Rare Book Appears in Lander's Jackson Library

January 10, 2013
History of New Spain
The Larry A. Jackson Library's copy of the "Historia De Nueva-Espana," by Spanish conquistador Hernando Cortes, is one of only 15 first editions of the book known to exist in libraries worldwide.
In the summer of 2007, newly hired Lander University assistant librarian Mike Berry was working in the archives of the Larry A. Jackson Library when a volume with a white vellum binding caught his eye.

Berry had worked in the rare books room at the University of South Carolina's Thomas Cooper Library, and he knew an old book when he saw one.

A closer inspection revealed the book to be a first edition of the "Historia De Nueva-Espana," or "History of New Spain", a collection of letters that the Spanish conquistador, Hernando Cortes, wrote to the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, documenting his exploits in what is now Mexico, and appealing to Charles for support.

In 1770, when the book was published, Spanish influence in the New World was on the wane, and the publication of the 250-year-old letters, with several attractive maps and annotations by Don Francisco Antonio Lorenzana, the archbishop of Mexico, may have been motivated in part by a wish to revive interest in colonization.    

Cortes was university-educated, and a good writer, but Berry believes the conquistador's accounts of his dealings with the Aztecs and other indigenous people he encountered were "more benevolent than what they really were."

The New York bookseller Arader Galleries offers a copy of the book at a price of $37,500, but Berry said Lander's copy of the book has mold and water damage, which makes it worth considerably less. In addition, he said, its binding is warped, and some of the pages have been nibbled by mice.

Although the book has some issues, Berry believes that paying a conservatory for deacidification and other restorative work is justified by the fact that only 15 copies of the first edition of the "Historia De Nueva-Espana" are known to exist in libraries worldwide.

"It's worth spending some money on," he said.

Berry said he had no idea how such a rare book ended up in the Jackson Library. Like many other rare books, he said, "there's no story behind it -- it's just here."