The Johns Hopkins Gazette: February 28, 2000
February 28, 2000
VOL. 29, NO. 24


University Conveys to Turkey Its Portion of the Rare Gold Koran

By Dennis O'Shea

Johns Hopkins Gazette Online Edition

The university today will convey to the government of Turkey the university's portion of the Gold Koran, a rare manuscript of Islamic scripture written in gold that has been in Hopkins' collections for nearly 60 years.

The university's portion, comprising the first 18 suras, or chapters, of the Koran, will be returned by Turkey to the Nuruosmaniye Library in Istanbul. It will be reunited there with the remainder of the manuscript, which is separately bound.

President William R. Brody is scheduled to present the manuscript this morning to Turkish Minister of Culture M. Istemihan Talay at the Turkish Embassy in Washington.

The manuscript is written in Kutic, an early Arabic script.

"Johns Hopkins acknowledges that the rightful home of the Gold Koran is in the Nuruosmaniye Library in Istanbul," Brody says. "We are pleased to restore the manuscript to the people of Turkey."

The minister said he is grateful to Johns Hopkins for understanding and agreeing, without compensation, to Turkey's desire to reunite the separated portions of a national treasure. Both the minister and Brody expressed their thanks to Rahmi Koc, a prominent Turkish businessman and graduate of Johns Hopkins, for his assistance in bringing about the return of the manuscript to Turkey.

Turkey has acknowledged that Johns Hopkins had no role in the removal of the Gold Koran from the library in Istanbul or from Turkey, which occurred at an unknown time between inventories taken in 1756 and 1951. Turkey also acknowledges that Johns Hopkins has no knowledge of how the manuscript came to be in the United States.

The university acquired its portion of the Gold Koran in 1942 as part of a bequest of rare books. Since that time, the university has maintained and preserved the book, believed to have been copied in the ninth century either in north Africa or in an area that is modern-day Iraq. Johns Hopkins also has made it available for scholarly research. The volume's value was appraised in 1998 at between 1.2 million and 1.8 million British pounds, currently the equivalent of between $1.9 million and $2.9 million.

The Hopkins portion of the Gold Koran is about 3 inches thick with pages about 11 inches high and 15 inches across. It is written on parchment in Kufic, an early Arabic script named for the town of Kufa in what is now Iraq. Kufa was a major center of Islamic culture in the eighth and ninth centuries.

The letters were first outlined in gum or animal glue. Gold leaf cut to size was placed on the letter shapes, then burnished to a high shine. The gold letters were then outlined in brown ink. Vocalization marks above the letters were done in red and blue pigments, later reinforced with carbon black ink. The Hopkins portion currently has a red goatskin leather binding that probably dates from the 18th century, decorated with tooling in the form of medallions and a vine motif border. The inside cover is also tooled leather, a binding style developed by Muslim craftsmen in the 15th century.