SADER: The History of a Publishing House

Ibrahim Sader, the founder.

On the 9th of May 1915, in Beirut, died the very first bookseller & publisher of the city, Ibrahim Sader. He started his business in 1863, serving it for more than fifty years, during which he put Arab imprints and rare printed works at the disposal of the people of Beirut in general, and the young in particular.1


In 1863, Ibrahim Sader opened his bookshop, al-Maktabat al-ʿUmūmiyyat [The General Bookshop], in downtown Beirut; he became one of the first booksellers in the future capital of Lebanon during a time when the word maktabaẗ [bookshop] wasn’t commonly used to designate the place where books were sold.

The Arabic in the middle: "The General Library, owned by Ibrahim Sader, Beirut."

A tribute2 published in 1941 in al-Maǧallaẗ al-Qaḍāʾiyyaẗ [The Judicial Journal] traces the origins of the Sader family back to the village of Hesrayel in the region of Jbeil [Byblos], where they had been known as the Helou family.

The stories concerning the professional onset of the Sader family are diverse. Legends and facts intertwine. Those who could have recounted the events of this period, such as Ibrahim’s two sons, did not, and neither did their sons. Some of the great grandsons are trying to reconstitute the past, while others rely on their parents’ imagination. Hence, two different versions emerged. According to the first:3

“Ibrahim Sader was illiterate and repaired umbrellas. His customers were often clergymen. Priests used to visit his shop, which wasn’t far away from the Grand Theatre. Being short on cash, they often used to compensate him with a book. In 1863, as his stack of books grew considerably higher, Ibrahim opened a bookshop, al-Maktabat al-ʿUmūmiyyat behind the current Maronite Cathedral of Saint Georges.”


Emma Sader, wife of Antoun Sader.

The second version of the story comes from the recollections of Emma4, born a Sader herself, and the wife of Antoun (Ibrahim’s grandson). It is her sons who now manage Dar Sader, one of the two publishing houses that emerged from the General Bookshop. She said:

“My father Philippe Sader was Ibrahim’s grandnephew. Ibrahim had been falsely accused of a murder in 1860 in his natal village of Darb al-Sim. Friends of his, who were Shiites from the south, helped him flee to Beirut. His sister Martha followed him, and she stayed with her husband not far from where he lived. Ibrahim had opened a shop in Souk Abou al-Nasr behind the Saint Georges Church. He used to sell rosaries that he himself made, usually from precious stones. The monks of the Antonine Maronite Order were his clients. It is probably because of their help that he started making breviaries. He had bought a little printing press and had hired an employee to print books that he sold along with the rosaries.”


This version makes more sense because: first of all the Grand Theater5 was not built until 1927 and moreover the production of rosaries leads more logically to the clergy than umbrella reparation, and therefore, to the printing of prayer books and finally to books in general. But the umbrellas still have a story of their own, as Emma says:

“It is my grandfather Elias Sader that used to make umbrellas. He had come from Darb al-Sim to marry Adma Jezzini, Marta’s daughter (Martha being Ibrahim’s sister). He then opened an umbrella workshop in the same building where Ibrahim’s bookshop was located. Adma used to cut and sew the fabric that Elias fixed on the metal. I remember this since it is my grandmother Adma who told me this story. Ibrahim never made umbrellas nor had he fixed any.”


Family portrait: Ibrahim Sader & family. His two sons, Salim & Youssef, are shown standing behind him.

Ibrahim Sader and his wife Lea Thabet gave birth to two sons who played a particularly important role in the history of publishing in Lebanon. The eldest son Salim, born in 1868, and Youssef, born in 1870, would inherit their father’s business. Ibrahim had arrived in Beirut at a decisive moment in the intellectual history of this little city that wasn’t a capital yet. He had arrived with the expansion of journals, printing presses, schools and communication. With a spirit of certainty and a willingness to take the initiative, he managed to overcome his illiteracy, which would have been a real obstacle, and imposed himself in the newborn book field.

Stamp with the name "Ibrahim Sader" in the middle, surrounded by the words: "[this book is] sold in the famous General Library in Beirut."

Being a bookseller, Ibrahim was just a few years from facing the real needs of the readers, making him change from printing religious books to those of literature in general. It was probably around 1870 that he acquired his first real printing press for printing books other than the little breviaries.

In 1886, Ibrahim published a catalog entitled The Sumptuous Garden of Titles in the General Bookshop. In it he lists his publications as well as an important selection from different printing presses that flourished in Beirut and in the Mount Lebanon in the middle of the 19th century. These books were available at the bookshop along with other books imported from Egypt, as specifically pointed out in the following end note: “In our General Bookshop are all kinds of Arabic books printed in Egypt and in foreign countries, and these titles are all mentioned in our personal catalogue that we distribute for free upon request.”

Ink Stamp: "Ibrahim Sader and sons.

Owners of the General Library in Beirut.

Established in 1863."

With the acquisition of al-Maṭbaʿat al-ʿIlmiyyat [The Scientific Printing Press] in 1890, managed by Ibrahim’s son Youssef, the family would start being known for its publications as well as for its bookshop. In 1893, Salim and Youssef inherited respectively the General Bookshop and the Scientific Printing Press from their father, who was still alive. From that moment on the two brothers, who had assisted their father for years, would each follow his own path. Nevertheless, they would still collaborate closely, as the covers of their books indicate. Youssef’s publications were regularly sold at Salim’s bookshop, and Salim’s publications were often printed at Youssef’s printing press till the ends of their lives. The heritage that initially started with Ibrahim’s individual project gave birth to two parallel institutions: the bookshop managed by Salim, and the printing press managed by Youssef.

Salim Sader (1868-1941).

It was quite logical that Salim and Youssef would devote their lives to books after having spent all their time surrounded by the books of their father’s library and having had access to all kinds of reading material. Each of them had been interested in various topics, from schoolbooks to law books, and from business books to literature books. Salim, the bookshop owner, continued his father’s initiative by publishing books, at his own expense and under his own care, at his brother’s printing press, and later at his own but often at other printing presses. The General Bookshop, under the direction of Salim’s son and grandsons, would become the well-known Dar Sader, still very active today and specializing in beautiful works of literature and the Arabic heritage. On the other hand, Youssef developed his printing press business as a publisher of law books, and it continues today under the direction of one of his grandsons.

A story published by Salim Sader, and printed at Youssef's Scientific Printing Press. Dated 1897.

Around 1907, Salim changed the name of al-Maktabaẗ al-ʿUmūmiyyaẗ to Maktabaẗ Ṣādir [Sader Bookshop]. In the years that followed, and along with his work as a bookseller, he wrote books and worked on topics he wanted to sell. Then he printed them in Beirut. In 1922 he established his own printing press and called it Maṭbaʿaẗ Maktabaẗ Ṣādir. From that day on, he became bookseller, printer, distributor and author.

Youssef Sader specialized at an early stage in the printing of law books. In 1921 he published the famous al-Majallaẗ al-Qaḍāʾiyyaẗ, mentioned above, and many reference books. He also published some literature books, particularly those of Amine Rihani, his brother-in-law. In 1924, Salim suffered from hemiplegia, a form of paralysis, and it is probably then that his son Antoun, who was about 20 years old, started taking over the responsibility of his father’s business. Under his guidance and the boost that the Arabic literary renaissance gave to books, Ibrahim’s bookshop would become a publishing and printing house in the modern sense of the word.

Antoun Sader (1904-1983).

During that period, publishing in Lebanon gained momentum as compared to the previous century, especially in the fields of schoolbooks, dictionaries, history and classical literature. Still it remained shy and hesitant.6 It was not until the cultural effervescence of Lebanese intellectuals between 1935 and 1950 that book publishing in Beirut entered its big metamorphosis.

Kamal Jomblat

The period after the world war witnessed the publication of modern literature, global culture, biographies and histories. Antoun became friends with intellectuals and writers that he met at his bookstore. He published the books of Mikhail Naimeh and Karam Melhem Karam, of the Iraqi Maarouf al-Rassafi, of the Adab al-Iġtirāb [diaspora literature], as well as the writings of Gibran Khalil Gibran. He also published the literary works of Molière, translated into Arabic by Elias Abou Chabkeh, the plays and poetry of Shakespeare, translated by Amin Ghorayeb and Youssef al-Hayek, and the biographies of medieval poets before and after Islam, edited by Karam Boustany. He also published law books by Zehdi Yakan, the eminent writer and lawyer from northern Lebanon.

At the end of 1949, Antoun added to his publishing house Maṭbaʿaẗ al-Manāhil [Printing Press of the Sources]. The presses were installed in the Saifi region, and were continuously updated. In the year 2000 his sons moved the printing operation and offices from Beirut to the Industrial Zone in the Metn region. These events registered a new transition in the history of the General Bookshop.

Antoun, after devoting his life to publishing, closed the bookshop for good and from that moment on, the books published by him under the name of Dar Sader Publishers were distributed worldwide through traditional methods rather than through the bookshop.

Dar Sader typographic logo.

Between the years 1956 and 1963, Dar Sader merged some publications with Mahmoud Safieddine’s Dar Beirut. The books published then were under the name Dar Sader & Dar Beirut. Together they attracted the great Lebanese, Syrian, Palestinian and Iraqi writers that edited an abundant collection of Arab heritage books. The result was a rich Sader catalog of new publications, new authors and new editorial themes.

(left to right) Nabil, Salim, & Ibrahim Sader

Antoun died in 1983 and his three sons Salim, Ibrahim and Nabil took his place. They still run their father’s heritage today. They removed the different appellations that were used to designate them – General Bookshop, Sader Bookshop, Sader Bookshop Press, Manahil Press – and kept only the name Dar Sader [Sader Publishing House]. Today this house still publishes prominent literary critiques and contemporary philosophy, such as the works of Sami Makarem and Jamil Jabr, and Arabic heritage books, such as Kitāb al-Aġānī of Abu al-Faraj al-Isfahani published in 2000 and edited by Ihsan Abbas, Ibrahim Sa’afeen and Bakr Abbas. They also published the beautifully illustrated books of the Reverend Youhanna Sader in 2009.

Kitāb al-Aġānī by Abu al-Faraj al-Isfahani

As for the Scientific Printing Press, when Youssef died, his son Adib managed his father’s press until his death in 1982. One of his sons, Joseph, inherited and enlarged the family institution, henceforth calling it “Ṣādir al-ḥuqūqiyyaẗ. It became the property of an entity called “Ṣādir nāširūn”, one of the best-known Arab law publishing firms.

The second generation of the Sader family realized the importance of Ibrahim’s deeds. In order to give value to the family’s name, Salim changed General Bookshop to Sader Bookshop, then after 1930 to Dar Sader. Youssef changed the imprint of the Scientific Printing Press to Sader Printing Press or Youssef Sader Printing Press.7

The words General and Scientific, from the days of their father, soon became something of the past.

The descendants managed, each in their own way but with rare energy, to save and sustain their heritage under the Sader name, and pass it on from generation to generation.

Written by Hala Bizri*



* Hala Bizri, Le livre et l’édition au Liban durant la première moitié du XXe siècle : essai de reconstitution d’une mémoire disparue [The state of books and publishing in Lebanon during the first half of the 20th century: essay reconstructing a lost memory] (Doctoral Thesis in History)

1 Louis Cheikho, Tārīkh al-Ādāb al-Arabīyaẗ [History of Arabic Literature], Bayrūt, Dār Al-Mašriq, 1991, p. 380.

2 Girgi Nuqula Baz, «Salīm Ṣādir [Salim Sader]», Al-Maǧallaẗ Al-Qaḍāʾiyyaẗ [The Judicial Journal], October 1941, 21st year, no. 10.

3 Al-Tibāʿaẗ fī Lubnān wa-l-Mašriq [Printing in Lebanon and the Levant], Beyrouth, Sader Publishers, 2009, p. 93.

4 Emma Philippe Sader, interview on 06/11/2012.

5 Mohammad Soueid, Yā fu’ādī : Sīraẗ sinamā’īyaẗ ‘an sālāt bayrūt al-rāhilaẗ [My heart: cinematographic biography of the missing cinemas of Beirut] Dār al-Nahār, 1996, p. 153.

6 Mohammad Youssef Najm, «Bayn al-Maʿraḍ wa-l-Ǧummayzaẗ», al-Afkār, 23 August 1993, 11th year, no. 576.

7 Joseph Nasrallah, L’imprimerie au Liban [Printing in Lebanon], Beirut, Lebanese Commission of the Unesco Month, 1948, p. 93.