As I noted at the end of last year, Ottoman and Arabic periodicals of the late nineteenth and early twentieh century appeared in different editions. Print-runs differed in spelling, pagination, lay-out, and content. However, I was not aware of the extend of this phenomenon.

I just discovered that the journal al-Muqtaṭaf, published by Yaʿqūb Ṣarrūf and Fāris Nimr under the directorship of Shahīn Makāriyūs in Beirut until 1884, printed two “first print runs” or first editions” (al-ṭabaʿat al-ūlā), whose content differed by exactly 32 pages per issue! Copies of the twelve issues of volume 7 (1882-83) available at many European and Middle Eastern libraries comprise 760 consecutively numbered pages, while the copy at Princeton library, digitally available at Hathitrust, comprises only 344 equally consecutively numbered pages.

To illustrate the matter, let’s have a look at the first issue of volume seven (June 1882):

Edition 1: “Small” version of 32 pages.

Held by Princeton University Library and made available through HathiTrust

facsimile page 15
facsimile page 15
facsimile page 16
facsimile page 16
facsimile page 17
facsimile page 17
facsimile page 18
facsimile page 18

Edition 2: “Large” version of 64 pages.

Held by the Orient Institut Beirut

facsimile page 15
facsimile page 15
facsimile page 16
facsimile page 16
facsimile page 17
facsimile page 17
facsimile page 18
facsimile page 18

The first 16 pages of the two editions are identical. Page 17 of the copy at the Orient Institut Beirut (OIB) is the first page of a lengthy tracte on “women’s rights” (ḥuqūq al-marʾa) by Wadīʿ Efendi al-Khūrī. In the Princeton copy, the same page 17 comprises four short questions (masāʾil) and the beginning of the section bāb tadbīr al-manzil. Both pages bear a printer’s mark with information on the volume, the edition, and the binding block. While volume number and edition are marked as identical, the number of the binding block differs: “3 ṣ” at Princeton, “3 k” at the OIB. To my astonishment, the OIB copy continues with the same paragraph of the bāb tadbīr al-manzil section on page 48, after which the two editions are again identical, save for the page numbers.

The printer’s marks provide a solution to the riddle in the case of al-Muqtaṭaf – or rather, they provide an indicator for the edition one is looking at. After having checked further volumes at the OIB (vol. 6-9), the volumes comprising “extended” issues of 64 pages all bear the Arabic letter kāf in the printer’s mark, while the “short” issues of 32 pages were marked with the latter ṣād. In addition, those copies whose index survived the times (at least 6-9), show that the index took account of a “large Muqtaṭaf” (al-muqtaṭ af al-kabīr in Arabic and abbreviated by the kāf in the printer’s mark) and a “small Muqtaṭaf” (al-muqtaṭaf al-ṣaghīr in and abbreviated with a ṣād).

Upon further investigations, it turned out that the two editions weren’t exactly completely “unmarked” beyond the printer’s mark on the binding blocks and the indexes. The cover sheet for the short and the extended version differ in the quoted prices and location of subscription:

  • The extended version quoted prices for annual subscriptions “in Europe and the Egyptian lands” at £1, while
  • the short version quoted annual subscriptions at “Beirut and Lebanon” at Frcs 7 and Frcs 8 for the surrounding areas (al-jihāt).

A systematic comparison of the two editions, the existence of which hitherto escaped the scholarly community, might reveal and equally systematic targetting of themes to different audiences. This could mean that major scholarly works on the Nahda, the press, and its audience need substantial reworking.