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Lotus Library Publications No. 1: Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

October 3, 2018

Joe Howard and Bob Forrest have sent an update about the results of their earlier request for information about one of the illustrations in the 1918 Lotus Library edition of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.  

This is an update following our recent “Request for Information” concerning variants in one of the illustrations in the above edition of the Rubaiyat:

Fourteen copies have now been examined and, of these, twelve contain images like Fig. 1 and one each like Fig. 2 and Fig.3.

Fig. 1                                                        Fig. 2                                                      Fig. 3

On careful examination of the twelve copies containing Fig. 1, seven clearly show signs of having been altered. An example, an image from Bob Forest’s copy, is shown in Fig. 4.

Fig. 4

This data supports our assertion that the Lotus Library edition was originally printed using Fig.2 and that many of the copies were subsequently altered by applying ink to cover the eye of the peacock feather in this specific illustration. We suggest that Fig.3 is the result of someone, who was aware of the original illustration, trying to restore an altered copy-albeit rather unskillfully.

We also maintain our original hypothesis that the alteration was made because, after printing, it was realized that the use of the peacock feather “eye” in this specific case was open to a possible embarrassing, for 1918, misinterpretation as representing the female reproductive system.

Two observations of the complete set of illustrations in the Lotus Library edition lend credence to this hypothesis. Firstly, there are several other illustrations which include nude figures. In every case the artist has used a device (bent knee, rotated hips, large peacock feather etc.) to cover the genital areas. This indicates a certain coyness and it seems highly unlikely that Stirling would have intentionally included an image which was more sexually graphic. Secondly, the peacock feather motif is used extensively throughout this edition with at least twenty examples of peacock feathers with “eyes” like that shown in Fig.2. However, there is no (other) example of an all-black “eye”.

So, in conclusion, we interpret the use of ink to disguise a potentially embarrassing image as a literal “cover-up”.

Finally, we wish to express our sincere thanks to all those who contributed comments and information about their own, or library copies, of the Lotus Edition No. 1.

Joe Howard and Bob Forrest

One Comment leave one →
  1. David Bullivant permalink
    June 7, 2019 4:39 pm

    Thank you for this excellent article. My copy is one of the later ones (No. 968), and careful examination shows that the “eye” has been inked out by hand. I’ve seen a photo of No. 60 also inked out, so presumably it wasn’t restricted to the later copies, unless they were sold at random rather than in sequence. Anyway, it makes me wonder how many copies were sold in the original state.

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