthy government contractor and powerful advisor to King Ferdinand, financed 70 percent of Columbus's second voyage (1493).

Christopher Columbus. Letter to Luis de Santángel, Chancellor of Aragon. Barcelona: Pedro Posa, 1493.
The New York Public Library, Rare Book Division, from the Lenox Library.

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