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U.S returns stolen 1493 Columbus letter

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News video: U.S returns stolen 1493 Columbus letter

A 525-year-old copy of a letter by Christopher Columbus mysteriously stolen from the Vatican was returned on Thursday after joint sleuthing by U.S. Homeland Security agents and Holy See antiquity experts.

Colette Luke has more.

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U.S returns stolen 1493 Columbus letter

(letter being displayed) A centuries old copy of a letter by Christopher Columbus, stolen from the Vatican, has finally been returned.

After a long investigation, it was traced to the widow of a collector in Atlanta, Georgia whose husband had purchased the letter in 2004, unaware it had been stolen... On Thursday, US Ambassador to the Holy See Callista Gingrich, marked its official return to the Vatican.

(upsound showing of letter) The letter's history dates back to February, 1493.

While at sea on his return to Europe, Christopher Columbus penned a letter, known as the Columbus letter, to Spain's King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, describing what he had found on his voyage to the New World.

The original was written in Spanish, but several copies in Latin were also printed...And one of those copies ended up in the Vatican library in 1921.

But sometime afterwards - noone knows when - it was switched with a forgery.

An American expert identified the fake in 2010 and notified Homeland Security art investigators.

(SOUNDBITE) (English) JAMIE MCCALL, ASSISTANT UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, DISTRICT OF DELAWARE, SAYING: ''We identified at least three forgeries that were located in libraries, including the Vatican library… It takes skill.

Whoever was doing it was using a technique that mimicked the leaf dimensions…" The stolen letter's path is largely unclear but authorities believe it eventually fell into the hands of infamous book thief, Marino Massimo De Caro who then sold it to a New York book dealer.

Massimo is now serving a prison sentence for unrelated book theft crimes... But the letter, according to Ambassador Gingrich, is finally back with its rightful owner.




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