Marco Polo wasn’t just an explorer; he was also a renowned storyteller. Now, you can own a rare piece of his literary legacy.
One of the last manuscripts of Polo’s Travels to remain in private hands has popped onto the market, and the ultra-rare title is selling for upwards of $1 million. According to antiquarian book dealer, Bernard Quaritch, it’s one of only two other surviving manuscripts to be offered up in nearly a century.
Dating back to 1298, the text wasn’t actually written by the adventurer. It’s believed to be originally penned by Rustichello da Pisa in a Franco‐Italian hybrid language. (Pisa is best known for co-authoring Polo’s autobiography.) This copy, entitled De conditionibus et consuetudinibus orientalium regionum, was translated into Latin by friar Francesco Pipino of Bologna sometime between 1310 and 1324 and is considered the most popular version of the manuscript in medieval Europe.
“Marco Polo’s Travels is arguably the most famous travel book of all time,” says Bernard Quaritch. Produced in 1530 at Westminster, England, the manuscript was made by a scribe working at the court of Henry VIII and appears to be first owned by one of the former king’s chaplains. Both the script and decoration sport a late Gothic style. Overall, the dealer considers the 13th-century text to be in “excellent condition” despite some light soiling, minor stains, and ink smudges.
Other than a manuscript sold at Sotheby’s in 1930, there has only been one other known Polo text to appear at auction. That was the 14th-century Courtenay Compendium, which featured a collection of historical texts including The Travels of Marco Polo, composed by the Italian merchant and his pal, Pisa, while they were in prison together in Genoa. Polo is said to have dictated his journey East to the Arthurian romance writer, who was in charge of putting the tales on paper. The manuscript will be for sale at the New York International Antiquarian Book Fair which runs from April 27 to April 30.