Mar 26, 2015 - Sale 2377

Sale 2377 - Lot 360

Price Realized: $ 50,000
?Final Price Realized includes Buyer’s Premium added to Hammer Price
Estimate: $ 40,000 - $ 60,000
(ISLAM.) A nearly complete manuscript copy of the Qur'an from the Yattara Family Library in Timbuktu. 166 loose folio leaves (332 pages), 6-1/2 x 8 inches (average) in a neat, classical Arabic script; outer edges of some leaves chipped; in the original Timbuktu leather case, peculiar to texts like this, with incised designs, secured by leather thongs. Timbuktu (Mali), circa 1600-1700

Additional Details

an exceedingly rare manuscript qu'ran from the yattara family library, one of timbuktu's original founding families. The widely held theory that sub-Saharan Africans had no written language, and therefore no recorded history was a perfect rationale for slavery. For a couple of centuries, theologians and apologists for the slave-trade exploited this argument. However, abolitionist Theodore Dwight Weld tracked down and identified a number of literate slaves. The most important of these was the North Carolinian slave Omar ibn Said, a Fullah from Senegal whose manuscript narrative (in Arabic) was sold in these rooms in 1997.
Timbuktu was a thriving culture centered in what is today's Mali having its beginnings around the 10th century. From there, Moslem traders carried Islam and a written culture outward into Senegal and West Africa. Long before the existence of Oxford or Cambridge, the scholars of the University of Sankore and other cultural centers were writing and copying thousands of manuscripts on science, astronomy, astrology, theology, mathematics, Islamic jurisprudence and common law. In Timbuktu, African merchants from Djenne (in Mali) traded with the Kel Tamasheq nomads and the Arabs from the north in markets that were legendary for the variety of their goods. The prosperity of the city attracted Africans from the south and Arab scholars from the north. This unique combination of scholarship and business acumen were the cornerstones that made Timbuktu a city of wealth and knowledge. Books were the refined work of black and Arab scholars in the city's libraries. The writing and copying of the holy book of the Qur'an was one of the most important jobs of Timbuktu's scribes. The Qur'an offered here is an excellent example, with its original leather binding.
Provenance, and a word about the binding of the this book: The Qur'an being offered here comes from the Yattara family library in Timbuktu. All of the necessary paperwork, attesting to both the authenticity of the manuscript as well as the certificates allowing the manuscript to be exported from Mali is present. The 166 folio leaves of the manuscript are held loose, in their original leather binding, as is traditional. The binding, 17 x 8 x 2 inches, bears an incised design, is more like a "pouch" than a traditional binding in the Anglo-European tradition.
The script and format of the Qur'an is West African. Black and red inks are used, the red for the vocalization marks, probably from cochineal dye. The Arabic script shows typical West African/North African features, including a subscript dot on the f'a, superscript dot on the qaf, etc. Marginal notes divide the manuscript into hizbs (sections of 1/60 of the Qur'an), and these are further divided into thumns (eighths) in marginal notes. Several ornate panels occur at the beginnings of the surrahs 7, 19, and 38 (al-A'raf, Maryam, and Sad), but most surahs lack such panels. The paper bears a crown or fleur-de-lis watermark, which suggests the manuscript dates to the 17th century. The manuscript was a the private collection in Timbuktu, its features are consistent with provenance from that region, and Timbuktu was the major center of Islamic learning in that period, so it is very likely that the manuscript was originally copied there.