Original post (2015-07-23)

I am currently preparing my thesis for publication and the process of revision, I am again turning to Ottoman legal texts and their translations. Today I want to come briefly back to a question I have extensively dealt with in my thesis: The difficulty of dating printed sources from the late Ottoman Bilād al-Shām. Consider the following image of the imprint for the second volume of Nawfal Niʿmat Allah Nawfal’s translation of Ottoman laws edited by Khalīl Khūrī and published by al-Maṭbaʿa al-Adabiyya in Beirut1.

Imprint of the second volume of *al-dustūr

The date of publication is clearly stated as the year 1301. The calendar of this dating could either be Muslim 1301 (hijrī), which would translate to 1883/84 Gregorian, or Ottoman 1301 (mālī), which began on 13 March 1885. So far, so common and without further ado—and I strongly suspect without further thought—the world’s libraries catalogued the book as having been publised in 1883. The content of the book as well as the publishing house—al-Maṭbaʿa al-Adabiyya was a venture by Khalīl Sarkīs2, the Greek Orthodox owner of Beirut’s most successful periodical and only daily newspaper Lisān al-Ḥāl—raise the probability for mālī reckoning.

Then I came across announcements of its publication in the Beiruti press. Both Lisān al-Ḥāl and Thamarāt al-Funūn ran adverts for the new publication on their front pages in May 1887.3 Against the backdrop of the book’s publisher printing announcements in his own newspaper it now seemed likely that the second volume had inherited the date of publication from the first volume and was indeed printed only in 1887.

Unlike the first volume, scans of the second cannot be found online, but I was lucky to locate a copy at the library of the American University of Beirut. To my surprise the volume carried an ownership stamp on its last page:

Ownership stamp of Librairie Universelle Beyrouth

It reads in French and Arabic:

Librairie Universelle 1883 Beyrout

li-l-maktaba al-jāmiʿa li-Khalīl al-Khūrī 1883 Bayrūt

The stamp seemingly indicates that the copy at AUB once belonged to the editor of the book, Khalīl al-Khūrī, himself. The stamp also records a Gregorian date: 1883. If this was the date of acquisition, the stamp could prove that the volume was indeed published in 1301 hijrī. Going through my research notes, however, it appeared that the Librairie Universelle was a publishing press and bookstore rather than a library run by the brothers Amīn and Khalīl al-Khūrī in Beirut. It is unclear when they had established the printing press, but at least by 1887 they had adopted the more common Arabic term for a publishing press: al-maṭbaʿa al-jāmiʿ.4 But why would a bookstore stamp its merchandise?

For the moment this question must remain as open as the opening date of the endeavour.

update 2016-02-26

I was lucky to have a one-month trial access to Gale’s new “Early Arabic Printed Books from the British Library” platform and eagerly browsed and searched for books from Beirut and Damascus. They hold a number of Niqūlā Efendi Naqqāsh’s translations of Ottoman laws. One of them, a translation of Orhan Vahan Efendi’s comment on the Commercial Code,5 carried another ownership stamp:

Ownership stamp of Librairie Générale Beyrouth

Librairie générale A. Sader Beyrouth

al-maktaba al-ʿumūmiyya li-Ibrāhīm Ṣādir Bayrūt

But this time we are better informed about the publisher al-Maktaba al-ʿUmūmiyya. This publishing house and bookstore was set up by Ibrāhīm Efendi Ṣādir in 1863. Soon the company also included his sons and operated under “Ibrāhim Ṣādir wa-Awlāduhu”. As “Sader” the company is still active and the leading publisher of Lebanese legal compendia. It seems that most of its operations have shifted online these days.

update 2016-10-12

In May this year, I participated in a conference titled “Books in Motion” in Beirut and had a chance to finally meet Hala Auji and listen to her talk on “Visual Translations: The Shifting Material Dimensions of 19th-Century Printed Editions of Arabic Classics” — which was based on research conducted for her recently published book.6 Her talk focussed on the gradual shift from manuscript to print culture between Cairo, Beirut, and India and its visual aspects. Talking about the continuous popularity of al-Mutanabbī’s Dīwān and the plethora of editions published during the late 19th century, she projected the image of an edition held at Harvard’s Widener Library. According to Hala Auji this Dīwān was printed in Calcutta but the frontispiece carries the same stamp of Ibrāhīm Ṣādir’s al-Maktaba al-ʿUmūmiyya:

Ownership stamp of Librairie Générale Beyrouth. Courtesy of Hala Auji

It is not entirely clear how Auji arrived at the conclusion that this edition was printed in Calcutta. Comparing the frontispieces it seems that a copy at University of Michigan, freely available through HathiTrust, is indeed the same edition. Its final page (292) states that Shaykh ʿUmar al-Rāfiʿī confirms the veracity of this print edition that was completed in 1283 aH [1866]. According to Ilyān Sarkīs’ union catalogue of Arabic printed works (Muʿjam al-maṭbūʿat al-ʿarabiyya wa-l-muʿarraba) this edition of 292 pages was printed on a lithographic printing press in Cairo.7

  1. Nawfal, Nawfal Efendi Niʿmat Allāh. Al-dustūr: Tarjamahu min al-lughat al-turkiyya ilā al-ʿarabiyya Nawfal Niʿmat Allāh Nawfal bāshkātib kamāruk ʿArabistān sābiqan; bi-murājaʿa wa tadqīq Khalīl al-Khūrī mudīr maṭbūʿāt Wilāyat Sūriyya. Edited by Khalīl Efendi al-Khūrī. Vol.2. Bayrūt: al-Maṭbaʿa al-adabiyya, 1301. 

  2. c.f. MWT Salname Suriye 13 1298 aH [Dec. 1880]:247, UBTüb Salname Suriye 17 1302 aH [Oct. 1884]:250. 

  3. Lisān al-Hāl 26 May 1887 (#959):1, Thamarāt al-Funūn 30 May 1887 (#633):1 advertised the book at a price of 2 mecidiye or Ps 40. 

  4. e.g. Lisān al-Ḥāl 13 Oct. 1887 (#999):4. 

  5. Vāḥān, Ohan. Sharḥ Qānūn al-Tijārah. Translated by Niqūlā Efendi Naqqāsh. Bayrūt: al-Maṭbaʿa al-ʿUmūmiyya, 1880. 

  6. Auji, Hala. Printing Arab Modernity: Book Culture and the American Press in Nineteenth-Century Beirut. Leiden: Brill, 2016. 

  7. Sarkīs, Yūsuf Ilyān. Muʿjam al-maṭbūʿat al-ʿArabiyya wa-l-muʿarraba: wa-huwa shāmil li-asmāʾ al-kutub al-maṭbūʿa fī al-aqtar al-sharqiyya wa-l-gharbiyya, maʿa dhikr asmāʾ muʾallifiha wa-lumʿa min tarjamātihim; wa-dhalik min yawm ẓuhūr al-ṭabaʿa ilā nihāyat al-sanat al-Hijriyya 1339 al-muwāfiqa li-sanat 1919 milādiyya. 2 vols. Vol.2. Miṣr: Maṭbaʿat Sarkīs, 1928; p.1616.