First atlas printed in Islamic world fetches four times its estimate after attic discovery

The Ottoman-Turkish hand-coloured volume sold for more than £86,000

The first atlas printed in the Islamic world, discovered in the attic of an English stately home and containing 24 hand-coloured maps, has sold for more than four times its estimate at auction.

The “exceptionally rare” Ottoman folio atlas by Mahmud Raif Efendi, who served as the first permanent Ottoman-Turkish ambassador to London between 1793-1797, sold for £86,250.

It was one of 50 produced and was among several discoveries made at Weston Hall in Northamptonshire, home of the Sitwell family for more than 300 years. Fewer than 20 appear to survive intact and complete although the exact number is unclear: seven are held in Istanbul, while four others are in the US.

Dreweatts auction house, of Newbury in the UK, said the Ottoman atlas was the first printed in the Islamic World and made in Constantinople.

It was found in “extraordinary” condition in one of the nine attics at Weston Hall, stamped and dated 1804, and featured a hand-coloured pictorial title with the monogram of Sultan Selim III, the auction house said.

Written in Ottoman Turkish with 24 hand-coloured terrestrial maps, the atlas included two twin-hemispheres and one world, with a plain celestial chart.

Denise Kelly, book specialist at Dreweatts, said: “This is a wonderful atlas. The condition of the binding, terrestrial maps and celestial chart are extraordinary. A fascinating object to come to the market.”

It was thought the atlas was brought to Britain by Sitwell family member General Lord Hely-Hutchinson.

The auction house said the maps are based on English cartographer William Faden's General Atlas, published in 1796, a copy of which was obtained by the author when he was in London serving as private secretary to the Ottoman Ambassador. They are close to Faden's originals, but place names are transliterated into Arabic script, Christian symbols are removed, and the cartouches are without their human figures - Neptune's trident remains but not Neptune himself.

In the auction catalogue, Dreweatts wrote: “How such a rare and prized book found its way into this library is uncertain. One possibly would be through General John Hely-Hutchinson (1757-1832) who was second-in-command of Abercromby's expedition to Egypt in 1801. On Abercromby's death Hely-Hutchinson assumed command and his successes at Cairo and Alexandria against the French led to him being rewarded by Sultan Selim III, who made him a Knight, First Class, of the Order of the Crescent.”

On the first day of the Weston Hall and the Sitwells: A Family Legacy two-day auction, the atlas sold for more than four times its pre-sale estimate and was bought by a UK buyer.

Joe Robinson, head of Dreweatts house sales and private collections, said: “We are delighted with the result of this rare Ottoman atlas, which after competitive bidding on the phones and internet achieved over four times its low pre-sale estimate.

“Selling to a UK buyer, it is one of several wonderful discoveries made at Weston Hall.”

Updated: November 17th 2021, 10:03 AM
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