Printed Catalogues do not Exist

by Laurence Worms - Ash Rare Books

“The booksellers’ stalls are the meanest in appearance of all the bazars, and the effendy, who lord it over the literary treasures, are the least prepossessing, and by no means the most obliging of the many crafts that abound within this vast and diversified emporium. They sit grimly upon their cushions, and appear to pass a negative existence, neither inviting nor repelling customers. Their stores are open; books are placed on their sides, upon the shelves behind, or in inner recesses, and present nothing inviting to the eye. Catalogues are unknown to them. Each sahhaf carries a list of his stock in trade and prices in his head. 


Printed catalogues of printed books do not exist. One of the trade offered to procure for me a written catalogue, but it required a month’s labour and proportionate expense. It was then found to be inexact as to dates, sizes, and number of volumes. Upon remonstrating with the worthy bibliopolist, he exclaimed: “You know these things better than we do, apparently! Of what use, then, is a catalogue? Why not write down the title of any books that you require? I will then procure them. You Franks [Westerners] possess registers of all books, in all tongues. To ask me for a catalogue is to laugh at my beard”.

From Charles White, “Three Years in Constantinople” (1845) – with thanks to Angus O’Neill (Omega Bookshop).