The historian's puzzle: various differences between copies of printed periodicals that ought to be similar
Over the course of the recent days I discovered that contrary to my expectations libraries around the world hold numerous unmarked editions and print-runs of the first series Düstur (tertib-i evvel). Copies vary in pagination,spelling, and content. Yet, neither the people I asked nor the scholarly works citing copies of Düstur, seem to be aware of significant differences between copies of the same volume. In consequence, it isalmost impossible to confirm references found in scholarly literature. Over the past years I had come to consider the many seemingly wrong references in Aristarchi and Young as, well, erroneous references by careless printers, copy-editors, even the translators themselves, but as it stands, they could have just used a different copy.
As I could not readily find any concordance or works dealing with this issue (which by the way also pertains to nineteenth century Arabicmonthly journals), I wondered whether anybody on various mailing lists could point me to relevant information. Düstur was the official collection of Ottoman legal texts at the time and the differences between the various print-runs had potentially grave consequences. Yet, to my surprise (again) nobody in the scholarly community of Ottomanists seems to be aware of these puzzling divergences and no reply had any answers to offer.
To illustrate the issue, I quickly built a simple website providing imagery for different versions of the table of contents of the first, third, and fourth volume of Düstur, as well as for a page of al-Muqtaṭaf 4(5). Please have a look at them and if any of the readers has access to further versions of the mentioned periodicals, I would appreciate a comment below or via twitter.
[Update 12 Jan 2013] The index to the first series of Düstur, published in 1891 as Ḳaraḳoç, Sarkiz. Miftāḥ-i Ḳavānīn-i ʿOŝmāniye. Der-i Saʿādet: Maḥmūd Bey Maṭbaʿası, 1309 aH , does not contain any information on divergent print-runs and editions.
[Update 19 Jan 2013] Safa Saraçoğlu solved at least part of the riddle, by pointing out that, before Düstur became a series from 1872 onwards, three independent volumes were published under the same title in in 1851, 1863, and 1866. Hence, what I thought of as the first edition of the first volume of the first series of Düstur was indeed the 1863 volume.