15-09-01-2206NE04A Bearnes Hampton Koran.jpg
The decorated double frontispiece of the 19th century Koran that sold for £230,000 at Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood.

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Dated to AH 1293 (1876), this relatively late, 410-page manuscript was valued just £1000-1500 at the August 26 auction, but as soon it appeared online the Exeter auction house realised from the amount of interest generated that it was special.

Bound in red morocco gilt with matching doublures, it was described as executed in the Court style of Ottoman manuscripts, made as gifts and endowments, and the calligrapher responsible named as Yahya Hilmi Efendi (1835-1907). That, it would seem, was the key to success.

Ugur Derman, in Letters in Gold: Ottoman Calligraphy from the Sakip Sabanci Collection (Metropolitan Museum of Art: 1998), describes Yahya Hilmi Efendi as famous for both his speed of execution and delicacy of touch, and as a master of the nesih script.

Illumination includes the double frontispiece decorated in tones of gold, light green and pale blue. Each panel of text is set within a thick gold border and decorated margins, and even the tissue guards are exquisitely illuminated.

Richard Bearne said plenty of competition emerged in the room and online and it sold in the end to a European dealer for £230,000.

One London dealer present told ATG that bidding, starting at £22,000, was "very lively" with a full saleroom and more than 10 phone lines in action.