The 1541 Meturgeman: Early printed Ashkenazic books and provenance

The 1541 Meturgeman is a fascinating volume that I recently had the privilege of cataloging for the Rare Book Collection. It was exhibited on October 23rd for the Archives Month Philly event: “From Antartica to Zimbabwe: Around the World with Archives, Books and Codices;” see the full announcement here.

The title of the 1541 Meturgeman, from Sotheby’s catalog photo.

The Meturgeman is an important work and there is a lot to say about it; the 1541 edition (the editio princeps, or first edition) is one of two volumes of lexicography printed in Isny im Allgäu by Paul Fagius and written by Elijah Levita.

Levita was a scholar and a teacher of Hebrew grammar, proofreader, a prolific lexicographer, and writer; he was a literary figure who even wrote the first Yiddish novel (the bovo bukh) and among the periods of travel throughout his life, he settled in Isny im Allgäu, Germany.

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The Final Part of a Mamlūk Qurʾān Copy

A serendipitous discovery happened as part of the Manuscripts of the Muslim World project a few weeks ago. Mitch Fraas, the project lead at Penn, came by and dropped off a copy of the Journal of Islamic Manuscripts to me. A break sounded nice, so I turned away from NEP 80, normally housed in the Penn Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, to have a look at the issue. When I got to the image on page 107, I thought “oh hey, I was just looking at that.” But wait, I couldn’t have been looking at the same thing, since the article I was reading is about a manuscript in the Louvre, in Paris (MAO 2281) and I had been looking at NEP 80 here in Philadelphia. NEP 80 is the last volume of a 30-volume copy of the Qurʾān, and it turns out that the Louvre has volume 10 from the same set. The Royal Library in Brussels has volume 15, and seven more volumes are held in Cairo in the Dār al-Kutub (Juvin, 2019, 117). If you do the math, you will notice that 20 volumes are still unaccounted for, so keep your eyes peeled.

The dual-page illuminated first opening of the copy at the Penn Museum, pictured above, and decorated with green and blue lotus flowers is nearly identical to the volume held at the Louvre. You can read Carine Juvin’s article to find out in full why these copies of each section of the Qurʾān are noteworthy for art historical and provenance reasons, but let’s take a closer look now at our own copy from this lovely set.

Penn Museum NEP 80, f. 1r, frontispiece with title of section, al-Juzʼ al-thalāthūn (the 3oth part).

The museum’s copy is volume 30, so the last in the set. The Qurʾān is sometimes copied in 30 volumes instead of as one volume because the Qurʾān is divided into 30 equal parts. The parts can be copied separately, if one wants. This set is fairly large in size, each volume measuring between 41-43 cm by 30-33 cm, which means it was likely for public use in the madrasah (school) where it was produced, rather than as copy for someone’s personal use.

This copy of the Qurʾān is an interesting specimen because of its layout, which Juvin argues is an early example of a style that is just beginning to catch on in the 14th century in the Mamlūk region of Egypt and Syria and was imported from Ilkhanid Iran (123). The layout of alternating text size, as seen below with a line of large muḥaqqaq script, followed by four lines of smaller naskh script, a typical bookhand, is designed to liven up the page. On the pages pictured below, we can see the gold lines of thuluth script, another large form of headline script, which, in this case, is used for the sūrah (chapter) headings. The medallions in the margins are marking verse count; the pointed medallions mark every fifth verse, and the circular ones mark every tenth verse. If you look closely, you can see the words five (خمسة) and ten (عشرة) written in the center of the medallion.

Penn Museum NEP 80, f. 12r detail of trimmed words along the fore-edge.

The Penn Museum copy measures slightly smaller than the Louvre copy. That is probably because the Penn Museum copy had its pages trimmed at some point. This seems likely because notations in the margins about text divisions and prostrations are often cut off. We can still read “niṣf ḥizb” in the image at right, meaning half of a ḥizb (a type of subdivision of the Qurʾān), but the words were probably not designed to run off the page like that which means that the leaf edges have likely been trimmed. It is not unusual to find trimmed edges in manuscripts that have been rebound, but this copy has its original boards, though they are now detached. The copy in Brussels (Ms 19991; Juvin, 121, figures 9 and 10 ) also still has its covers, and they are quite similar to the Penn Museum copy. Both show the block stamp design on the inside cover and the gold tooled, intricate, geometric patterned medallion, pictured below, on the outside cover. Likewise, the tooling on the envelope flap that folds over the fore-edge is similar.

Another characteristic of this copied set of Qurʾān volumes is the omissions, corrections and the like that appear throughout its pages. In her article, Juvin mentions that this could mean that this set was made as part of a routine copying for use in the school, rather than as a special order (116). In the Penn Museum copy, we have two nice examples of this type of making-do when something has gone not quite right. Below left, an image of verses squeezed in when they were accidentally left out of the copy. The copyist’s eye probably jumped over one line since two verses in this sūrah (al-Layl) begin in a similar way. Below right, a medallion marking five verses has been modified to fit around the lines of text that extend into the margins.

The image on the right, above, where the medallion fits around the text, also shows us that copying a Qurʾān such as this was not the work of just one person. Someone laid out the text and wrote it, and then other people, each of whom had their own skill set, went through and finished it in terms of decoration. That means that someone would add the rosettes at the end of the verses, someone else would add red and blue decorations, and someone else would add gold. This production by several hands means that sometimes you will find gaps in the copy where a decoration has been left out, or where the rubricator (the person who writes the red, gold, or other colors of text) neglected to write in headings, titles, or other special features.

Like all other volumes that make up this set, the Penn Museum volume has a colophon that tells when and where this copy of the Qurʾān was produced. Unfortunately, all known volumes in the set list the same exact date as the date of completion, even though they could not all have been completed on the same day (Juvin, 117). Although we know where the copy was produced, by whom, and on what day the entire set was finished, we do not know how long it took the scribe, Aḥmad ibn ʻAlī al-Iṣfahānī, to complete the work.

This colophon, pictured above, and set off in wide gold rules with chain design and gold marginal vignette with blue finials, says that the copy was made by Aḥmad ibn ʻAlī al-Iṣfahānī in the madrasah founded by al-Malik al-Ẓāhir Abū Saʿīd on the 10th day of the month of Dhū al-Hijjah in the year 789 A.H. (that is 22 December, 1387). The ruler referred to in this colophon is the Sultan Barqūq who reigned from Cairo from 1382–1389 and from 1390–1399. He founded a number of public works and this madrasah was one of his institutions.

One more notable feature of this copy are the inscriptions found in the same hand and relating to the same topic at both the beginning and end of the codex. The note at the end is dated 1246 A.H. (1830 or 1831 CE), and is written in an Arabic with a number of spelling errors (f. 44v). It is unclear what the significance of the notes might have been to the person who wrote them or what relation they have to the manuscript itself. Three graduate students at Penn are currently investigating this manuscript further, and hopefully will make more discoveries about its acquisition, previous owners, and mysterious notes. Stay tuned. While you are waiting, please peruse the completely digitized version of NEP80 here.

Penn Museum, NEP 80, f. 44r. The note in Arabic with spelling errors, the full meaning of which is still to be clarified.

 

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.

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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).

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“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.

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“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).

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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.

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“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.

Codex38note

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.