The 'Great Omar' ~ lost forever ~ twice over

A brief history of a finely bound copy of The Omar Khayyam Rubaiyat

Sangorski and Sutcliffe, a bookbinding firm founded in 1901 in London, was commissioned to bind a copy of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam by John Stonehouse manager of the London bookseller Henry Sotheran. The binders were given a completely free hand to make the binding as elaborate as they wished, with no thought of cost. The aim was to celebrate the 1911 coronation of George III.

The Great Omar
The Great Omar - a large book ~
about 60cm high and 45cm wide.

After working at it for two and half years this jewelled masterpiece, of immense size, with over a thousand gemstones set into the leather binding, and almost as much gold leaf as the Royal Mint could supply, was delivered to Sotherans. They, in turn, put it up for sale. And there begins the sad downfall of a magnificent example of the finest workmanship ever seen.

The book was bought by an American but the customs held the book to ransom and delivery was delayed. Eventually it was re-sold ~ b y Sothebys ~ for £405 ~ and shipped back to America ~ in a fine oak casket ~ as part of the hold luggage of the Titanic. It remains in the depths of the North Atlantic to this day.

Stanley Bray ~ a skilled worker ot Sangorski ~ made an indentical copy of the book, which was stored by the company in the vault of their bank, until ~ in 1941 ~ it was destroyed during the blitz. Some of the jewels were recovered from the ashes and ~ now retired and in his eighties ~ Bray set about making a third copy ~ as near identical to the original as he could. This remains safely locked away in the vaults of the British Museum.



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