A million riyal tome at Doha Book Fair

  • The Peninsula
  • 2 January 2010
  • Huda NV

DOHA: The latest books with their gleam, gloss and colour do not stand up to the fragile tomes with yellowing pages, lived as they have through the centuries of rough and tumble. The brittle pages trump the sheen of modern printing, standing out of the pile. Books and manuscripts traversing time, continents, regions and cultures are the cynosure at the 20th edition of Doha International Book Fair.

Among the thousands of publications at the fair, are some of the rarest and most expensive works by Austria-based Antiquariat INLIBRIS and Holland-based Antiquariaat FORUM BV, some of the leading international dealers in rare books, prints, maps, manuscripts, drawings and autographs. With about 150 exhibits, both the collectors are showcasing books worth more than QR10m.

A book in vellum (parchment made from animal skin) of dimensions 143x93mm would not get a second glance unless one knows its value. The manuscript, Della Natura Delli Sparavieri (Hunting Manuscript), would be one of the most expensive books at over QR910,570. The manuscript is a treatise on falconry handwritten and illustrated in Italy in the 16th century.

"It has 12 highly interesting washed pen and ink drawings in red and depicts birds in flight, nests, hares, deer with beautiful backgrounds, buildings and ruins, and of course the falcons. It is the only one in the world," said Laurens R Hesselink, the owner of Antiquariaat FORUM BV.

The oldest in the collection is a 14th century legal manuscript, Al Ahkam Al Khura (The Great Judgements).

"The book is a fundamental work on Islamic law as it was practiced in the 11th century and is 700 years old. The book is written by the Cordoba judge Qadi Abul Asbagh Isa ibn Sahl and provides us with a wealth of information on society and everyday life of that period. It costs $27,000," said Hugo Wetscherek, of Antiquariat INLIBRIS.

Among their collection are the first photographs taken of Makkah by an expert Arab photographer of that time. The photographs were published in Europe in 1889. The photos were taken by Sayyid Adb Al Ghaffar, a physician of Makkah, and are now at sale for a price of $95,000. These pictures of Makkah were preceded only by some photographs published in 1881.

The first book on Arabian history published in Europe is also at sale for $18,000. "The book was printed in 1627 and is the first historical work in Arabic to be published in Europe. It is also one of the greatest histories in Arabic and was done at a time when Arabic printing was not common. The book has both Latin and Arabic text and was meant for the most educated in Europe at that time. Latin itself was an elitist language and Arabic could be read only by a very few among them," said Wetscherek.

Originally 300 copies were printed, though only a dozen or so are seen today. This is the only copy on sale at present.

Another major highlight at the booth is the facsimile edition of the Blaeu-Van der Hem Atlas. The unique factor of this atlas arises from the rarity and originality of the material and the skilful, aesthetic manner in which additions were made. In 2004 the original copy was included in the Unesco's Memory of the World Register. The facsimile edition is a complete replica of the original with 500 images, maps and charts bound in eight folio volumes.

"We have a big collection of old Quran copies, commentaries, prayer books and treatises – all with writing and illustrations done in hand. The maps, drawings and photographs mainly focus on travel reports from the 17th century, books on birds etc. from the Arabian region. We aim to develop our commitment in the Arab countries and we target institutional markets rather than private collectors," he said.