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OTTOMAN NOVEL: قرق وزيرك وقرق خاتونك حكايتلري ناهيله مشهور كتابدن بعض حكايات كزيده [Stories of Fourty Visiers and Fourty Kites. Some Chosen Stories from a Moralising Famous Book].



An elegantly printed novel in a beautiful Arabic typeface was printed by Jean-Joseph Marcel, the first printer in Cairo, who introduced modern printing to the Arab world.  Ex-libris Şefik Atabey. 

1 in stock


Bound with a title page: 




4°, two titles in one volume, as originally published:

1: [1] engraved title page in French,

2: [1] engraved title page, 258 (٢٥٨) pp. with interleaved blank pages, contemporary marbled end papers, nineteenth-century French black morocco-backed blue paper boards, spine gilt (Very Good, contemporary annotations in red ink, some words underlined, old owner’s name on the back of endpaperrs,  binding slightly scuffed on corners, Atabey book label).


A highly decoratively book in Ottoman language was printed in Paris in a beutiful Arabic typeface and includes short oriental stories, similar to the ones from One Thousand and One Nights. A additional title page in French language with different imprint, text and printed on hand made thin paper was originally added to the volume.

This elegant, highly unusual publication, was part of an elaborate, unfinished project and was often misunderstood and misdescribed in the past, usually wrongly named after the added title page in French.

The basic of the book is the volume in Ottoman script, printed on thick paper by Jean-Joseph Marcel in Paris in 1812. An imprint on the Ottoman page reads:

قد طبع هذا الكتاب بدار الطباعة ىلكيضرية ىلعامرة فى مدينة باريس ىلمحروسة على يد ي ي مارسل رُييس ىلطباعة (This book was printed in the State Printing House in Paris by Chief Marcel [i. e. Marcel Reis]).

The original project would also include a French translation of the text, made by a French Orientalist Henri Nicolas Belleteste (1778 – 1808), a part never finished.  It was planned to be printed by De Bure in Paris. The only reminder of this never printed volume is its title page in French, printed on thinned woven paper and mounted before the Ottoman volume in each copy. We could only trace one example with bound translation in French, abruptly finishing on page 48 (Ursus Rare Books, entry from 2015). Most probably the translation was never finished, due to sudden death of Bellteste four years prior to that, and the publishers decided not to include the half-finished text after all. 


History – A Project of Two Books

The project originally included two books, one printed by Marcel in Arabic typeface and a French translation of it, printed by a Parisian printer Du Bure. The texts were based on manuscripts by a French Orientalist Henri Nicolas Belleteste (1778 – 1808), found on his estate after his sudden death. The Ottoman part was edited, but the French translation was only partially done.

As the Ottoman volume was printed in whole by Belleteste’s friend from the Cairo days, Jean-Joseph Marcel, the partial French translation was eventually abandoned. The only reminder of this never printed volume – its title page in French, of inferior quality of printing than the Marcel’s volume and on thinner woven paper, was mounted before the Ottoman volume in each copy.

We could only trace one example with bound translation in French, abruptly finishing on page 48 (Ursus Rare Books, entry from 2015). Most probably the publishers decided not to include the half-finished text after all after the first printed copies. 

The probably the left the French title page in misguided effort to allow the subject of the book to be understandable to wider audience. However as discussed the French title page has ended up misleading almost all bibliographers for the past 205 years. 


Jean-Joseph Marcel – The Man who Introduced Modern Printing to the Arab World

Jean-Joseph Marcel (1776 –1854) was a French printer and engineer, born in Paris France. In 1798 he joined the French Campaign in Egypt and Syria (1798–1801) under Napoleon Bonaparte as one of two Napoleon’s official printers, together with Marc Aurel, who soon fell out of favour.

The complete set of presses and types was transported from France to Cairo, where they arrived after a long delay, caused by the machines’ weigh, which could not be transferred by camels. The presses and types were eventually transferred by boats and the press, the Imprimerie Nationale, was set up in October 1798 on Azbakiyah Square, in the same building which housed the Institut d’Egypte. The last types arrived by January 1799, when the first editions of the Courrier and the Decade were issued. This was the first modern press in the Arab world.

In the same year, in 1799, the discovery of the Rosetta Stone, made Jean-Joseph Marcel one of the key figures on the way to resolve the mystery of the hieroglyphs. An experienced linguist and orientalist he was the first to recognise that the middle text was written in the Egyptian Demotic script. Later he, in a cooperation with an artist and inventor Nicolas-Jacques Conté, used the stone as a printing plate, to make impressions, which were sent to Paris, where in 1822 the transliteration of the Egyptian scripts was announced by Jean-François Champollion.

On January 1, 1803, Marcel returned to France, where was appointed the Director of the Imprimerie impériale, where he remained until 1815, as a main publisher for Napoleon’s books in Arabic type. After Napoleon’s fall he continued publishing Ottoman and Arabic books for different presses.


Orientalist Henri Nicolas Belleteste 

The author of the unpublished translation and the editor of the Ottoman text Henri Nicolas Belleteste (1778 – 1808), was a French Orientalist. With only 20 years, in 1798, Belleteste first travelled as a translator to the French embassy in Istanbul and soon he joined the French Campaign in Egypt and Syria (1798–1801) under Napoleon Bonaparte, as an official translator to the army. He travelled to Alexandria, Rosetta and Cairo as interpreter to Arabic and Ottoman language, as well as a translator of books. He also translated an Arabic book on precious stones and his translations were helpful for the Napoleonic cartography of the Middle East.

In 1802, Belleteste returned to France and joined the foreign ministry. In years 1805-1807, Belleteste was a translator of the Napoleonic army newspaper Bulletins de la Grande Armée to Ottoman language. He died suddenly in Paris with only 30 years of age, during working on several projects, which were partly published after his death. 


Typography and Characteristics of the Paper

The book was printed in exquisite Arabic types, made in the beginning of the 17th-century with the support of François Savary de Brèves, who was a French Ambassador in Istanbul, where he developed a fascination for Ottoman and Arabic culture, and from 1607 Ambassador in Rome.

In the beginning of the 17th century de Brèves founded a printing press in Rome, called Typographia Savariana, specialised in printing of text in Arabic typeface, which he helped developing himself.

After Savary de Brèves death in 1627, the types were acquired by Richelieu for the kingdom of France in order to encourage the propagation of Catholicism in the Levant. The types were rediscovered by a French orientalist, sinologist and Turkologist Joseph de Guignes (1721 –1800) in 1787.

Under Napoleon 17th century Savary de Brèves’s types were used by his official printer Jean-Joseph Marcel, who was using them in the first printing press in Cairo and after return to Paris in Imprimerie impériale, where also this book was made.

The book is printed on thick, high quality paper. On page 2 Marcel used the same decorative cartouche as in the Bulletins de la Grande Armee, Napoleonic army magazines, printed by Marcel and translated by Henri Nicolas Belleteste.

The book has interleaved blank pages, probably meant for notes, and is annotated in elegant contemporary red manuscript. The annotations are corrections of the printed text to more commonly used Ottoman script. The title is corrected on the first blank page into: قرق وزيرلرك وخاتونك حكليتلري The annotations could be attributed to one C. Jallat, signed on the back of end papers.  


Provenience: From the collection of Şefik Atabey, one of the most prominent collectors of Ottoman books. The collection was sold at Sotheby’s in London in 2002.


Refernces: Biographie universelle, ancienne et moderne: ou, Histoire, par ordre …, Vol. 3, 1843, p. 572; Nuova enciclopedia popolare italiana, ovvero Dizionario generale di scienze…, 1870, p. 52; L. Charles Féraud, Les interprètes de l’Armée d’Afrique (Archives du Corps, 1876, pp. 43; François Pouillon (Ed.), Dictionnaire des orientalistes de langue française, 2012, p. 81; Herbert Duda, Die Sprache der Qyrq Vezir-Erzählungen, Leipzig, 1930. Bernois, Constant, Notice sur M. Henri-Nicolas Belleteste : décédé à Lorris, le 17 mai 1808 à l’age de 30 ans par M. l’abbé Bernois, 1883. http://archive.aramcoworld.com/issue/198102/arabic.and.the.art.of.printing-a.special.section.htm

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