Columbus's Letter to Sanchez: The Only Known Complete Copy

In Columbus's first report to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, he attempted to make sense of the people and places he encountered. He remarked that he had "œso far found no human monstrosities, as many expected," and he observed that the native populations seemed to share most of their property. He also reported rumors of an island with unending supplies of gold. The search for cities paved in gold, inhabited by people who did not recognize private property, encouraged explorers and exploiters in the Americas for hundreds of years following Columbus's first voyage.

Columbus's news of the New World spread rapidly throughout Europe. His letters were translated into many languages and printed in numerous cities. This edition, of which The New York Public Library has the only known complete copy, is in Latin and includes woodcut illustrations. The letter was addressed to Gabriel Sanchez, Treasurer General of the kingdom of Aragon.

All these islands are very beautiful, and distinguished by a diversity of scenery; they are filled with a great variety of trees of immense height, and which I believe to retain their foliage in all seasons; for when I saw them they were as verdant and luxuriant as they usually are in Spain in the month of May "” some of them were blossoming, some bearing fruit, and all flourishing in the greatest perfection, according to their respective stages of growth, and the nature and quality of each: yet the islands are not so thickly wooded as to be impassable. The nightingale and various birds were singing in countless numbers, and that in November, the month in which I arrived there. There are besides in the same island of Juana seven or eight kinds of palm trees, which, like all the other trees, herbs, and fruits, considerably surpass ours in height and beauty. The pines also are very handsome, and there are very extensive fields and meadows, a variety of birds, different kinds of honey, and many sorts of metals, but no iron.

Christopher Columbus. Letter to Gabriel Sanchez. Basel: Jakob Wolff, 1493.
The New York Public Library, Rare Book Division.

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