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[Coğrafya-yı Tabiî İlmine Esas-ı Muhtasar / Physical Goegraphy. The Fundamentals].


A highly sophisticated Ottoman geography education book illustrated with 9 resplendently coloured plates of thematic World Maps, as well as dozens of monochrome diagrams and maps within the text; the work sponsored by American Protestant missionaries for use in their schools throughout Turkey and the Levant, issued in Istanbul by the American-trained Armenian publisher Agop Boyacıyan, for decades one of the most innovative and interesting figures in Ottoman book world.


Large 4° (31.5 x 25 cm): [4 pp.], 95 pp. with dozens of monochrome diagrams and maps imbedded within text, plus 9 plates of colour lithographed thematic World Maps, bound in contemporary blie cloth with blind-stamped designs and title in gilt to both covers (internally clean, maps with lovely fresh colours, minor marginal tears, binding slightly loose, front loose endpaper with a small tear, binding with light edge-wear).




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This is one of the finest and most sophisticated educational works employing thematic cartography produced in the Ottoman Empire, illustrated with 9 resplendently coloured plates of World Maps, as well as dozens of monochrome diagrams and maps within the text. It was issued in Istanbul by the American-trained Armenian publisher Agop Boyacıyan, who was long one of the most commercially successfully and intriguing figures in the Ottoman book world. The present edition was sponsored by the American Missionary Association, a Protestant organization with which Boyacıyan maintained a decades long relationship; examples were intended to be used in the Association’s schools all across Turkey and the Levant.

The text of the atlas, written entirely in Ottoman Turkish, explores all aspects of the physical and human geography of the world, and is generously illustrated with monochrome views, scientific diagrams and maps, all derived from the best Western sources.

The highlights of the work are the 9 highly decorative hand-coloured plates featuring thematic maps of the World: 1) showcasing the elevation; 2) tectonic plates; 3) geological zones; 4) ocean currents; 5) climate zones (conventional); 6) wind patterns; 7) vegetation zones; 8) climate zones by air patterns; and 9) linguistic zones.

The technical nature of the colour plates is curious and is indicative of the modus operandi frequently employed by Boyacıyan to illustrate his geographical works. Here each world map is built upon an underlying template lithographed in light brown ink, featuring the imprint of ‘Mannisadjian & Co., Basle (Switzerland)’ (lower right margin), a boutiquey Armenian diaspora printer. While the templates outline the continents and feature grids of latitude and longitude, they are free of any text (save for English language marginal labelling of latitude/longitude and Mannisadjian’s imprint). Over this template, the thematic aspects of each map were added in resplendent printed colours, by Mannisadjian, to Boyacıyan’s specifications; however, Mannisadjian included no text.

These custom-coloured plates were then sent to Istanbul, where Boyacıyan’s workshop added the text (in this case, in Ottoman Turkish), which can clearly be seen overlaying the plates in shiny black characters. In other instances, Boyacıyan would alternatively overlay the plates with text in other languages – the blank templates allowed the freedom to convert the maps as desired. While Boyacıyan would have been capable of printing the underlying map in Istanbul himself, during this period it was often much cheaper to outsource this kind of work to Western Europe; while quality was critical, Boyacıyan always had his eye on the bottom line. It also illustrates how he consistently worked his massive list of global connections to deliver great products at affordable rates.

The present work was considered to be the highest quality geography primer of the late Ottoman period and, in many cases, it was the first (and in some instances only) broad view of the world outside the Ottoman Empire encountered by many students.

A Note on Editions and Rarity

The work was issued by Boyacıyan in two editions, the first was published in 1884, and the second (the present) in 1908. The revised second edition features entirely new colour plates, rendering it a substantially distinct work.

Both editions of the work are rare, and it is difficult to find an example complete with all the plates and in good condition. Outside of Turkey, we can trace six examples of the 1908 edition, held by David Rumsey Map Collection, Harvard University (Widener Library), University of Chicago Library, Berlin State Library, Library of Congress and the State Library of New South Wales (Sydney, Australia).

Agop Boyacıyan: Innovative Publisher of Late Ottoman Istanbul

Arşag Agop Boyacıyan (1837 – 1914) was one of the most commercially successful, influential and interesting publishers of the late Ottoman Era. Born to an Armenian family in Diyarbakır, in eastern Anatolia, he showed tremendous intellect from a young age and was accepted to study at Robert College, an elite English-language school in Istanbul. He was an extremely gifted linguist, and mastered several Eastern and Western tongues, as well as possessing a high aptitude for science and technology.

During the Crimean War (1853–6), he served as a translator at the British Army HQ in Üsküdar, giving him many useful contacts. As member of the Armenian Evangelical Church, a small sect within in the Armenian community, he befriended many of American and British Protestant missionaries resident in Istanbul, granting him excellent international connections.

Boyacıyan developed a great interest in publishing, and decided that he wanted to make his career in that field. Due to the assistance of his missionary friends, Boyacıyan travelled to the United States where he apprenticed in the most modern printing houses. Upon his return to Istanbul, he founded the Boyacıyan Agop Matbaası, a publishing house specializing in religious and educational works in multiple languages.

The Boyacıyan house rapidly opened a niche serving the elite of Istanbul, as well as the majority of the city’s population that was not ethnically Turkish. The press dominated the market in works printed in Armenian, Armeno-Turkish (Turkish printed using Armenian charters), Karamanlı (Turkish in Greek characters), Hebrew and English, in addition to other languages and scripts. Boyacıyan also introduced many novel printing techniques to the Ottoman market, as well as importing and adapting sophisticated graphics from Western European sources. The house specialties included bibles, dictionaries, encyclopedic works, children’s books and educational primers and textbooks. Boyacıyan’s works we seem as the gold standard, being affordable, yet of the highest quality in terms of their technical production, academic content and editorial standards.

Cartography was not the main element of Boyacıyan’s business, although his press issued some of the most important maps and geography books made in the Ottoman Empire during the era. Of note were his basic geography primers printed in Armenian, Ottoman, Armeno-Turkish and Karamanlı (late 1870s – early 1880s); the present work, a great monument of thematic cartography in the Ottoman Empire; and a series of wall maps of the continents (circa 1890), which were amongst the largest works of their kind created in Istanbul during the 19th century. As is the case with the present work, Boyacıyan often imported extremely high quality and advanced map templates from Western Europe, upon which he added his own text and various details, resulting in works that were far more sophisticated than those of his competition.

Boyacıyan died peacefully at the age of 77, at the beginning of World War I; mercifully he was spared from witnessing the Armenian Genocide and the demise of the multicultural Istanbul that he loved so much. Yet, his fifty year-long career left an enduring legacy, as his books and maps had educated generations of diverse peoples all across the Balkans and the Near and Middle East.

References: ÖZEGE, no. 3130; OCLC: 49920184, 1296672497; David Rumsey Map Collection.

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