Sunday, February 25, 2024

16th-century document removed from archive, shows up at New York auction

A 16th-century document linked to Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés that turned up in a New York auction was stolen from the General Archive of the Nation (AGN) in Mexico City.

A New York auction house had intended to sell it later this month.

The 1521 document – a royal order to Cortés, who led the Spanish forces, Pedro de Alvarado, identified as the mayor of Tenochtitlán, the Aztec capital, and other conquistadores in New Spain – was listed by Swann Auction Galleries as one of almost 400 lots to go under the hammer on September 24 in its Printed & Manuscript Americana auction.

A group of researchers spotted the image of the document on the auction house’s website and alerted the AGN and the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), both of which filed complaints with the federal Attorney General’s Office (FGR).

The auction house, which cited a price range of US $20,000 to $30,000 for the document, said Wednesday that it was withdrawing the lot from the September 24 auction but did not say whether it would be returned to Mexico.

The stolen document linked to Hernán Cortés.
The stolen document linked to Hernán Cortés.

One of the researchers who saw the document on the Swann website told the newspaper El Universal that it was not the first time that a document from a section of the AGN that holds its oldest archives had been offered for sale.

Michel Robert Oudijk of the National Autonomous University’s Institute of Philological Research said that he and the other researchers decided that they had to alert the authorities because they felt a line had been crossed with the intended sale of the Cortés document. A Spanish academic had taken a photo of it during a visit to the AGN in 2010, which allowed the researchers to be certain that the manuscript in Swann’s possession had come from the General Archive.

Oudijk said that leaving the archive with a document is “almost impossible” and therefore the theft must have been perpetrated by someone who works there.

“At the archive they control everything, … there are police who register your details and check your computer to see if there are any documents. Apart from the police, the archive staff keep an eye on researchers. In other words, leaving the AGN with a document is almost impossible; this tells us that it had to be someone who who can enter and exit without being checked … someone within the archive, it’s as clear as water,” he said.

The researcher said it’s not enough for Swann simply to withdraw the document from its auction, and declared that the auction house must reveal how it obtained it. If the person who supplied it didn’t remove it from the AGN an investigation must be carried out to find out who did, Oudijk said.

“Simple detective work” is needed, he added

Marco Palafox, legal director of the AGN, said the General Archive also filed a complaint with the FGR against the auction house Morton’s, which is offering 75 lots that are probably part of the nation’s documentary heritage.

The complaint was submitted just hours before the auction, which went ahead regardless on Tuesday although some lots were withdrawn. Palafox said the AGN only learned about the auction on Monday when it was tipped off by researchers.

At least one of the lots the AGN was concerned about, a document signed by Mexican independence heroes, was sold.

Source: El Universal (sp) 

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