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Early Printed Books

Printing technology was brought to Islamic lands by Jewish and Christian immigrants not too long after its invention in Europe. However, Muslims themselves did not adopt the technology until roughly 300 years later in 1727 when an Ottoman court employee, Ibrahim Müteferrika (ca. 1674-1745), received permission from Sultan Ahmed III (r. 1703-1730) to print secular scholarly works.
The books issued by this press resemble manuscripts in a variety of ways, thereby continuing traditional book arts. The Müteferrika press thus set the tone for the Islamic printed book for a century to follow, and the books produced by the press are the material product of a transitional period between manuscript culture and print culture.

Ibrahim Müteferrika and the Imperial press

The Lilly Library is the only collection in North America to house the complete set of books printed by the Müteferrika press. This press, the first of its kind in the Islamic world, operated between 1729 and 1742 in the Ottoman capital city of Istanbul. It produced 17 titles in 22 volumes, totaling 12,200-13,700 copies. The books produced were educational, mostly consisting of geographies, histories, and dictionaries. Ibrahim Müteferrika took an active role in the production process by editing, writing, and translating as he saw fit. His role in the printing house, in fact, was so great that the activities of the press halted for several decades after his death, only to resume production at a later date by other enthusiasts.

Utilizing the new technology of the printing press, Müteferrika devised a new vision of the printed book. Taking many cues from Western books as well and Islamic manuscripts, Müteferrika was able to bridge the gap between new print technology and established traditions of Islamic book arts. Elements such as colophons, catchwords, and page numbers were adopted for all of the books, while headpieces and titles were later additions.