Latin American & Philippines Manuscripts and Rare Books



The library also conserves one of the largest and most important collections of 16th through 19th century Latin American and Philippine historical manuscripts and documents in the United States. Many are of great historical significance, such as the “Acts” of the Town Council of Santiago de los Caballeros (Antigua), Guatemala, for the years 1530–1553, which chronicle the origins of self-government in Guatemala. Prominent members of the Council during those years included the conquistadores Pedro de Alvarado, conqueror and governor of Guatemala, and Bernal Díaz del Castillo, author of the Verdadera historia de la conquista de la Nueva España (Madrid, 1632), whose autographs appear on dozens of the documents. Over one hundred and twenty documents associated with Cardinal Charles-Thomas Maillard de Tournon, papal legate to China from 1701 until his death in 1710, record the activities of the Spanish missions in China and the Philippines from 1635 to 1742. The Papers of the United States Mexico Boundary Commission (1849–1856), an archive of more than eight hundred pages of letters and official documents compiled by Mexico’s commissioner José Salazar Ilarregui, trace the establishment of the present border between the United States and Mexico following the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848) and the Gadsden Purchase Treaty (1853). The most extensive archive in the library, a collection of nearly one hundred thousand pages of documents, focuses on the military administration of Cuba from 1820 up to the Spanish American War.

Manuscripts related to the indigenous civilizations and the natural history of the Americas comprise another major facet of the collection. The Zapotec Genealogy of Macuilxochitl (Oaxaca, Mexico, circa 1570), considered the earliest extant Zapotec pictorial manuscript drawn on a large scale, records fifteen generations of rulers dating back to the 13th century. Works composed by Spanish missionaries and their New World converts preserve the language, history, and culture of the indigenous peoples of the Americas. Among these are a 16th-century collection of sermons and devotional texts by Fray Fabián de Aquino, himself an indigenous convert; a collection of sermons in the Matlatzinca language of Toluca, Mexico, circa 1560, by Fray Andrés de Castro, the first Spaniard to learn this complex language; and the anonymous 16th-century grammar of the official language of the Inca civilization, Arte de la lengua general de Cusco llamada kechua. The cultural diversity of 18th-century Mexico is depicted in the Origen, costumbres, y estado presente de mexicanos y philipinos (Mexico, 1763) by Joaquín Antonio Basarás, a Spanish merchant in Guanajuato.

Joaquín Antonio de Basarás

Rare Books Pre-1830

Many of the great treasures of the library originate from the regions of Latin America and Asia. The incunabula from these regions consist largely of catechisms and dictionaries in the indigenous languages, or other didactic works. The earliest extant complete book printed in the Americas, Dotrina breve (Mexico, 1543) by Juan de Zumárraga, first bishop of Mexico, bears the imprint of the Sevillian printer Juan Cromberger, who founded the first press in the Americas. From the first press established in South America comes one of the rarest Peruvian incunabula, Tercero catechismo (Lima, 1585) by José de Acosta, the famous Jesuit historian and missionary, whose autograph appears on the title page of the library’s copy. Before the establishment in Asia of presses using movable type, Spanish and Portuguese missionaries in China and the Philippines, working with native artisans, produced block books. The Hispanic Society possesses several rare examples of this early form of printing, such as Innocentia victrix (Canton, 1671), whose text pages were cut entirely by hand from individual blocks, or plates, of boxwood. Not all of the Society’s first or unique imprints date from the 16th and 17th centuries. The library holds numerous modern works of great rarity among its tens of thousands of books printed in Latin America, but particularly notable is the sole extant copy of the first book printed in Puerto Rico, a small volume of poetry entitled Ocios de la juventud (Puerto Rico, 1806) by Juan Rodríguez Calderón.

Juan de Zumárraga
José de Acosta