An unusual book in Ottoman language and script, and Arabic imprint, was published in Vienna in 1785 for export to Arabic and Turkic speaking countries. It includes history of Persia until the invasion of Arabs, and a series of mansaviy (مثنوی), a poetic collection of anecdotes and stories.
The text was based on Persian history in Turkish language by Ali-Shir Nava’I (امیر علیشیر نوایی), which was written in 1488 under a title Tarixi muluki Ajam. Ali-Shir was also publishing under a Persian nom du Plume Fāni (فنایی).
An Arabic imprint on the last page mentions the book was printed in Vienna, the seat of the Holy Roman Emperor (في… بچ الدار السلطنة الامپراطورية الرومية).
The book was printed in 1785. It is dated at the last page with Arabic imprint: تسع و تسعين و مائة و ألف (1199) , which corresponds with European year 1785. According to contemporary bibliography, the title was presented at the Frankfurt book fair in the same year.
Vienna – a seat of late 18th century Muslim secular texts
In the second half of the 18th century, especially in the 1780s and 1790s Vienna briefly became one of the main printing centres for Ottoman and Arabic literature. This situation followed a vacuum of Muslim presses, created after the closing the Müteferrika’s press of secular Muslim prints in Istanbul in 1742.
A Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca in 1774 between Russia and the Ottoman Empire stimulated opening of Oriental presses in Russia, which were mostly specialised in Orthodox texts in Ottoman script.
In the same time the Austrian Emperor Joseph II (reigned 1765-1790) encouraged the opening of similar presses in Vienna. The Presses could cover the market of mostly Christian texts in Arabic or Ottoman language, as well as secular texts, which were neglected after Müteferrika’s death. The books from Viennese presses were mostly made for the export to the Middle East.
The beginning of Oriental printing in Vienna goes back in the 17th century. In 1680 Franciscus à Mesgnien Meninski (1623–1698) published Thesaurus Linguarum Orientalium, a dictionary from Latin to Turkish, Persian and Arabic, for which the commissioned his own Arabic type at his own expense. Only three years later, in 1693, his printing office was destroyed in the Turkish siege of Vienna. The type survived.
Meninski’s Arabic type survived and was sold to a female printer of Oriental books, Maria Eva Schilgen, who was printing in 1750s.
The type was purchased from Schilgen by Joseph Ritter von Kurzböck, who used the Meninski’s letters for printing of the book described here.
Joseph Ritter von Kurzböck (1736-1792) took over his father’s firm in 1755, which he enlarged into publishing house for Slavic and Oriental printing. His printing was known as cheap, but of good quality. In 1776 the Empress Maria Teresa gave him a noble title for his services.
Joseph von Kurzböck used for his printing of Ottoman, Persian and Arabic books the Meninski’s Arabic type, which was edited by several assistants, who underwent study of Oriental languages at the University of Vienna. Most notable were Anton Schmidt and Štefan Novaković, which remained in the publishing business after von Kurzböck’s death in 1792.
Since most of the Viennese imprints in Ottoman and Arabic script were exported the survival rate of such books is very rare. We could only trace five copies in German libraries and no other copies in institutions worldwide.
References: OCLC: 257575857; Julius Theodor ZENKER, Bibliotheca orientalis, 1846, p. 114, no. 946; W., K., “Kurzböck, Joseph Ritter von” in: Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie 17 (1883), S. 431-432 [Online-Version]; URL: https://www.deutsche-biographie.de/pnd142666777.html: Peter R. FRANK, Johannes FRIMMEL, Buchwesen in Wien 1750-1850: kommentiertes Verzeichnis der Buchdrucker…, 2008, p. 112; Geoffrey ROPER, The Vienna Arabic Psalter of 1792 and the Role of Typography in European-Arab Relations in the 18th Century and Earlier. In: Kommunikation und Information im 18. Jahrhundert… 2009, pp. 77-89; Biographisches Lexikon des Kaiserthums Oesterreich, Vol. 13 (1865), pp. 427; Franz Lorenz von Dombay, Beschreibung der gangbaren Marrokanischen Gold-, Silber- und Kupfer-Münzen…, 1803; Allgemeines Verzeichniß derer Bücher, welche in der Frankfurter und Leipziger Ostermesse des 1785 Jahres… , p. 97; Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung vom Jahre 1785, 1787, Vol. 5, p. 283.