Arago: Exhibits

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Columbus and the Court

Columbus Announcing His Discovery, the 15-cent Stamp

The 15-cent stamp of the Columbian series—“Columbus Announcing His Discovery”—depicts the triumphant Christopher Columbus reporting news of his discovery to his benefactors, monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella, in 1493. Though he never surrendered his belief that he had reached Asia, it is now known, of course, that he had not. His months-long voyage had culminated in an even more significant “landing,” though the Norseman Erik the Red had in fact preceded him by several centuries. Charles Skinner, who engraved this issue, used a painting by Ricardo Baloca y Cancico as his model.

Columbus at La Rabida, the 30-cent Stamp

A painting by Felipe Maso titled “Columbus Before the Franciscans at La Rabida” served as engraver Alfred Jones’s model for the 30-cent stamp. In 1490 the Spanish monarchs, at the time battling the Moors in the country’s south, refused Columbus’s plea for support. Disappointed but determined, he shifted his focus toward the French court. His intended route to France took him through La Rabida, where he accepted hospitality extended by the local monastery and visited with the town’s nobility. Rest, reflection, and encouragement renewed his hopes that Ferdinand and Isabella would support his venture.

Recall of Columbus, the 50-cent Stamp

Columbus pressed the Spanish monarchs for support once again in 1492, and once again they refused. Convinced of his theory that by sailing west for 2,400 nautical miles he would reach Asia, Columbus once again entertained notions of French backing. The 50-cent stamp, titled “Recall of Columbus,” features the single-minded Columbus astride a mule and on the road to France. A messenger, bowing to Columbus, announces the monarchs’ request that Columbus return to court to receive their backing. Charles Skinner engraved the vignette, and D.S. Ronaldson engraved the letters and frame. Skinner used a painting of the same name by Augustus G. Heaton that hangs in the Senate wing of the U.S. Capitol as his model.

Isabella Pledges Her Jewels, the 1-dollar Stamp

Though the conquest of the Moors in 1492 freed the Spanish monarchs to consider backing Columbus’s adventure, the war had depleted their funds. Once again they turned him away. The impassioned pleas of Louis de St. Angel reportedly forced a change in the monarchs’ position, however, and they agreed to assist Columbus. After all, a shorter route to China than the one around the dangerous tip of Africa certainly had its appeal. Columbus lore suggests that Queen Isabella, lacking adequate funds at the time, offered her jewels as collateral, which was almost certainly not the case. It has been suggested that Louis de St. Angel himself actually advanced significant financial support. Antonio Munoz-Degrain based a painting of Isabella and her jewels, and the $1 issue, engraved by Robert Savage and inspired by the Munoz-Degrain painting, perpetuated the myth. The 1-dollar Columbian filled no specific rate on its own and as such was issued purely as a collectible and revenue-generator for the Post Office Department. It was the first 1-dollar stamp issued by the United States.

Master Collection, United States Scott 238P, Columbian Exposition

15c plate proof single

Master Collection, United States Scott 239P, Columbian Exposition

30c plate proof single

50c Columbian Die Proof

50c large die proof (cropped scan)

$1 Columbian Die Proof

1-dollar large die proof (cropped scan)