Collectors drawn to Columbus

Did you ever wonder if Christopher Columbus would be upset to learn that today’s GPS technology is named after fellow explorer, Ferdinand Magellan? Maybe today’s techno-wizards didn’t name the GPS after Columbus because he made a big mapping mistake in his quest to find a new route to Asia. The land mass that Columbus thought was Asia was actually, as we all know, a tiny island in the Caribbean. Perhaps Columbus should have asked for directions, writes Dr. Lori in this piece for The Republican Herald.

When the Ottomon Turks captured Constantinople in 1453, the price of oriental trade goods went sky-high in Europe. Many believed there was a fortune to be made if a route to “the Indies” – the great civilizations of China, India and Japan – could be found. The desired route was one which bypassed the Muslim-controlled territories of the Middle East. Columbus devised a plan to sail west across the “Ocean Sea” going the long way around the world and arrive at China from the east. He tried to interest King John of Portugal in his plan, but that failed. So, in 1486, Columbus approached the Spanish court in his “Enterprise of the Indies.”

Spain was involved in a longstanding war against the Moors. Thus, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella had neither the time nor the money to finance Columbus’ plan.

However, in January 1492, the Spanish finally captured Granada, the last Moorish-held city in Spain. This event ended 700 years of war and expelled the Moors who had ruled the Iberian peninsula. Columbus pressed King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella to take up his plan. The Spanish Sovereigns took the plan to a royal commission to examine its feasibility. But drawing on ancient Greek measurements of the earth’s size, the royal commission determined that the distance from Spain westward to China was so great that no ship of that era could hope to make the voyage. They said Columbus’ calculations were incorrect. Turns out, the committee was right, but the monarchs didn’t listen to them. Instead, Ferdinand and Isabella disregarded the commission’s recommendation and supported Columbus’ four voyages beginning in 1492 and continuing until 1504.

From a wealthy family, Christopher Columbus was born in Genoa, Italy, in the fall of 1451. Columbus brought a year’s worth of supplies, three ships, hundreds of professional and inexperienced sailors, his sugar trade experience and influenza to the New World in 1492.

Today, collectors remain enamored with the tale of Columbus’ voyages and those objects that highlight his historic journey.

For instance, a rare manuscript signed by both Ferdinand II of Aragon (1452-1516) and Isabella I of Castile and Leon (1451-1504) referencing a military escort who would protect Columbus on his second trip to the New World has a pre-auction estimate of $125,000. However such documents have sold for nearly $300,000. And, a first edition of Giuliano Dati’s publication entitled “Il secondo cantare del’India” was published in Rome in 1495. This book was produced in an effort to meet the high demand for news about Columbus’ discoveries and voyages. The publication recently sold for $103,700.

Many items featuring Columbus have been bought and sold but some of the most interesting are from the Chicago World’s Fair or the World Columbian Exposition of 1893. Objects from the World Columbian Expo, an event organized to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ discovery of the New World, are coveted collectibles today. The Expo opened a year late in 1893. Some of the most popular collectibles were pocket watches, 3-dimensional egg puzzles, memorial coins, knives, souvenir spoons embossed with Columbus’ likeness and the list goes on. Even today, Columbian objects are desired by those who love, like Columbus, the thrill of the journey.

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