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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.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Douglas Taylor permalink
    December 15, 2015 8:21 pm

    Ross Sterling Turner ?

  2. December 16, 2015 2:33 pm

    Thanks, Douglas for that quick correction. Apologies from Joe Howard and ourselves for not checking beforehand. We’ll edit the two posts.

  3. dantonoday permalink
    November 3, 2016 7:58 pm

    Hi Joe, I’d like to know if it would be possible to obtain a few of your images of Ross Turner’s work for a book on Rubaiyat decorators that I’m doing? My email is Thanks for considering this, Danton

  4. dantonoday permalink
    November 3, 2016 7:59 pm

    Sandra/Bill: can you contact me via email (, I’ve lost your contact information–apologies for using this posting, take care, Danton

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