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Stolen manuscript signed by Cortés discovered in Mass. auction

WCVB Boston 4 days ago
Federal authorities in Boston said they were notified by Mexican authorities that this manuscript signed by Conquistador Hernando Cortés in 1527 — and believed to have been stolen from Mexico's national archives sometime before 1993 — was discovered when it was put up for online auction at a Massachusetts auction house in 2022. © FBI Boston Division Federal authorities in Boston said they were notified by Mexican authorities that this manuscript signed by Conquistador Hernando Cortés in 1527 — and believed to have been stolen from Mexico's national archives sometime before 1993 — was discovered when it was put up for online auction at a Massachusetts auction house in 2022.

Federal authorities in Boston are working to return a manuscript to Mexico that was signed by Conquistador Hernando Cortés nearly 500 years ago and believed to have been stolen three decades ago.

According to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Massachusetts, an individual consigned the Cortés manuscript for online auction at a Massachusetts auction house earlier this year.

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Mexican authorities then alerted U.S. authorities that the manuscript being auctioned off appeared to have been stolen from the Archivo General de la Nación de México, Mexico's national archives located in Mexico City, sometime before 1993.

In turn, the auction house removed the manuscript from the online auction and the manuscript was recovered by special agents on the FBI Boston Division's art crime team.

The manuscript is a payment order signed by Cortés on April 27, 1527, authorizing the purchase of rose sugar for the pharmacy in exchange for 12 gold pesos.

U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins said her office filed a civil forfeiture action on Tuesday, the goal of which is to return the manuscript to its rightful owner.

"Our investigation into how this priceless artifact ended up in Massachusetts continues, and we look forward to the day when we can return it to the Government of Mexico," Joseph Bonavolonta, special agent in charge of the FBI Boston Division, said in a statement.

The Cortés manuscript is believed to be just one of several documents unlawfully removed from a collection of documents concerning a Spanish expedition to Central America in 1527 that is housed in Mexico's national archives.

A number of colonial-era documents believed to have been stolen from Mexico's national archives and placed for auction in the U.S. were recovered in 2021 and repatriated in Mexico, including some that were signed by Cortés.

Anyone with information on stolen art and cultural property is encouraged to call the FBI at 1-800-225-5324.

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