The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyám

I looked in vain for a copy of Edward FitzGerald’s translation of The Rubaiyat of Omar Kháyyám (Persian: رباعیات عمر خیام) from Dodge Publishing in 1905 with photogravure illustrations by Adelaide Hanscom., my great source for used books, showed only the later copies with colored (halftone?) illustrations.

On the off chance they were misunderstood by the sellers, I ordered two copies dated 1905 described as having black and white illustrations from Amazon. The first arrived, I glanced at it briefly – it was the later 1908 version with weak halftone reproductions. In the meantime I managed to buy many of the tissue photogravures that were separated from the book off a kindly seller on Ebay.

Another week went by and the second copy from an Amazon seller arrived. I ripped open the package to find the book as described – spine detached, book split in half, pages loose, less than fair condition.

With the tissue photogravures undamaged and intact.

As I showed my wife the difference between the exquisite original photogravures that are the basis for Adelaide Hanscom’s reputation and the later weak halftone reproductions of the (very slightly larger) other copy, I turned a page and surprisingly found one tissue photogravure (shown above) stuck in its proper place next to its corresponding halftone. Sublimely beautiful in contrast to the ordinary illustrations it accompanied. It had a price of $3.00 marked in pencil in the upper right corner.

I’ve read that FitzGerald’s translation may have been a bit more creative than simply converting Persian to English. That said, some of his translation remains known today and is quoted still:

The Moving Finger writes: and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

Hanscom used her San Francisco Bay Area friends, including the poets George Sterling and Joaquin Miller, as actors in her constructed scenes. After taking the photograph, Hanscom would rework the glass negative painting in details, backdrops, effects. She had a strong singular vision of pictorial photography heavily influenced by the Arts and Crafts Movement.

I find the images quietly exciting. Fresh. I was filled with delight on turning the pages more than one hundred years after they were printed, marveling at the delicacy and sensuality of her photographs and treatments.
The first of several tragedies struck Hanscom when the negatives used for the groundbreaking illustrations in this book were destroyed along with her studio in the fires following the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake.I am sitting here in Jamaica writing this. Relaxing. Musing on the turns of life and the beauty to be found. Red Stripe beer at ready, Clive is setting up for the Rum Punch Party to be enjoyed shortly. Hummingbirds have gotten used to me sitting here writing. Taking a break before the new child arrives in July. My wife must be here somewhere. Enjoying the pool, the broken sunlight. 

I first found the reference to Adelaide Hanscom, her work, and this book on the most excellent site Seeing the images online is a pale experience to seeing the delicate tissue gravures in person.  That said, I attach more of Hanscom’s illustrations at the bottom of this note. Additional images can be found on Read the text while viewing the images.

I hope you get the chance to see some of these original photogravures someday. So much is lost. So much remains to be created.




  1. Joanne
    Posted Monday, June 14, 2010 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    I have a book and a gold plate of Omar Khayyam with his quote “The Moving Finger …” on it. There is a picture (a black line drawing0 of an angel writing with a quill pen on the plate. The plate has a number on the back written in ink – D3284 and an insignia in the middle

  2. Walt
    Posted Sunday, July 29, 2012 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    I have a small tan colored 6″ x 3″ book titled “THE RUBAIYAT OF OMAR KHAYYAM”. As translated by Edward Fitzgerald. It appears to be bound with a small green ribbon. The first three pages are blank and on the back of fourth page is a picture titled “The Angel of the Darker Drink”. Below the title of the picture it says “From a study by ADELAIDE HANSCOM” COPYRIGHT 1905 BY DODGE PUBLISHING COMPANY”. The above named picture is the only picture in the entire book. On the outside of the back cover, on the very bottom in very small letters it says “Printed in Great Britain”. His quote “The Moving Finger . . .” is on page 36. Can anyone tell me if this little book of Wisdom has any monetary value? The moving finger has pecked . . . on the keys . . and having pecked . . . posts. My Eternal Gratitude for Any and All Input on This Matter.

    • Posted Saturday, August 11, 2012 at 11:01 pm | Permalink

      Even the ones I tracked down with the tissue photogravures I think I purchased much less than US$1000. You can try looking around for prices comparisons that might match that edition.

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  1. […] Ebay that much. But I did sneak a peek over there when I was trying to track down a copy of The Rubaiyat of Omar Kháyyám, with photogravures by Adelaide Hanscom. I successfully track some down (rather circuitously obtaining an intact copy). As I was poking […]

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