The National Library of Norway holds one of only 50 copies ever printed of the Cedid Atlas Tercümesi, published in 1803 in Istanbul and believed to be the first atlas ever published in the Muslim world.
What’s more remarkable than the library’s rare item is how it came to be discovered.
Anders Kvernberg is a reference librarian at the National Library and an avid user of the Reddit website which aggregates content posted by users. So when he came across a striking hand-coloured atlas which he was unable to read but was able to identify as an Ottoman map from 1803, he scanned some pages and uploaded them to /r/MapPorn, a Reddit thread dedicated to sharing interesting map images – something he did "just for fun".
After a few weeks had passed, however, Kvernberg was back on the same Reddit thread and saw that another user had republished one of the pages from the Norwegian library's mystery atlas – this time a map or Africa.
That user had identified the map as coming from something called the Cedid Atlas.
Kvernberg then began researching the atlas’s history and was amazed to discover that only 50 copies were printed and only 14 were thought to remain in existence.
"I realized this was the very same atlas I had held in my hands a few weeks earlier. As you can imagine, I ran down into storage to check if it was a reprint, a later edition, something like that. Nope, distinctly genuine old paper and leather. One edition printed, never reprinted. 14 copies worldwide. That makes your heart beat,” Kvernberg wrote in a subsequent Reddit post.
Benedicte Gamborg Briså and Anders Kvernberg. Photo: Nikolaj Blegvad/The National Library of Norway
The librarian then looped in his boss and the library's resident map expert, Benedicte Gamborg Briså, and the two of them were able to confirm that thanks to their find – and the Reddit community’s help – there were now 15 known copies.
This one was thought to have made it to the National Library in the 1950s. Briså and Kvernberg believe that the atlas’s previous owner was a textile importer from Oslo who acquired the rare artefact in the late 1930s somewhere in the Balkans.
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The National Library of Norway now plans to digitize its copy of the Cedid Atlas and put it online.
Kvernberg and Briså have since shared their remarkable internet-assisted discovery with international media including NPR and the Washington Post.
The Cedid Atlas is believed to be the first atlas published in the Muslim world. Photo: Nikolaj Blegvad/The National Library of Norway