A Small, Maltese Qurʾān

Penn has an eclectic mix of Arabic, Persian and Ottoman Turkish manuscripts that are now being cataloged as part of the Manuscripts of the Muslim World (MMW) project. The project is cataloging and digitizing previously ‘hidden’ materials from Penn and other Philadelphia area repositories. Along the way, lots of fun discoveries are being made about items that have been sitting, uncatalogued, on the shelves for years.

One of the first discoveries we made as part of the MMW project is Ms. Codex 1904, a small format Qurʾān. It measures only 87 mm square and from the outside, it looks much like any other pocket-sized Qurʾān with a blind tooled cover and a flap-style binding. A binding with a flap on the left side that goes over the fore-edge and under the upper cover is quite common for codices produced in the Islamicate world.

UPenn Ms. Codex 1904, front cover, blind tooled with flap binding
UPenn Ms. Codex 1904, former housing

When this Qurʾān first came into the collection at Penn, in 1966, it was housed in a bright red box with “al-Qurʾān Arabic MS. in Kufic III Century A.H.” stamped in gold on the spine. Were that stamp entirely true, then the manuscript would have been produced in the 800s CE, which is too early to be in any way likely, since only very few Arabic codices exist from that time period. Guessing solely from the outside, the fact that the codex is square instead of rectangular gives us a clue that it is probably North African in origin.

When we open the codex, we see that the hand is, in fact, a neat Maghribī, a word used to describe the style of writing from North Africa. The text is written in brown ink with red vowels. There are also yellow and blue dots scattered over the text. The copy is missing the first folio, so it begins with the beginning of the second sūrah (chapter). The missing folio would have held the opening chapter, al-Fātiḥah, and would likely have had an illuminated border or headpiece as well.

UPenn Ms. Codex 1904, f. 1r detail, beginning of al-Baqarah (2)

Since there are two other illuminated headings in the manuscript (f. 50r, 172v) in addition to decorated sūrah headings, we can get an idea of what kind of illuminations the copy would have had on the first leaf verso, where texts usually begin in Islamicate manuscripts. The colors used are blue, red, yellow. And, although it doesn’t sparkle in the picture, the somewhat splotchy decorations around the chapter headings are a flaking gold color and look exactly as if they had been written in glitter pen.


Now that we know this Qurʾān was likely produced in a North African context, we can see if the colophon tells us anything else about the writer.

UPenn Ms. Codex 1904, f. 238r, colophon framed in a yellow braid-pattern box with marginal medallion in red and blue

The colophon says that the copy was completed on Thursday morning in the mosque of the Muslims on the island of Malta, on 16 Muḥarram 1065 A.H (which is November 26, 1654 CE). The copyist gives his name as Muḥammad ibn ʻAbd al-Wāḥid ibn ʻAbd al-Qādir al-Fāsī (from Fez, Morocco). He further says that he is currently a prisoner on Malta, adding ‘May God destroy it’ after each mention of the island. That refrain implies that although he was able to produce art while being imprisoned, he certainly was not happy to be there and did not see eye to eye with The Order of the Knights of St. John who were ruling Malta at the time of the copying of this Qurʾān.

Although the colophon gives a comparatively large amount of information about the timing and location of the production of this copy, what we know about this manuscript’s journey begins and ends there, for now. Once this Qurʾān was produced, we know virtually nothing about where it went and how it got there. We can say that at some point in its more recent history, an owner of this manuscript added some blue lined paper written in bright pink ink describing how much and when to read portions of the book to the inside back cover and the last page verso.

Although we cannot come to very many definitive conclusions about this manuscript, the fact that it is a Qurʾān produced on Malta in the 17th century makes it an intriguing holding for the Penn libraries. The digital version of this manuscript and the other Islamicate manuscripts donated by Gordon A. Block, Jr. in 1966 are all now available on OPenn. His Arabic donations, given as a memorial to his mother Mrs. Reba Fleisher Block, include two copies of a popular prayer book, Dalāʼil al-khayrāt, several other Qurʾāns and a lovely calendar scroll. They are all available on OPenn so that anyone who likes may take images and do more research on these newly-cataloged items.

A Travelogue to the Holy Land: CAJS ms. 477

CAJS RAR Ms 477 caught my eye in December, and when I cataloged it I realized that it is a manuscript which is very multi-faceted and stands out in a number of ways.

The title of the manuscript is Hibat ha-kodesh, which is translatable as “the affection for the holy”. This is the title written on the title page, and it resounds with the tone of the writing; Feivush Friedmann, a “hasid” of the dynasty of Sadigur, embarked on travel from his hometown in the Ukraine to the Holy Land, and after a long and arduous journey settled in Safed in the Upper Galilee, today in Northern Israel.

Continue reading

Alias Mr. Atlantis, Knight Grand Star of the Noble Order of Count Dracula, the Terrible-Tempered Mr. Bang

Bookplate of Henry M. Eichner (1933)This extremely Gothic bookplate appears on the front pastedown of Armine von Tempski’s 1929 novel Fire in the Caroline F. Schimmel Collection of Women in the American Wilderness. It was designed in 1933 by the American medical illustrator, Atlantean scholar, and First Fandom member Henry M. Eichner (1909-1971), whose career is as fascinating as his ex-libris. Continue reading

“Whole Hearted Cooperation and Unstinting Hard Work”: Autographed and Gift Copies of the Smyth Report

On the weekend of August 11-12, 1945, mere days after the nuclear strikes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the United States released the first thousand copies of A General Account of the Development of Methods of Using Atomic Energy for Military Purposes.* Written by Princeton University physicist and Manhattan Project contributor Henry DeWolf Smyth, it had been commissioned in the spring of 1944 by General Leslie R. Groves, head of the Project, and its purpose was twofold: first, to inform “men of science in this country” about nuclear military technology in order that they might “help their fellow citizens in reaching wise decisions” in the future (Smyth, Atomic Energy 226); second, “to say as much as possible [about the Manhattan Project] in an official statement carefully prepared and reviewed and then to instruct people on the project to say nothing more even after they had left the project” (Smyth, “Smyth Report” 180-181).

Title leaf of the Smyth Report (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1945)

On September 15, a small but canny group of booksellers began offering for sale the Princeton University Press edition of the report, now titled Atomic Energy for Military Purposes: The Official Report on the Development of the Atomic Bomb Under the Auspices of the United States Government, 1940-1945. The book became an unlikely bestseller: according to Princeton University Press director Datus P. Smith, from 1945 to 1973 the Smyth report (as it came to be known) sold over 125,000 copies domestically, and though “neither Harry Smyth nor the Press had any systematic way of keeping track of translated editions … we had some kind of evidence of translations into about 40 languages” (Smith 199).

Continue reading

“Women Ain’t No Fools” – The Paul Eldridge Papers

Paul Eldridge (1888-1982) was a poet, novelist, essayist, short story writer, and teacher. Eldridge was born in Bucharest, raised in Philadelphia, and spent most of his life in New York City. He married fellow writer, stage actress, and soprano, Sylvette De La Mar (also known as Sylvette De Lamar, née Sylvia Reiss). Whenever I catalog a collection, I love to find photographs that allow me to picture the collection’s creator as I work, so imagine my delight when I came across these dapper photos of Paul and Sylvette, below.


Paul viewed Sylvette as his intellectual equal and dedicated all of his books to her. Alongside this respect for his wife and life partner, Paul Eldridge displayed a playful irreverence with regard to concepts of male and female roles, as is evident in the subjects and titles of many of his works.

Continue reading

“A Glimpse of the Garden at Sunshine Cottage”: Una Nixson Hopkins’ Model Neighbors

In 1911 Una Nixson Hopkins published her only novel, A Winter Romance in Poppy Land (Boston: Richard G. Badger).  Remembered now largely as an architect and interior designer, as well as a Hollywood art director, she was also a frequent contributer of articles and short stories to magazines like the Ladies’ Home Journal.  The plot of A Winter Romance in Poppy Land is very much in the vein of such magazine fiction:  George Oliver and June Winthrop, both visiting Pasadena, fall in love, but June rejects him when an overheard conversation suggests his complicity in a jewel theft from their hotel.  Once June learns that Oliver is an aspiring playwright and the conversation concerned a plot twist in his latest work (the actual theft was a mere coincidence), she yields to his advances and the two announce their engagement.  “An interesting love story with rather an unusual plot of misunderstandings,” concludes a contemporary reviewer in Out West, commending the book’s affectionately “vivid and true” depictions of its California settings (James 59).


Frontispiece (featuring Julia S. Holmes and “our gardener John”) and title page of A Winter Romance in Poppy Land, previously owned by the Dewey family of Pasadena, Calif.

The characters are all stock figures (distressingly so in the case of the African-American gardener, Japanese servants, and Hispanic locals), but when it came to choosing models for the photographic illustrations of her tale, Hopkins eschewed stock in favor of her Pasadena neighbors.  Uncredited in the book itself, their identities are revealed in an eight-page manuscript tucked into the copy recently donated to the Penn Libraries by Caroline F. Schimmel as part of the Collection of Women in the American Wilderness.

Continue reading

“I Do Not Propose To Sit Idly Down And Be Made To Suffer”: The Curious Case of the Two Mrs. Pigotts

AmonPigottDakotaGirlCoverg the volumes presented to the University of Pennsylvania Libraries by Caroline F. Schimmel as part of her Fiction Collection of Women in the American Wilderness is an inscribed copy of That Dakota Girl by Stella Gilman, a Western romance published in 1892 to tepid reviews: “The pony that always figures in stories of Western life is introduced in the initial chapter, and has its share to do with the love-making and various subordinate incidents. But the reader looks in vain for the genuine local coloring that is to be expected from the title” (Public Opinion 13 (1892): 487).  Gilman, a resident of Hudson, South Dakota, is a shadowy figure; in the biographical note to her only other book, A Gumbo Lily and Other Tales, she writes that she was born in Philadelphia and emigrated with her family to the West as a child in 1878. The Schimmel Fiction Collection copy of The Dakota Girl has a 19th-century gift inscription (“To Uncle Herbert, with The love of The Author. July 15. 1892.”) on the front free endpaper and a partially effaced autograph in a childish hand (“Mabel Lucy Pegott [sic]. 329 Chestnut, Philadelphia, Penna.”) in pencil on the verso of the back free endpaper.

PigottAutographsStella Gilman’s inscription to “Uncle Herbert” (above)
and Mabel Lucy Pigott’s autograph (below)

A little investigation discovers that Mabel Lucy Pigott, born in 1881, was the daughter of H. Herbert Pigott of 329 Chestnut Street in Philadelphia. Perhaps, I thought, an inquiry into Mr. Pigott’s family might shed some light on Stella Gilman’s antecedents. Sadly, it did not¹ — but it did uncover a tale of betrayal and bigamy in the Pigott family that culminated in a dog-sled chase through the lumber camps of British Columbia, a true-life romance as fascinating as any early twentieth-century fiction. Continue reading

Old Friends Reunited

Earlier this month, Middle East Studies Librarian David Giovacchini brought a Turkish manuscript to the Special Collections Processing Center for cataloging.  David had already created the core of a catalog record for the manuscript, identifying the author, text, and the source manuscript from which this manuscript had been copied.  But there was also a bit of mystery:  there was no information about how or when the manuscript had come to the Penn Libraries.

The manuscript is a 20th-century copy of Ms. Veliyüddin 2351 in the Bayezidiye Library in Istanbul.  The text is the sixth part (the only part now extant, largely a history of the Ottoman dynasty) of the late 15th-century universal history Cihannüma by the Ottoman historian Neşrî.  Some of this information was written in a note, in English, pasted inside the upper cover.  David also knew that Franz Taeschner, professor of Islamic studies at Münster in the mid-20th century, had used this manuscript in his scholarly work on this text.

Note inside cover of Ms. Codex 1643

Note inside cover of Ms. Codex 1643

In a routine search of Penn’s catalog for other copies of the same work, I was surprised to find that Penn’s Ms. Codex 38 is another manuscript copy of the Cihannüma, a 19th-century copy of a manuscript in the Nationalbibliothek in Vienna.  I was even more surprised to discover that it had exactly the same kind of note in English pasted inside its upper cover, with a citation to Taeschner’s work.  At some point in their histories, these two manuscripts had passed through the same hands.  The date of Ms. Codex 38’s arrival at the Penn Libraries was also unknown.


Note inside cover of Ms. Codex 38

The two manuscripts also have similar inscriptions in pencil near the notes:  Ms. Codex 38 is marked 426/1204 and the new manuscript, now Ms. Codex 1643, is marked 426/1207.

Note on Ms. Codex 38 flyleaf

Note on Ms. Codex 38 flyleaf

Note on Ms. Codex 1643 flyleaf

Note on Ms. Codex 1643 flyleaf

Attempts to find more information about Franz Taeschner led to the discovery that the catalog of his library of Turkish materials, published by Brill in 1970 after Taeschner’s death in 1967, was numbered 426.  So almost fifty years ago these manuscripts were together in his library.  The English notes perhaps were added as part of the sale process, as the pencil numbers certainly were.  And the manuscripts came to Penn after 1970.  Whether they arrived together or separately is still a mystery for now.


In its nondescript cloth binding, the University of Pennsylvania’s copy of The Works of Publius Virgilius Maro Translated by John Ogilby (London : T. Maxey, 1650) at first appears unremarkable. However, the book’s association with the infamous 19th c. forger Harry Buxton Forman (1842-1917) makes it noteworthy. When this volume of Virgil’s works in the Latin Culture Class Collection was rebound, the binder took care to preserve Forman’s bookplate by affixing it to the title page. LatC V5874 Eg1 1650 H. Buxton Forman was a respected bookman of his time. He was a bibliophile and scholar, establishing his reputation with bibliographies of Shelley and Keats. During his years of book collecting and literary pursuits Forman developed a friendship with T.J. Wise (1859-1937), also a collector and respected bibliographer. Their friendship ultimately took a criminal turn as they used their combined bibliographic expertise to fabricate dozens of counterfeit works.

Continue reading

One fewer frustrating book stamp

There’s nothing more frustrating to catalogers and bibliographers than a partially legible book inscription or stamp. While a completely smudged, faint, or illegible provenance marking might be disappointing it at least has an air of impossibility. Those that have some letters or words clearly rendered can suck hours of time. “So close! If only I could read those last few letters!” I’ve experienced this frustration too many times to count but the Penn Provenance Project has recently made the experience of finding a partial marking more exciting than exhausting.

A few weeks ago while reviewing the provenance records for all our codex manuscripts I came across one in a 16th century collection of Italian statutes that seemed tantalizing. The record read: “Illegible ex libris stamp: “Bibliotheca …”” Fortunately I could consult both the physical item and a new digital facsimile to try and reach my own conclusions.


Ink stamp in UPenn Ms. Codex 92. A 16th c. compilation of Florentine statutes.

I spent a few minutes squinting at the bottom part of the ink stamp, sure I could make out a dash and an ‘M’ but not really making much progress otherwise. I figured I’d head to the PPP site to try my luck. Though “Biblioteca” was sure to be dime a dozen on the stamps photographed in the project, it’s amazing how quickly one can scroll through a page of thumbnail images and so I got started:


Knowing that I was looking for an oval stamp with a hyphenated bottom word made a quick visual scan a cinch and in less than a minute I’d spotted the following mark:


Bookstamp of the Malvezzi-Medici Library in Bologna in a collection of printed Ferrara texts c.1600. Penn call# Folio IC6 F4122L C600

I saved this to one side for comparison and moved through the rest without finding any other likely suspects. Going back to compare the two I was pretty satisfied I’d found the right one, the stamp of the Biblioteca Malvezzi-Medici in Bologna. The library of the counts of Malvezzi de’Medici was housed in their grand palazzo, one of the stars of Bologna until its sale in 1931. It turns out in fact that the Penn libraries hold at least twelve titles in print and manuscript bearing the Malvezzi-Medici stamp, acquired from the antiquarian market in the years after the sale.


Photograph of one of the now empty libraries (the Biblioteca del Segretario Generale) in the Palazzo Malvezzi – Medici. Rivista mensile del Comune di Bologna 23.3 (March 1935), p. 16.

Without the Penn Provenance Project and an easily searchable visual database of bookstamps I can’t imagine I would have found a match. Now the record for UPenn Ms. Codex 92 has been changed to reflect the new information and knowing the shared origin of this manuscript with other titles in the library will help us in the library as well as  scholars of Italian cultural and literary history better understand the collecting practices and historical imagination of Italian elites like the Malvezi de’Medicis. As we expand the PPP I can’t wait to hear many more similar stories of matches and surprising finds!