Press Contact: Yvonne French (202) 707-9191

August 14, 1998

Columbus's "Book of Privileges" Added to Continuing Exhibition of American Treasures of the Library of Congress

Christopher Columbus's "Book of Privileges," a collection of 36 original documents by which Queen Isabella I of Castile and her husband, King Ferdinand of Aragon, granted titles, revenues and power to the explorer and his descendants, will be on view beginning Aug. 27 in "American Treasures of the Library of Congress." This permanent, rotating exhibition that features different significant materials every three months, giving the public the opportunity to experience the richness and diversity of the Library's American historical collections.

"American Treasures continues to display more than 200 selections from the Library's incomparable collections arranged in the manner of Thomas Jefferson's own library, the seed from which the present Library of Congress grew," said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington.

The Codice Diplomatico Columbo-Americano (ca. 1502), more commonly referred to as the "Columbus Book of Privileges," will replace Thomas Jefferson's rough draft of the Declaration of Independence as the centerpiece of the exhibition in the "Top Treasures" exhibition case.

Accompanying items in the Top Treasures case through Nov. 16 will be:

  • The first Latin translation of the report of Columbus's discoveries published in 1493. It was this Latin letter that spread the news of the voyage throughout Europe.
  • A gold coin from the time of Queen Isabella I and King Ferdinand.
  • A first edition of Christopher Columbus's biography By his son, Ferdinand Columbus.

In addition, several other materials are being introduced into the exhibition for the first time:

  • The first Hebrew grammar printed in America, which was issued in 1735 for the "use of the students at Harvard College in Cambridge."
  • An issue of the Millinery Trade Review that touted the latest Parisian designs for U.S. hat manufacturers of the late 19th century.
  • A young George Washington's copybook of 110 simple "Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation."
  • Supreme Court Justice Smith Thompson's 1831 dissenting opinion in the Cherokee Nation v. the State of Georgia case in which the court ruled that the Cherokee Nation had no right to sue in federal court to prevent their removal from tribal lands.
  • J. Hector St. John de Crvecouer's manuscript for the 1782 literary classic Letters from an American Farmer.

This ongoing exhibition, with its selection of rare books, music, manuscripts, maps, photographs, drawings, audio clips and videotapes, gives visitors a firsthand look at a cross section of the vast repository that has been called "America's Memory." Highlights of the exhibition include the contents of Abraham Lincoln's pockets on the night of his assassination, early baseball cards and a photograph of the Wright brothers' first flight taken at the instant of takeoff. The exhibition is made possible by a generous grant from the Xerox Foundation.

Highlight tours, or "Treasure-Talks," of noteworthy objects on display in the exhibition are conducted by curators from the Library's custodial divisions. These talks are held on Wednesdays from 12 to 12:30 p.m. in the Treasures Gallery. For a current schedule of Treasure- Talks, consult the Library's World Wide Web site at

The "American Treasures" exhibition is available on- line at The on-line version of the exhibition allows viewers to see 145 items from the exhibition and read about their significance to United States history. Because many items in the physical exhibition change every three months, the site is a good way to see most of what has been on display since the exhibition opened in May 1997. It also allows those who can't come to Washington to view the exhibition, and those who are planning a trip to familiarize themselves with it in advance. The material provided on-line can also be used by history teachers and researchers as primary source material.

An audio tour featuring selections from the Library's collection of sound recordings provides an array of memories, many of them drawn from the early years of radio and TV broadcasting archived in the Library's collections. Listeners can hear both narration about and the actual voices of presidents, poets and other famous figures, including Theodore Roosevelt, Robert Frost and Woodrow Wilson. The random-access audio device also features music, including the voices of Beverly Sills and Jelly Roll Morton. Visitors may rent the wand for $2.50.

Harry N. Abrams Inc. has published a companion volume with an introduction by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Garry Wills and a foreword by Librarian of Congress James H. Billington. American Treasures in the Library of Congress: Memory/Reason/Imagination ($39.95) is available in the Library sales shops and wherever books are sold.

The exhibition is on the second level of the gloriously restored, 100-year-old Thomas Jefferson Building, located at First Street and Independence Ave. S.E. near the Capitol South Metrorail station. Exhibition hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. The Library is closed on Sundays and federal holidays. Both the building and the exhibition are barrier-free and accessible to persons with disabilities. Entrance is free.

Groups of 10 or more are requested to call the Visitor Services Office at (202) 707-9779 to arrange a tour. For recorded information about the exhibition, call (202) 707-3834, (202) 707-6200 TTY.

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PR 98-119
ISSN 0731-3527

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