Original Arabian Nights for quarter million dollars at SIBF
His first collection was a manuscript bought in Makkah.
Sharjah - Assif's fascination with collecting old manuscripts began when he was 20 years old, while he was still living with his parents in Al Madina Al Munawarah
Published: Tue 7 Nov 2017, 8:06 PM
The original version of One Thousand and One Nights, popularly known as the Arabian Nights and one of the world's best known books, is on sale for $250,000 (Dh918,250) at the Eqtna Rare Manuscript stall, at the ongoing Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF). The first full edition of the book comprises two volumes.
Covering an area of no more than a metre filled with such specialised books, manuscripts and maps, the stall displays 150 rare works for SIBF visitors, ranging in prices from the most expensive - the aforementioned $250,000 to a little less than $1,000.
Speaking to Khaleej Times, Mohammed Assif, the owner of Eqtna, said that he acquired the Arabian Nights' original edition - named the most important edition by the Central Digital Library - from Paris. There are eight copies of it around the world in public libraries and its rarity is said to stem from the fact that the religious scholars of Azhar issued a fatwa to burn and destroy all the copies of the book.
When it was re-printed in Egypt, it was sold for quarter of a million dollars. The fabled collection of stories, which has captured readers' imaginations around the world, has long been considered a treasure house of different literary styles, because it was compiled over a period of several centuries and incorporates material from Arab, Persian, Turkish, Greek and Indian sources, among others.
In Arabic, it's called the Alf Layla Wa Layla, which adds up to 1,001 tales in total, but is still called the "tales of the thousand nights".
A treasure trove of manuscriptsAssif said he had travelled around the world in search of this edition and finally got hold of it in Paris. A Saudi national in his thirties, Assif noted that his stall contains many ancient and rare manuscripts he collected from auctions in Europe, and some from European libraries and bookstores.
These include the first atlas published in the Islamic world, printed and published in Istanbul in 1803, the capital of the erstwhile Ottoman Empire. The atlas contains a single celestial map and also 24 maps of the world in various formats - coloured, hand-printed and engraved on copper. Costing $150,000, there are only 20 copies of it (some say it is 10) in the world, belonging to personal collectors and public libraries.
Other manuscripts available at the stall are rare books on geography, like the third edition of a book printed in Strasbourg in 1522, the first printed version which appeared in Rome in 1477. The work contains 27 maps, each printed on two separate pages and is estimated at $95,000.
Also was the book Jahan Namha, an important work by the geographer and Ottoman historian Haji Khalifa. "This book draws the attention of many visitors because it contains the oldest maps printed in the Islamic world and includes an important map of the Arabian Peninsula. It's priced at $75,000."
The Eqtna stall also presents the first multilingual edition of the Book of Psalms - a part of the Bible - in the 16th century. The book is the second book printed in Arabic after the book of Al-Sawa'i prayer printed in 1514, which makes this edition very important in the history of Arabic publishing. The rare work is priced at $45,000.
Assif's fascination with collecting old manuscripts began when he was 20 years old, while he was still living with his parents in Al Madina Al Munawarah. His first collection was a manuscript bought in Makkah. "I began collecting as a hobby, but when I realised people were interested in buying it, I decided to make it into a profitable business."
Last year, for instance, he was able to sell many rare books and manuscripts during his first outing at the Sharjah International Book Fair, which encouraged him to come back this year.
His clients are not ordinary people, but ones who know the true meaning and historical value of a rare manuscript. "Some books derive their price from their historical value," he noted.