Abu Dhabi: Dh9.2 million private collection of famed Arabian explorer on display at book fair

Famed British explorer Richard Francis Burton's works amount to several hundred autograph pages and almost 200 printed material


Ashwani Kumar

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Pom Harrington, owner of rare book dealer Peter Harrington. KT Photos/Ashwani Kumar
Pom Harrington, owner of rare book dealer Peter Harrington. KT Photos/Ashwani Kumar

Published: Fri 27 May 2022, 4:27 PM

Last updated: Fri 27 May 2022, 7:02 PM

A leading rare-book dealer from London is presenting an exceptional private collection of Sir Richard Francis Burton — a famed British explorer of Arabia, Asia and Africa — and his wife, Isabel Lady Burton, at the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair.

The £2 million (Dh9.2 million) collection of Burton’s works, formed by Loren and Frances Rothschild, is composed of autograph manuscripts and letters, presentation copies, inscribed and annotated works, drawings, photographs, printed books, pamphlets, and articles, amounting to several hundred autograph pages and almost 200 printed works.

Pom Harrington, owner of rare book dealer Peter Harrington, described in detail the new catalogue of 125 items titled Abu Dhabi 2022, which exhibits works spanning centuries and continents.

So, there is a first edition of Burton’s ‘Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to El-Medinah and Meccah’ – an extraordinary account of his visit to the holiest of Muslim places: Makkah and Madinah, which is on display in a fine set of three volumes in bright-blue gilt-lettered original cloth.

“Obviously, Sir Burton went there in disguise as it’s forbidden place for non-Muslims,” Pom told Khaleej Times, and noted the classical travel literature surpassed all preceding Western accounts of the two holy cities of Islam.

Another rare book is ‘Trucial States’, a manuscript journal of a British Navy officer’s tour of the Gulf. The unpublished archive of journals documents the Middle East in the early 1930s, including a richly detailed first-hand account of a visit to Dubai and a reception on-board the HMS Effingham of the Trucial Sheikhs of Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Fujairah, Ajman, Sharjah, Ras Al-Khaimah and Umm Al Quwain.

“The officer was 19-year-old acting sub-lieutenant Wyatt R. Larken. The accounts of the Sheikhs’ visit and their reactions are very interesting. In the 1930s, the Gulf was very important for the British.”

Pom said the collection provides a vivid picture of life in the Middle East in the early and mid-20th century.

“While the prolific accounts and celebrated works of Burton and other famous explorers such as T.E. Lawrence are infinitely collectable, we are pleased to also include an expanded selection of unusually rare and uncommon works that offer a fresh perspective in understanding and appreciating the region’s rich and complex history.”

Other unique works on show include ‘Alf Layla Wa-Layla’ (One Thousand and One Nights), an exceptionally rare first edition in Arabic; a rare and important map of Oman from 1874, which shows that Abu Dhabi was then called Abu Thebi and Dubai as Debay; a first edition of the biography of the great conqueror Timur (Tamerlane) by Ahmad Ibn ‘Arabshah’; first edition of Charles Darwin’s ‘On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection’; first edition of James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’ – one of the 750 copies on handmade paper; the first and scarcest of the Harry Potter books: ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’, among others on display.

The Fair runs at Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (ADNEC) until Sunday.

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