Antiguedades Mexicanas: publicadas por la Junta Colombina de Mexico en el cuarto centenario del descubrimiento de America.
15 Calle de San Andreas, Mexico: Oficina Tipografica de la Secretario de Fomento, 1892.
Antiguedades Mexicanas (Mexican Antiques) is a book documenting early Mexican art, which includes 80 colour plates of illustrations. First published in 1892, the book’s subtitle states its aim of marking four centuries since the explorer sometimes known as Christopher Columbus first came to the Americas. He had been born in Italy as Cristoforo Colombo but later changed his name to Cristóbal Colón, the Spanish equivalent, and the latter is the one referenced on the title page of the book. It focuses on art of the pre-Columbian period and the illustrations include reproductions of pages from the Aztec codices.
This copy of Antiguedades Mexicanas also includes a bookplate displaying the quote “Grata carpentis thyma per laborem”. This is a Latin expression taken from another ancient source, the fourth book of Horace’s Odes. The first three volumes of the Odes were published in 23BC, but the fourth only in 13BC, a ten-year time gap of which Horace expressed awareness. The motto in question roughly translates into English as “laboriously gather the grateful thyme” and is part of a longer passage from the second poem in book four, in which Horace compares his method of composing poetry to a bee busily gathering pollen in the surroundings of nature. The bookplate enhances the concept by including an illustration of bees circling flowers for the same purpose.There is also an interesting story behind the owner of this bookplate. It belonged to the diplomat Thomas Beaumont Hohler, whose initials are featured in one corner, and he likely acquired the book during his period working for the British diplomatic service in Mexico. Hohler was stationed there during the First World War, and during that time he also played a role in one of the most pivotal intelligence episodes during the war, the interception of the Zimmermann Telegram. The telegram was a message sent in January 1917 from Germany to Mexico, offering an alliance in the event of the US choosing to enter the war on the Allied side, with a promise to return the states of Arizona, New Mexico and Texas from the US to Mexico if Germany won the war. The message was sent on 16 January and intercepted by British intelligence the following day, but the way in which this was done would lead to difficulties in Britain communicating that knowledge to the US.
Earlier in the war, the undersea cable by which Germany sent its intelligence messages had been cut by a British ship, so Germany began to pass messages using the cables belonging to other countries who were neutral in the war, including the US. But the US cable also passed geographically through a part of the UK, and so British intelligence were able to intercept messages on it and pass them along to their codebreakers. However, the US were unaware at the time that the UK was doing this, and so when the Zimmermann telegram was decoded, British intelligence had to think of a plausible alternative way they could have acquired the information without revealing to the US that they had been tapping their cable. A solution was found in which another copy of the message was retrieved through a different arrangement: messages passed between the German embassy in Washington and the Mexican telegram office had also been secretly copied and passed on to the British embassy in Mexico City. This arrangement had been set up by Hohler while he was in his diplomatic post in Mexico, and so a cover story was created in which an agent known as “Mr H” was able to acquire the message via a contact at the Mexican telegraph office. The revelation of Germany’s offer to Mexico proved crucial in the conflict, as it became one of the reasons for the US entering the war on 6 April 1917.
Hohler’s copy of Antiguedades Mexicanas, now held in the library’s Special Collections, was first acquired by the Glasgow School of Art during the 1949-50 academic year, and was described in the GSA’s annual report as one of the most important additions to the library during that year.