A spread from the Ottoman 'Cedid Atlas Tercumesi' sold by Dreweatts for £69,000.

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The Ottoman atlas by Mahmoud Raif Efendi titled Cedid Atlas Tercumesi (A Translation of a New Atlas) is one of only 50 produced in Constantinople in 1804. It was discovered by Dreweatts’ specialists in one of the nine attics at Weston Hall in Northamptonshire, home of the Sitwell family for more than 300 years.

The 1804 atlas was a prestigious project, published with the tughra (monogram) of Sultan Selim III, who planned to model the Ottoman state along European lines with the technical and scientific knowledge that such an endeavour required.

The maps, accompanied by Raif’s geographical treatise, are based on those published by the English royal geographer William Faden in the late 18th century. It seems likely that Efendi had acquired a copy of Faden’s 1796 General Atlas while part of a Turkish embassy sent to London between 1793-97. The text is in Ottoman Turkish (rather than Arabic) with 24 hand-coloured terrestrial maps, including two twin-hemispheres and one world, all double-page, with a plain celestial chart.

When it was produced, several copies of the Cedid Atlas Tercumesi were reserved for high-ranking officials and important institutions, with this one assumed to have been brought back to Britain by a Sitwell family member (General Lord Hely-Hutchinson, after his military campaigns in the Middle East).

Warehouse fire

The remaining copies were partially destroyed in a warehouse fire during the Janissary revolt of 1807-08, during which Raif himself was killed. It is thought that a maximum of only 20 complete copies survive, which are held in institutional or private libraries.

This complete copy in a single volume was estimated to fetch £20,000-£30,000 but bidding on commission allowed the auctioneer to start the contest in the room at £60,000. It was sold to one of two phone bidders at a sum akin to others that have appeared at auction in the past decade.

The atlas Ay majmu’ kharitat rasm al-ard…, published by the Church Missionary Society Press in Valletta in 1833 and again in 1835, is today considered the earliest obtainable atlas printed in Arabic. A copy of the 1835 edition offered at Forum Auctions in October 2020, perhaps the first at auction, sold at £19,000.