Lost & Found: "Libro de los Epítomes," Catalog of the Largest 16th Century Library

April 25, 2019

"Libro de los Epítomes" is found at a university in Denmark.

In the 1500's, Christopher Columbus' son, Hernando Colón, created Europe's largest print library at a time when the printing press was completely changing the information landscape of what was written, disseminated, and accessed. Modern systems of organization such as the Library of Congress (1897) and Dewey Decimal (1876) classifications had not yet been developed. But, Colón recognized the importance of organizing his collection and creating a way for users to find what they needed. For this reason, he created the Libro de los Epítomes, a complete annotated catalog of his entire collection. This catalog and his entire collection were lost shortly after his death in 1539...that is, until recently.

Last year, historian Edward Wilson-Lee released his book, "The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books," a biography of Hernando Colón and his quest to create the largest library in 16th century Europe. Possibly as a result of press coverage of his monograph, Colón's catalog was unearthed in the Arnamagnæan Collection at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark.

How extraordinary that the world now has a summary of all of the works in the largest library during Europe's information revolution. Not only will we learn about books that presumably disappeared nearly 500 years ago, but what else might libraries, archives, museum, and private citizens find in their collections that originated from Colón's library? With 2000 pages of handwritten text to be digitized, translated, and made available to the public, possibilities abound.

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Image above provided by Archivo Histórico Provincial de Sevilla.