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2015 in review

December 30, 2015

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 11,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

More about Rubaiyats Illuminated and Decorated by Ross Sterling Turner (1847-1915)

December 15, 2015

Ross TurnerheadThis is the second part of Joe Howard’s interesting piece on the work by Ross Turner on the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.  See the previous post for comments on Turner’s edition of 1902;  the post also contains some information about Turner himself.  A portrait of Turner is shown on the right.  Joe would be grateful for further information and comments.  Please add them at the end.

Saint Dunstan Illuminated Edition: 1901

Potter (249) provides some detail on this edition, which was part of a set of 12 volumes, planned to be issued in 30 complete sets at the amazing price of $12,000 per set! Recall that the Great Omar was offered for sale for $1,000 in 1911 and did not sell. In addition to the “Rubaiyat”, the volumes included E B Browning’s “Sonnets from the Portuguese”, Shakespeare’s Sonnets (2 volumes) and Tennyson’s “Holy Grail”. The publisher’s prospectus states: “No two titles will be alike in typography, in illumination, or in binding.” and “The illumination will be done by Mr. Turner throughout.”

St Dunstan Rubaiyat 2It was intended that the different titles would be illuminated according to a School of Illumination that was appropriate for the specific title. The Oriental School was used for the Rubaiyat and this was described as:

“The Persian and Arabic form of Illuminated MSS. in its splendour of colour effects and superb design is not subordinated to the finest work of the Western Schools of Illumination. The Orientals vary in methods and forms of art expression; they note the absence of life in many Oriental MSS. Representation of the human figure are more than replaced by the wealth of magnificent design, which is the most perfect form of pure decoration known to us. The different manner in the use of gold in decoration by the Oriental Illuminator is marked, while many Western forms of Illuminated MSS. blaze with forms in burnished gold. The Oriental MSS. are equally splendid in dull or “mat” gold, effects none the less beautiful from an artistic point of view.”

An article Art of Illumination Revived in the Cambridge Tribune Vol. XXIV, No. 8, 27 April 1901, provides some interesting insights :

“The examples of illumination already completed by him [Turner] are extremely striking for their delicacy, invention, richness of color and charm of design. It is estimated that four years will be required to finish the work. It is done on parchment.”

“The St. Dunstan volumes therefore represent the revival of an abandoned art, and it is claimed that nothing to be compared with them has been produced for four centuries.”

Clearly the intent was for Turner to hand illuminate 360 volumes-surely overly optimistic/ambitious. This in fact proved to be the case. In fact Ross Turner did not even illustrate all the Rubaiyats. At least one copy was illuminated by Edith A Hibbs and another (no. 14) by A Formilli is currently for sale for $11,000. A “Publisher’s Proof” copy illuminated by R Turner was sold at auction.

Given the subscription price, I was surprised to see an auction record for a St Dunstan edition Rubaiyat sold for $60.00 in June 1916. The St. Dunstan Editions were continued with the complete works of Charles Dickens planned for 15 sets at $1,000 per volume. Unfortunately the publisher, George Sproul, found himself embroiled in controversy. There were accusations of unacceptable quality, volumes not delivered and subscribers who were unable to pay the subscription price, along with some legal actions. Some of these volumes were also resold for a fraction of the subscription price.

Garry Gerrard in his “A Book of Verse” states that just 22 of the planned 30 sets of the Rubaiyat were completed.

Rubaiyat set with stones: 1900

I recently came across very brief details of another Rubaiyat illustrated by Turner in A Cumulative Index of Books of 1900, compiled under the direction of M, E. Potter, H, W. Wilson Publisher, Minneapolis 1901. It states: Decorations by Ross Turner, Quarto, 60 pages, vellum, metal clasps, set with stones, $100.00, Bowles J. M. By comparing this entry with the style of other entries in the book, it appears that J.M. Bowles was the publisher. I have no other details.  Does anyone know more?


Rubaiyats Illuminated and Decorated by Ross Sterling Turner (1847-1915) – Part 1

December 12, 2015

Joe Howard has sent us some interesting information about some very special illuminated editions of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.  If you have comments, or can answer any of Joe’s questions, please post them below.

Ross Turner was born in Westport, New York. He started his career as a draftsman and worked for the U.S. Patent Office in Washington D.C. In 1876 he went to Europe to study art. After 7 years and periods in Paris, Munich, Rome, Florence and Venice he returned to the USA. Ross became an influential and enthusiastic teacher of watercolor painting and a well known painter, in oils and watercolors, of landscapes, marine scenes and still life. He developed a passion for illustration and was renowned for his illumination. Ross Turner died in Nassau, the Bahamas where he had gone for health reasons.

The Omar Khayyam Club of America paid tribute to Ross Turner as follows: “Charter member, Vice president of this club for fifteen years, great painter and artist, ardent and enthusiastic flower and book lover, gentle, refined and true, whose illuminated Omar ranks as among the most beautiful of all.”

Ross Turner Edition: 1902

I own a Rubaiyat, quarto with leaves of vellum, illuminated by Ross Turner. It is undated and unpaginated, was bound by Trautz-Bauzonnet and printed by The Cambridge University Press, Cambridge USA. Photographs of this edition do not seem to be readily available so I am sharing some images.

Turner Rubaiyat001

Turner Rubaiyat002










The initial letter of each quatrain is illuminated and these letters are included in a continuous intertwined floral and foliated decoration that unifies the quatrains within each page. There is additional decoration on some pages and color and gold are used throughout.

ITurner Rubaiyat003 believe this to be a copy of the book described in Potter 251; “Ross Turner Edition”. Potter comments that “The compiler has never seen a copy” and further writes that “25 copies on H.M.P and copies on pure vellum were to have been issued, but Mr. Turner was an elderly man and failed to get sufficient encouragement to go on with the work; so very few were done.

The reverse of the title page in my copy, the only leaf with something on both sides, has the following printed Turner Rubaiyat005“THIS EDITION IS LIMITED TO TWENTY FIVE 6 COPIES ON VELLUM AND TWENTY FIVE COPIES ON HAND MADE PAPER OF WHICH THIS IS NO. 6— The numbers are handwritten in red and the text has been struck out with multiple lines. Elsewhere I have seen it stated that, on the basis of auction records, there were 8 vellum copies produced plus an out-of-series copy marked “A”. Regarding the H.M.P. version, I have seen a copy at auction (2009) which was advertised as No 2 out of 10. Once again the printed reference to 25 copies had been hand-amended in that copy.

Turner Rubaiyat06Potter also states that there “three quatrains to a page“. With 101 quatrains in total, this is not strictly attainable. Of the options possible for arranging the quatrains, I find it curious that the one chosen was; 2 pages each with one {1, 101}, three with two {(80.81),(91,92), (99,100)} and 31 pages each with three. Why not, for example the more obvious, 33 pages each with 3 quatrains and the first and last quatrains on pages of their own?

The final printed page of my copy contains the first verse of James Russell Lowell’s poem “In a copy of Omar Khayyam” in calligraphic style.

Turner Rubaiyat007Potter further states “Designs by Mr. Bowles“. Mr. Bowles is not acknowledged in my copy. I assume that this is Joseph Moore Bowles the well-known printer, publisher of fine books, founder and editor of the magazine “Modern Art”, a quarterly publication that was heavily decorated. He was an enthusiast for the Arts and Crafts Movement, Director of the Art Center New York, a member of the Institute of Graphic Arts and he wrote and designed the book “Some Examples of the Work of American Designers”. Details of his specific contribution to this Turner Rubaiyat are unclear to me.

More comments on Ross Turner’s other editions of the Rubaiyat will follow in a second post.

“The Secrets of Eternity”

November 30, 2015

Secrets of Eternity“The Secrets of Eternity. Omar Khayyám and Contemporary Art” is a multimedia exhibition inspired by the poetry of Persian classical poet Omar Khayyam (1048-1131). It was opened Friday, 27 November in  Tehran.

The exhibition displays works of filmmakers, actors, painters and illustrators including Abbas Kiarostami, Mohammad Ehsai, Farshid Mesqali and many others to show how they have been inspired and influenced by Khayyám’s poems.

The accompanying website shows a number of the works and the portraits of their creators, and it gives an impression of the visiting public. Due to the large number of works to be displayed, the exhibition runs in two parts: from 27 November till 25 December, and from 8 January till 5 February.

“The Secrets of Eternity”

Yet more on Cecil G Trew and her illustrated Rubaiyat

November 18, 2015

Bob Forrest has sent us a copy of the second Trew illustration for quatrain 17 of FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat, fourth edition.  This comes from of copy of Trew’s Reveries, in the UCLA Library.  We show this illustration below, together with Bob’s other version for comparison – the UCLA image comes first.  For reference the relevant quatrain is as follows.

Think, in this batter’d Caravanserai /Whose Portals are alternate Night and Day,

How Sultán after Sultán with his Pomp /Abode his Destin’d Hour, and went his way.

v.17 (2nd version)







JH Trew No 17

Identifying and repairing copies of the Rubaiyat

November 12, 2015

In a comment on the previous post. bomkampt8 asks for advice on repairing and identifying a copy of the Rubaiyat.  Specifically he asks the following:

to any interested parties….i am still in need to find a place that will restore or at the very least determine what years edition i have of the omar khayyam rubaiyat. also the front is fading,peeling badly over the years and i cannot make out the image of the front cover. if anyone knows of a place that can delicately restore my edition, i would greatly appreciate it. any response is helpful. i tried doing this same thing once before on this site, and got no answer at all. thank you for your time.

In our experience, this question can only be answered on a local basis.  One needs to find a local antiquarian bookseller and/or book restorer, and show them the copy of the book that you have.  The local booksellers will often know the names of good restorers in the area.  Good sources of information about local antiquarian booksellers are the web directories or yellow pages.  In addition, AbeBooks,, have a useful listing of regional booksellers covering many countries.  Not all booksellers will be knowledgeable about the Rubaiyat, but they can point you in the right direction.  If you have any information about the copy on a title page or equivalent, then Potter’s Bibliography, or Coumans’ for later editions, can be very useful.

We hope these comments are helpful.

More on Cecil G Trew and her illustrated Rubaiyat

November 11, 2015

Joe Howard has kindly provided the following images and comments to add to the discussion about the Trew Rubaiyat, initiated by Bob Forrest and Douglas Taylor – see previous post for the full discussion.

omar drew 72(1)  This is the first illustrated leaf of my portfolio. Unlike Bob’s, it has no text.









JH Copy Trew(2)  This is the cover of my portfolio, it has a different title from Bob’s copy. In addition the quotation, while the same, has a different font and layout. This is a poor photograph. The printing is much better (brighter and more uniform gilt) on the original. If needed, I will take another.








JH Trew No 17(3)  This is my image No 17. Bob wanted to see it so he could send me the other version of the image that has this verse.






Drew Rubaiyat Auction








(4)  I found this on the internet and noted two things (a) there is no text on the portfolio cover and (b) The description of the portfolio says it has 25 illustrations with associated verses. This compares with the quotation from a contemporary review that I posted, which said that in “The Reverie…..” there were just 24 illustrations with verses on them.



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