Exhibit and text by Lori Dedeyan
Coinciding with the opening of the exhibit Armenia! at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and in time for Armenian Independence Day on September 21st, this Library Special Collections flash exhibit celebrates Armenian print and literary culture by drawing from UCLA’s exceptional holdings of Armenian rare books and manuscripts (items from which were loaned to the Met for Armenia!).
The examples displayed in this exhibit are taken from the Minasian collection of Armenian early printed books (Collection 1612), which includes volumes printed during the 17th-19th centuries. Their locations of origin reflect a rich and geographically diverse Armenian community dispersed across Amsterdam, Astrakhan, Calcutta, Constantinople, Jerusalem, London, Moscow, New Julfa (Isfahan), New York, Paris, Serampore, Smyrna (Izmir), St. Petersburg, Trešt, Vagharshapat (Echmiadzin), Venice, and Vienna, among others.
The largest volume on display is a first edition of one of the first books printed in Armenian letters: a bible printed in Amsterdam in 1666 by Voskan Yerevantsi, by order of Catholicos Hagop IV.
Arranged around it are other bibles and religious texts from various time periods, including one printed in Constantinople in 1710, with woodcuts bearing the monogram of Armenian artist and printer Grigor Marzuanetsi; another in Smyrna in 1843, printed in Armeno-Turkish (Turkish language transliterated into Armenian script); a third in Venice in 1805; and the smallest, a prayer book, in Calcutta in 1849. Also displayed in this exhibit is a well-preserved example of the distinctive raised and braided endbands used in Armenian book binding.
More personally, this exhibit includes a book published by my own ancestors, the Dedeyan brothers of Smyrna, who established a printing press in 1852 and began to translate European- predominantly French- novels into Armenian. The volume shown here is a translation of Twenty Years After by Alexandre Dumas, published in 1872-73. The peripatetic nature of the Armenian community is reflected in the stamps on the title page, which indicate that the book traveled from Smyrna to a bookseller in Constantinople, and ultimately to the Cilicia bookstore in Detroit, Michigan, before ending here at UCLA.
The decorated initials at the top of this post have been photographed from various books in this collection and colored in for effect. They can be viewed here: https://hyekirer.tumblr.com/. More images will be added periodically.
Those interested in learning more about UCLA’s Armenian collections are invited to view this interactive exhibit: http://www.library.ucla.edu/taxonomy/term/840/node/1830 (Click on the StoryMap link.)