In the heart of Istanbul’s labyrinthine Grand Bazaar is an Aladdin’s cave that seems to have been lifted from the pages of Jules Verne’s 1870 sci-fi classic Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. A magical emporium packed to the ceiling with an intriguing inventory of nautical antiques, Minyatür was founded in 1962 by Hasan Yedek and Halit Altuncu and is overseen today by Yedek’s son, Haluk, himself a passionate collector and seafaring historian.
“Every customer finds something different here, something special – objects for their homes, offices or restaurants. These are rare pieces that create a nautical ambience,” says Haluk of the enormous globes (from $500), sextants (from $1,000) and Soviet-era wall-mounted submarine phones (from $1,500) that have become a Minyatür speciality. The sheer scope of the stock – faded vintage postcards (from $20) bearing images of the Hagia Sophia and the Bosphorus, a c1790 English Dollond library telescope ($4,000) or sundials (from $1,000) of Chinese, Persian and Arab origin – attracts a wide range of visitors, from collectors to tourists to the King of Morocco.
“He bought several ships’ windows and a magnifying glass for his young daughter, but also spied a framed prayer on the wall that wasn’t for sale,” says Haluk. “He liked it so much I gave it to him. His consul later returned with a beautiful thank you letter from the king, and it now hangs in the prayer’s place.” This generous spirit is one of Minyatür’s draws, as Haluk enthusiastically shares his vast maritime know-how with all who come through the door. Indeed, many of Istanbul’s best guides bring their clients here for an intimate, museum-like experience that is both entertaining and educational.
These impromptu lessons in maritime history might focus on Haluk’s prized offerings from the Ottoman period – such as a brass compass ($1,000), pocket watch ($1,250) or ruler ($600) – which often feature exquisite inscriptions. Or they might examine some other still-functioning nautical instruments: wooden and folding cameras (from $200) by Voiglönder, Agfa and Leica; English wall clocks (from $500) by Smiths and Kelvin Hughes; and German microscopes (from $650) by Leitz, often in mint condition.
Were it not for Haluk’s guidance (lucky visitors might also find the founders in store, talking business over tea, as well as Haluk’s brother Faruk, who helps with restoration), the selection could seem overwhelming. As well as brass jewellery boxes (from $200) and even delicate Limoges tea sets ($150), all of which were once used on sailing vessels, there are collections of polished silver canes (from $300, some intricately filigreed, others sculpturally simple), delicate magnifying-glass necklaces (from $100) and ships’ bells (from $750) in varying sizes, all adding to the oceanic scene. “The way we curate the objects creates a unique experience that is part of the culture and heritage of Turkey, and specifically of Istanbul,” says Haluk. Minyatür may be in the buzzing bazaar, but it is also a portal to a bygone age of seafaring adventure.