Early photobooks of Mecca by Dutch orientalist net record at auction

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During Sotheby’s Travel, Atlases, Maps and Natural History sale in London last week, a pair of photobooks of rare early images of Mecca by Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje sold for a record $271,016

Achieving more than double its pre-sale estimate, the author’s unique, personal set of the illustrated books set a new auction record for these photobooks of Mecca by the Dutch orientalist.

Richard Fattorini, Sotheby’s Senior Specialist of Books and Manuscripts said, “We are thrilled with the record result that was achieved at Sotheby’s auction on Tuesday in London for Snouck Hurgronje’s personal copies of his pioneering photobooks on Mecca and its pilgrims. The volumes and photographs had been carefully preserved in the family for several generations, and bidders were excited to see this specially bound set of photobooks for the first time, which led to strong competition in the saleroom and a final price of $271,016 (estimate $102,030-$153,044).”

Christiaan Snouck Hungronje’s portfolio of photographs of Mecca. (Supplied)
Christiaan Snouck Hungronje’s portfolio of photographs of Mecca. (Supplied)

A respected Dutch orientalist, Snouck Hurgronje, or Abd al-Ghaffar as he became known, converted to Islam and spent a number of years living in Mecca, studying life in the holy city.

On his return to the Netherlands, Snouck Hurgronje published the largest single illustrated monograph of Mecca of the time, offering a historical survey of city and details of the daily life of its inhabitants.

Compiled on the eve of the modernization of Arabia, the photobooks feature some of the earliest published photographs of Mecca and its pilgrims from all parts of the Islamic world.

From Christiaan Snouck Hungronje’s portfolio of photographs . (Supplied)
From Christiaan Snouck Hungronje’s portfolio of photographs . (Supplied)

An area of great interest for collectors, sales of early photographs of Mecca continue to attract high prices, with Sotheby’s continuing to hold the auction record for the first photographs of the Holy City taken by Egyptian photographer Muhammed Sadik Bey in 1880/81, which sold in Sotheby’s London salerooms in 1998 for $1.66 million.

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