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Ottoman Turkish Collections in the Library of Congress

Abdul-Hamid II Collection of Books and Serials

Image from Fenn-i esliḥa فن اسلحه \
Gorbon, Ahmet Refik and Bekir Ṣidḳî. A page from Fenn-i esliḥa. 1883. Abdul-Hamid II Collection of Books and Serials Gifted to the Library of Congress. Library of Congress African and Middle Eastern Division.

In 1884, Sultan Abdul-Hamid II gifted the Library of Congress with a collection of Ottoman Turkish, Persian, Arabic works that he had richly embossed with this inscription in English, French and Ottoman: "Gift made by H.I. M. the Sultan Abdul-Hamid II to the national library of the United States of America through the Honorable A.S. Hewitt Member of the House of Representatives A.H. 1302-1884 A.D."

The remarkable story of how the Sultan met and befriended Abram Stevens Hewitt (1822-1903), Member from New York's 10th district, reported in the New York Tribune (July 13, 1884), began while Hewitt and his young son were touring around St. Sophia and Yildiz Palace grounds in Constantinople during a very hot day. When the young boy fainted, he was taken to the guard house where two other boys his age observed all the excitement and reported back to their father, the Sultan, what they had seen. Their father dispatched his emissaries to Hewitt's hotel to inquire about his son's well-being and to request that he and his son visit the palace the next day.

During the visit, the Sultan noticed Hewitt's indelible pencil and special cigarettes which resulted in a gift shipment to Abdul-Hamid II when Hewitt returned home. Shortly thereafter, Hewitt received a notice that he received a shipment of Ottoman books. He wrote back to the Sultan that he didn't deserve such an honor and that the Sultan should give the books to the Library of Congress. The Sultan agreed and had the special collection prepared for the Library and invited Hewitt to keep the first set for himself. Hewitt’s set is now in the New York University's Elmer Holmes Bobst Library. The Sultan's gift to the Library arrived in the U.S. Capitol, where the Library of Congress was originally located, until the Jefferson Building was completed and the gift could be unpacked and shelved.

In the 1907 Annual Report of the Librarian of Congress, Herbert Putnam stated: "About 400 volumes, bound in red Morocco with gilt edges, have been given by the present Sultan, Ghasee Abdul-Hamid II. They comprise works of native authorship, as well as translations from European languages of works on medicine, history, law, mathematics, arts, drama, fiction, etc."

Guy Burak spoke about his work with the Abdul Hamid collection, a reflection of the Ottoman Empire during the reign of one of its last sultans, Abdul-Hamid the program The Sultan's Gift: Book Diplomacy in the Early Hamidian Period (Event Date: April 7, 2016)

The following titles link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to additional online content are included when available.

Existent Abdul-Hamid II Gift Books