Some time ago, I bought on the internet a bibliographical rarity: Robert de Rustafjaell’s The Light of Egypt from Recently Discovered Predynastic and Early Christian Records (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co., 1909).
I had been looking for a long time to buy this book because it offers interesting details concerning the Coptic parchment and paper codices which belonged to the Monastery of St. Mercurius at Edfu, in Upper Egypt.
The circumstances of the discovery of these manuscripts are not clear. According to some early reports, they were unearthed at the very beginning of the 20th century by an Egyptian peasant in the ruins of a Coptic monastery situated near Edfu. Soon after their discovery, the manuscripts came into the hands of a dealer, from whom some of them (seven, if I remember correctly) were purchased by Robert de Rustafjaell, aka Colonel Prince Roman Orbeliani, an aristocrat interested in ancient Egypt. In November 1907, Rustafjaell sold them, in turn, to the British Museum. Here the manuscripts were studied and edited by Ernest A. T. Wallis Budge during his tenure as Keeper of the Department of Egyptian and Assyrian Antiquities. Finally, the Edfu codices were later transferred to the British Library where they are found today. If you want to know more about these manuscripts, you should check Bentley Layton’s “Introduction” to his Catalogue of Coptic Literary Manuscripts in the British Library Acquired Since the Year 1906 (London: British Library, 1987).
One cannot overestimate the importance of the Edfu codices for our knowledge of Coptic literature. They are well-preserved manuscripts which offer us not only complete texts but also a glimpse into book production in Medieval Egypt.
Now, I was surprised to find inside the cover of Rustafjaell’s book a handwritten dedication letter sent by him to a certain “Miss Green.” The letter was sent from the Royalton Hotel, on 44 West Street in New York (which is still there!), and it is not dated. As to the mysterious recipient simply called “Miss Green,” I not sure who she is. Can she be Belle da Costa Greene, John Pierpont Morgan’s private librarian? That’s a possibility.
Here is the photograph of the letter and its transcription. I deciphered it only through the help of Paul Leopold (Stockholm, Sweden), as the handwriting was otherwise nearly illegible to me.
Dear Miss Green
I have now unpacked my books and should be pleased to send you a copy. Needless to say that I would esteem it a great compliment if you will accept same.
Yours very truly
R. de Rustafjaell
And now here are the plates of Rustafjaell’s book, which contain some beautiful Greek, Coptic and Nubian manuscripts. Enjoy!