A collection of books and serials gifted by Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamid II to the U.S. Library of Congress in 1884 are being maintained for future generations through digitization.
The collection – which includes Ottoman Turkish, Persian and Arabic works – was made into microfilm in 1984 over concerns that the pages were becoming too brittle to handle. Since then, 309 books and serials have been digitized. Another 26 Abdulhamid II books are also in the library's digital collection.
The sultan embossed the gift collection with an inscription in English, French and Turkish that read: "Gift made by H.I. M. the Sultan Abdulhamid II to the national library of the United States of America through the Honorable A.S. Hewitt Member of the House of Representatives A.H. 1302-1884 A.D."
"About 400 volumes, bound in red Morocco with gilt edges, have been given by the present Sultan, Ghasee Abdul-Hamid II," Herbert Putnam recorded in the 1907 Annual Report of the Librarian of Congress.
"They comprise works of native authorship, also translations from European languages of works on Medicine, History, Law, Mathematics, Arts, Drama, Fiction, etc," the record reads.
Abdulhamid II's motive in giving the generous gift stems from a chance interaction with a U.S. member of the House of Representatives, Abram Stevens Hewitt, in Istanbul. Hewitt and his son were touring the city near Yıldız Palace, when the young boy passed out from the heat. Palace attendants took the boy to the guard house for care, while the sultan's young sons reported what had happened to their father.
Abdulhamid II later sent his emissaries to the Americans' hotel to check up on the boy and request that they visit the palace the following day.
After the visit, the sultan sent Hewitt two shipments of gifts to the U.S., the first containing pencils and cigarettes, and the second, the hefty collection of books. Hewitt wrote to the sultan that he did not deserve the books, and that they would be better suited as a gift to the Library of Congress. Abdulhamid II agreed and gifted the collection to the library, giving the first set to Hewitt.
When the sultan's gift first arrived in Washington, it was stored in the U.S. Capitol. When the Jefferson Building was later completed, the volumes were unpacked and shelved.
Abdulhamid II was sultan of the Ottoman Empire from 1876 to 1909.