Like people, books have histories. Bookplates, inscriptions and marginal notes all tell us something about where the book has been and who owned it. The Brooklyn Museum’s Wilbour Library of Egyptology recently received a gift from the Museum’s Director of an 1885 Karl Baedecker’s guide to Egypt that contained a letter, a postcard and a business card and a very interesting story.
The letter, dated 1926, was written by Hammad Hassab, a dragoman (guide) employed by Thomas Cook & Sons in Cairo. The letter urged a former client to consider a return visit to Egypt. As an inducement, a post card of one of Cook’s new Nile steamers was included (pictured above). Otherwise, the letter was quite ordinary, but Mr. Hassab’s business card (pictured below) wasn’t. Most of the space on the card identifies Mr. Hassab as a survivor of the Titanic.
Luckily, Titanic Passenger lists are readily available on line and Mr. Hassab is listed among the First Class passengers. At the time, he was a servant employed by Henry Sleeper Harper and his wife, Abigail. Mr. Hassab was said to be a very handsome but mysterious man and a subject of some interest to other passengers. On the night of the disaster, he, the Harpers and their dog were safely evacuated in Lifeboat 3. The following morning, Mr. Hassab sent a Marconigram (a marconigram was an early version of a radio telegram) to his brother Said at the Mena House Hotel. It contained the terse message, “All safe.” More information about Mr. Hassib can be found here.
Almost immediately after the sinking, a legend developed that the Titanic was carrying a ‘cursed mummy’. The story is just a story but Mr. Hassab’s provides a genuine Egyptian connection to the Titanic. If it’s true that ninety per cent of the value of an object lies in the story behind it, Mr. Hassab’s business card is a valuable object, indeed.
Mary Gow has been associated with the Brooklyn Museum’s Wilbour Library of Egyptology since 1988. During that she has served as Library Assistant and later Assistant Librarian. She is chiefly concerned with reference, acquisitions and maintenance of the Willbour Library collection. Mary holds a Masters Degree in Library Science from Pratt Institute and co-curated an exhibition here entitled Egypt through Other Eyes.