Skip to content

An Omarian Alphabet

July 14, 2020

Joe Howard has sent us a very interesting article on an unusual presentation of Rubaiyat verses.  This is shown below.  Our thanks to Joe for sharing his research with us all.

Fig 1

Fig.1. Clarke W Walton

An Omarian Alphabet (Coumans 969) was arranged and published, in a limited edition of 75 copies, by Clarke Willis Walton, at The Sunnyside Press, in 1935. I am unaware of either a readily available detailed description or pictures of the book: both are provided here, together with additional context.

CWW (1885-1938, Fig. 1.) spent his professional career associated with the manufacturing of cotton goods in the Carolinas, USA. He installed a small, hand-operated printing press in a wooden outbuilding on his property in Monroe NC and went on to establish a national reputation as a respected amateur printer and publisher. Walton produced a range of books under the auspices of his two presses: Sunnyside (founded 1931) and Lilliputian (founded with W. Hoyte Maness). These included at least 15 small edition/numbered limited editions, of the Rubaiyat1. This is a truly remarkable contribution from an amateur.

Fig 2

Fig.2. Title page

For An Omarian Alphabet (Fig.2.), CWW selected 26 quatrains by 24 translators (2 each from Fitzgerald and Thompson) and associated each quatrain with a different letter of the alphabet. To each quatrain he added a caption of the form, A IS for Allah, the Lord of Omar or M IS for Morning, time for youth to rise (see Table 1. at end). With the single exception of the letter “X”, the alliterative words in the captions (eg Allah and Morning above) were chosen from the matching quatrains.   Walton then assigned the quatrains amongst four different typographers, including himself, for typesetting by hand. The typographers are identified only by their initials (CWW II, WHH, RLP and PHJ) on the pages they typeset. Each quatrain is printed on a separate page with the initial letter of each of the captions illuminated in black and overlaid with yellow (see Fig.3a &b.). The left and right pages are decorated with grapes and a rose, respectively.

Fig 3a

Fig.3a. Pages from An Omarian Alphabet

Fig 3b

Fig.3b. More pages from An Omarian Alphabet

The booklet (17.5 by 12 cm) is bound with blue paper that has been folded along the top edge. This serves to conceal the stapling at the spine. The title is printed on the front in gold (Fig 4.) and the free endpapers are yellow/gold.

Fig 4

Fig.4. Front cover of An Omarian Alphabet

My copy has two interesting additions. These imply that it was (one of) Walton’s personal copies. The inside rear cover contains a list of 31 handwritten names. The handwriting is similar to that found on official documents filled out by Walton. Some of these names (e.g. Potter, Saklatwalla) will be familiar to Rubaiyat enthusiasts.  I suggest that this is a (partial) record of those who were either presented with or purchased copies of the Alphabet. A, G Potter’s name has a 2 (presumably 2 copies) beside it. A large portion of Potter’s Rubaiyat collection is in The Collection of Material about Omar Khayyam (Collection 378). UCLA Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library2. His copy of The Omarian Alphabet is listed as item 47 in the Related Material subsection of the Finding Aid. This listing includes the intriguing comment “Initials coloured by A G Potter”. With the library currently closed (Covid 19 related), I have not been able to check with them, but I’m wondering if this is a misunderstanding about the printed yellow overlay-which is not always well-registered-see illuminated “G” in Fig.3b.and the “A” in Fig.2.

Fig 5

Fig.5. Part of letter from Ted Freter

The second addition was a pleasant surprise. The bottom edge of the rear cover has been taped internally to form a pocket. Inside I found a typed letter (dated 4-19-35) sent from Washington DC. and addressed to Dear Clarke, from a Ted Freter. Freter’s name is on the list of names mentioned above. Both the letter contents and my internet searches imply that Freter was an actor. In this letter, Freter expresses his delight at receiving an Easter gift of copy number 2 of the Alphabet which would “…occupy a preferred place amongst my Khayyamiana.” and refers to it as “…a little gem.” However, he quickly progresses to express “…my only regret is that I didn’t proof read it.” Freter then lists several typographical errors and asks some questions (Fig. 5.). He does, however, go on to provide encouragement with “It could have twice its imperfections, and still be priceless.”

There are other typesetting errors/inconsistencies. For example;, on all the captions, both letters of “IS” are capitalized;  on the page for the letter “G”, the alliterative word, “garden”, is not capitalized; a comma is not always present between the translator’s name and the verse numbers; the Michael Kerney verse (letter “Y”) has no number  (it should be  XXXVI), and an invalid Roman numeral (CCCCXVI) is used for the Corvo-Nicolas verse (letter “Z”). It should read CDXVI.

I have a great deal of information about CWW (life, publications, printing press, published Rubaiyats, other publications, personal Rubaiyat collection etc.) which I am intending to write-up.

For three of the typesetters of the Alphabet, only their initials are known. Does any reader know their names or have any other information about them? [Please comment below].

My sincere thanks to Sandra and Bill Martin for recommending that I compile and insert Table 1.

References and comments

  1. Fourteen of these are listed in the Indices of J Coumans The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam an updated bibliography under the headings Walton, Sunnyside Press and Lilliputian Press. Item 413 is also from the Sunnyside Press, but is not in listed in that section of the Indices.



Table 1.  Listing of translators whose verses are included in An Omarian Alphabet

Author Quatrain Year Caption Comment
A Whinfield CLXX ? A IS for Allah, the Lord of Omar. 168 in 1893 edition. 305 in other editions
B Cadell XXI 1899 B IS for Bahram, a great old sport.
C Shrubsole CLIII 1920 C IS for Contentment, hard to find.
D Dooman CLXLVIII 1911 D IS for Dowry, love to the bride.
E Pasha LXXXVIII 1913 E IS for Enemy, a friend to make. See Potter 335
F Noxon VI ? F IS for Fate, in another’s hand. I cannot trace Noxon
G Lister IX 1920/ 1929 G IS for Garden, that lovely place I was not able to confirm
H Guiterman XIIa 1909 H IS for Heaven, not a cash item. Actually is XIIIa
I Fitzgerald XCIII 1872 I IS for Idols, loved so long.
J Heron-Allen IX 1898 J IS for Jug, once a man.
K Talbot XXII 1908 K IS for Khayyam, sold for a song.
L Garner I XXI 1888 L IS for Life, fleeting fast.
M Marvin I 1902 M IS for Morning, time for youth to rise. Flowers of Song from many lands, Pafraets Book Company, Troy New York page 94 “SUNRISE”
N Thompson CXCI 1906 N IS for naught, all that is known.
O Cutter XVI 1900 O IS for Oblivion, cheat it if you can.
P Roe CXV 1910 P IS for Pots, seen at the potter’s.
Q McCarthy LII 1889 Q IS for Question, all conclusions vain. Quatrains not numbered. see page XVII
R Powell IX 1897 R IS for Rose, like a Ruby rare. The Pageant page 107, Potter 364
S Le Gallienne CLI 1902 *S IS for Soul, the senses catching on fire. Actually CLII: Page 67
T Whinfield XLV 1893 T IS for Tent, brief dwelling of the soul. Actually XLIV
U Fitzgerald XXIX 1859 U IS for Universe, and why not knowing.
V Payne XX 1898 V IS for Verse, written on a cup.
W Whitney LVI 1903 W IS for Wine, Omar well knows.
X Thompson XXX 1906 X IS for things unknown, as Omar’s Algebra may tell.
Y Michael Kerney None 1887 Y IS for Youth, the bird of joy. XXXVI
Z Corvo-Nicolas CCCCXVI 1903 Z IS for Zal, mighty Rustan’s sire. CDXVI

* The typesetter has inserted the word “on” which does not occur in the original: The soul is but the senses catching fire,


18 Comments leave one →
  1. Barney Rickenbacker permalink
    July 16, 2020 9:30 pm

    I am curious about CWW’s life and interests and look forward to hearing more from Joe Howard. Are there descendants who have things to say about him?

    • Joseph Howard permalink
      March 2, 2022 10:43 pm

      I now have a great deal of information about CWW. Local librarians in NC have been extraordinarily helpful. When I write it up, I will ask S&B to provide information on accessing on their blog.

  2. June 30, 2021 9:39 am

    The trackback link below is for those who ore interested in unsolved mysteries and code breaking. It was posted by Peter Bowes.

  3. July 1, 2021 2:12 am

    Thanks for the plug, SandraBill. Have you ever seen a copy of Walton’s book?

    • July 1, 2021 9:53 am

      We saw the Walton book in a US library a good many years ago. It’s very attractive.

      • July 1, 2021 10:27 am

        As always, I have another question: did Walton print ‘Taman Shud’ on the last page of his Omarian Alphabet?

  4. July 1, 2021 3:07 pm

    I fear we have no idea about that.

    • Joseph Howard permalink
      March 2, 2022 10:44 pm

      No, he did not. It finishes with the page for “Z”.

  5. July 2, 2021 6:13 am

    It may be just as well. Would I be right in assuming folks as yourself, SandraBill, would be able to recite anyone of the quatrains if asked?

    • July 2, 2021 11:02 am

      We don’t think that is really relevant to the discussion here, but for us the answer is no.

  6. July 2, 2021 11:04 am

    Thanks for giving me the time.

  7. July 23, 2021 4:20 am

    If I could ask yet one more question: do any images exist of even one of Walton’s 15 editions of the Rubaiyat, as far as you know?

    • July 23, 2021 11:13 am

      I fear we have no idea about that question, Peter. We’ll see if Joe know anything more.

      • July 24, 2021 9:22 am

        Joe’s reply to our query is that he doesn’t know of any images of the Walton editions that are in the public domain.

  8. July 24, 2021 9:38 am

    Thanks .. looks like I’ll have to sweet talk to his home-town librarian. Somerton Man researchers have their ways. I’ll let you know if I get lucky.

    • Joe Howard permalink
      May 3, 2022 7:18 pm

      I now have photographs of all the pages of two other Rubaiyat editions published by Walton-I will look into putting them in the public domain, along with complete images of the Omarian Alphabet.


  1. An Omarian Alphabet | The Somerton Man ...
  2. “Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam” Illustrated by Amos Stack | Omar Khayyam Rubaiyat

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: