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A query about another fine Rubaiyat manuscript

November 14, 2017

Blog reader Fred Diba has posed the following query about another finely bound Rubaiyat manuscript

Can someone give me more information on the chronology of the Sangorski & Sutcliffe binding, which can be found in the Philadelphia Free LIbrary , as on this link:

How many of this binding were made? Dates?

Checking up on the link given yields the information that this volume was produced for the Grolier Club (then Society).  The image, copied here, certainly shows a very fine binding, and it sounds to us as though this was another one-off production?  We wonder whether the archives either of the Grolier Club or of Shepherds (the firm that took over Sangorski and Sutcliffe) might yield some useful information.  Please comment below if you can add anything further.


Mahamad Racim – an important Algerian artist and miniaturist

November 13, 2017

In the course of his researches on the book Life’s Echoes by ‘Tis True, Georges Bardawil has been investigating the story of Mahamad Racim, the artist who provided illustrations and decoration for this volume.  The following represents a summary drawn from his original remarks in French together with some additional biographical material.  We are grateful to Georges for sharing his findings and to Bob Forrest for sending us copies of some of Racim’s work for Life’s Echoes.  We should add that we have for years thought that the artist’s name was Racim Mahamad with the latter word the surname, since this is how he signed his work in Life’s Echoes.  But it is now clear that Racim is his surname, and our records have been corrected.

Mahamad (or Muhammed) Racim was a celebrated calligrapher, illustrator and a key figure in the modern school of Algerian painting and miniatures.  He was born into an artistic family in Algiers on 24th June 1896 and was murdered, with his wife, on 30th March 1975.  As a teenager he joined the state sponsored Cabinet de Dessin where he met the French Orientalist painter Etienne Dinet, who in 1916 asked him to ornament his book on the Life of the Prophet to be produced by Editions Piazza.  This was the beginning of a long collaboration with the celebrated publisher/editor.  Racim was also asked to decorate various other books and he illustrated and decorated the compilation of material in English from Omar Khayyam and others published in 1926 by ‘Tis True (aka Col. R J R Brown) under the title Life’s Echoes. *

These very promising beginnings encouraged Racim to leave the Cabinet de Dessin in the early 1920’s to go to Paris.  He signed a contract with Piazza to decorate the text of One Thousand and One Nights translated by Dr Mardrus, that Leon Carre had illustrated.  This work would occupy him for eight years and the income from it gave the young artist the freedom to travel and to study other painting traditions. An early visit to Cordoba and Granada revealed to him the riches of the Islamic golden age.  He spent time in the department of manuscripts in the National Library of France, and also travelled to London, where he met the scholar Sir Denison Ross, and to Cairo, Rome, Bucharest and Stockholm.

The discovery of Persian miniatures marked a key second stage in the apprenticeship of Mahamad Racim.  In the later 1920’s, there were shows of his works in Paris at the Museum Galiera in Paris, then at the Gallery Escale, where he received an enthusiastic welcome both from the public and from the press, who hailed him as an up and coming artist.  His contract with Editions Piazza expired in 1932 and the artist returned to Algeria where he organised an exhibition at the Gallery Soubiron.  From 1934 he devoted himself to teaching at the School of Fine Arts in Algeria.

Racim’s skills and drive gave Algeria a high ranking in the world of miniature art.  He became well known in other countries such as India and he has been called the greatest miniaturist of the 20th century.  He sought to revive a specifically Algerian tradition of art and to contribute to the cultural renaissance of the country which led on to Algerian revolution and independence.

* Some biographical material suggests that Racim illustrated a version of Omar Khayyam produced by the famous scholar Edward Granville Browne.  But there is no information on such a volume and it seems more likely that commentators have confused E G Browne with Col R J R Brown with whom Racim did work on the Life’s Echoes  volume.

More unusual associations for the Rubaiyat

November 12, 2017

Bob Forrest has sent us two newspaper items which highlight the unusual and very varied associations that the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam has had in the past.

The first of these relates to what Bob calls the ‘Murder, Suicide and the Rubaiyat’ theme on the blog – see e.g.  The sad story is shown on the left.  A woman was found dead in London in May 1953, with a copy of FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat open at quatrain 32 of the first edition, ‘There was a Door to which I found no Key: …’.  The verdict of the Coroner was that the lady had taken her own life.  One can only hope that the Rubaiyat was some solace to her, as it has often been to others in various kinds of distress .  Quite why this story from London was reported in the Aberdeen Evening Express remains a mystery.


Bob’s second item is in lighter mood.  The Daily Mirror of July 1916 contains a picture of a rather sultry-looking lady, who is identified as the Hon Mrs Vera Nicholson appearing in a matinee of studies from ‘Omar Khayyam’.  No more details of the event are given, so if anyone knows more about this, please comment below.  We are aware of various plays and dance and pageant events that have been created based on the Rubaiyat, particularly in the first two decades of the 20th century;  see e.g.  And the tradition continues to the present day – search the blog under ‘dance’ to see some other examples.

An illuminated manuscript on vellum of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

November 11, 2017

Blog reader and collector Roger Pass has told us about a very special copy of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam that is currently for sale on the web site Abebooks – see .  This is a one off manuscript version created in 1906 by Alberto Sangorski, at that time working with the great firm of bookbinders Sangorski and Sutcliffe;  this firm subsequently produced the so-called Great Omar, which went down with the Titanic.

The 1906 manuscript is in a very fine binding by Riviere.  It is now being offered by bookseller Phillip J Pirages Rare Books of Oregon, USA  for the price of US$ 45,760.  The description by the seller includes the following details.  ‘The quality of the painting here is rich and delicate, with much fine detail, and the miniatures and borders can only be described as luscious. Particularly notable here is the thickness of the burnished gold, with the opening leaves providing so much glitter that they could almost be expected to glow in the dark.’  There are further illustrations on the Abebooks website.

This would be something very special to own, if anyone has the money?  Alas we do not!

New Version of Robert Graves’ Rubaiyat

November 11, 2017

We recently received the following message from author Simon R Gladdish

I have just published a rhyming version of Robert Graves’ Rubaiyat and have added four original verses of my own. It is now available on Kindle and in paperback from Amazon. Please take a look as I am sure that you will appreciate it.

Details of the new book can be seen on .  The paperback version is available for £4.99.  We have ordered a copy and we look forward to seeing what it contains.

For those who do not know the Robert Graves version of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, it was published in 1967 using a supposedly newly identified manuscript of the Persian verses, provided to Graves by Omar Ali-Shah, who also did a prose translation from which Graves worked.  The manuscript was later proved to be a forgery, and Ali-Shah’s translation was shown to be drawn from Heron-Allen’s work of 1899.  In his preface to the book, Graves was very critical of the version of the poem published by Edward FitzGerald.

Rubaiyat verses engraved on fine glass pieces

November 6, 2017

Charles Mugleston recently alerted us to the existence of a beautiful glass beaker engraved with a verse from FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, which he had seen on sale at the Lettering Arts Centre at the Snape Maltings in Suffolk.  This piece is shown below on the left.  It was created by the artist Peter Furlonger who has kindly given us more information about this and another work of his with Rubaiyat engraving.  He writes as follows.

These are the only two pieces which I have engraved with texts from the Rubaiyat, mainly I suppose for its ‘philosophical exotism’- live now because tomorrow you’re dead !..drink now etc., which relates particularly to the beaker, whereas the dish suggested something to my mind more generally Islamic. As with everything I do, they are ‘one-off’ pieces; I do not make copies.

The beaker is commercial crystal 9.5cm height, cold gilded. The dish is studio glass designed by myself and blown by Carl Nordbruch, 42cm dia.  The dish is currently in my possession and is available for direct sale at £875.00. The small beaker is on display at The Lettering Arts Centre, sale price £250.00. I am very interested in accepting  commissions and any number of variants are possible. Smaller pieces can be acquired at reduced prices.

More information on Peter Furlonger and his work is available on .

New booklets on Rubaiyat Artists from Bob Forrest

November 4, 2017

In earlier posts, we have drawn attention of some of Bob Forrest’s research on particular artists who have illustrated the Rubaiyat and the editions of their work. One example is the very early artist Gilbert James – see Bob has already published this material, with much else of interest on his own website .

Now Bob has produced some of this valuable material in the form of a series of booklets on Rubaiyat Artists.  These have only been distributed privately, but copies have been given to the main legal deposit libraries and some other libraries in the UK and can be consulted through them.  The booklets currently available are as follows.

No.1  Gilbert James (1865-1941) plus an Addendum on additional material

No.2  Cecil G Trew (1897-1958)

No.3  Helen M Sinclair (1892-1986)

No.4  Charles Conder (1868-1909)

No.5  John Buckland Wright (1897-1954) including an account of the Rubaiyat of Anthony Reid

plus an Addendum on The extra-illustrated copy of the Golden Cockerel Rubaiyat.

The booklets are very well produced, with many illustrations in colour as well as black and white.  They can be accessed via the following UK libraries.

  • the British Library,
  • the National Library of Scotland,
  • the National Library of Wales,
  • the Bodleian Libraries, Oxford,
  • the University Library, Cambridge,
  • the Library of Trinity College, Dublin,
  • the Library of the Courtauld Institute, London,
  • the National Art Library, London,
  • the Library of the Royal Academy of Arts, London.

If you can’t get to see this material at one of these libraries, the content is still available on Bob Forrest’s website – see the link above.