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François Déroche, with contributions by Annie Berthier, Marie-Geneviève Guesdon, Bernard Guineau, Francis Richard, Annie Vernay-Nouri, Jean Vezin, Muhammad Isa Waley
Article contents:
Basic principles
Materials and techniques
Types of bookbinding and their decoration*

The process of making a codex generally concludes by its being bound, a stage at which the manuscript is encased in a protective outer shell.[1] As will be seen, the various materials and techniques employed in binding offered an extensive range of more or less economical solutions, so that for most individuals having a codex cased did not necessarily represent an undue outlay. Nonetheless, it seems that not every manuscript was in fact bound-at least not immediately on completion of copying.[2] On the other hand, this is a component of the book which, due to its place and function, is cruelly exposed to wear and tear and the need to repair or even replace a binding was common. If such operations took place when the manuscript had been already absorbed into a Western collection, the new binding was most often made in keeping with European practice. This type of cover will be discussed only briefly in the following account, since this study centres on bindings produced in the Arab-Islamic world, knowledge of which is based in the first place on direct observation,[3] supplemented by information gleaned from a specialist literature whose earliest materials are presumed to date from the fifth/eleventh century.[4]

Certain bookbindings among the enormous output of Islamic binderies attracted the attention of specialist book historians at a very early date as they were seen as prototypes for Western bindings. Such early investigations were inevitably highly selective and not all periods and geographical areas were explored with equal rigour and depth - far from it. As has already been stressed, the adoption of the ‘codexʼ in the Islamic world pursued a natural course, and early techniques for protecting books were most probably handed down in a similar fashion.

Some authorities hold that the roots of Islamic bookbinding are to be sought in Egypt. Berthe Van Regemorter is of the opinion that ‘the technique [of bookbinding] is more or less the same over the whole eastern side of the Mediterranean zone and derives from Egyptian techniques [...and] is totally different [...] from the technique of the Islamic bookʼ.[5] Several years previously, Adolf Grohmann wrote that ‘early Mahometan bindings show as regards form and technique some relation to Coptic bindingsʼ.[6] Patently, the issue of origins has thrown up conflicting ideas, and it would therefore be somewhat premature to make definitive judgements, since the materials themselves remain poorly known.

Basic principles

By dint, as it were, of its very position, the binding bears the brunt of the external worldʼs assaults on a book, especially those resulting from the use of the manuscript: opening and closing the codex or repeatedly storing and removing it can expose the binding to various kinds and degrees of damage. Over time, a bookbinding can be subjected to a level of wear that may lead to its needing to be being repaired or even replaced. This observation, though self-evident, has important repercussions on the study of the binding of a given manuscript, which can be encapsulated in a single question: ‘What connection is there, if any, between a bookbinding and the manuscript it covers?ʼ The answer is sometimes simplicity itself: the MS. Paris BNF arabe 4o5 - a Qurʼān copied before the mid-fifteenth century - has a red morocco bookbinding in Greek style (with headcaps) bearing the coat-of-arms and monogram of King Henry IV of France. It is of course a replacement and was made in ɪ6o2 (most likely in Paris) to cover a manuscript copied at an earlier date, probably in Turkey.[7] When on the other hand a book has an Oriental binding, only attentive examination can sometimes - though not invariably - provide the information required for a satisfactory answer to the question. The study of a binding therefore calls for meticulous investigation of all its component parts; to undertake any kind of examination thus requires at least a smattering of technical know-how, even before addressing the issue of decoration.

First, note should be taken of the bindingʼs state of conservation: is it in one continuous piece or are there traces of repair on the spine, for example? The presence of pieces of leather of a different colour may imply that restoration work has been carried out. The dimensions of the outer covers themselves may convey valuable supplementary information: in the Islamic world, the edges of the binding are normally flush with those of the text block. If the latter is perceptibly smaller than the outer covers, or if the boards and/or spine have been enlarged with a band of a different material, the suspicion will arise that the binding was initially made for another manuscript and then salvaged and adapted to fit the book it protects today. In MS. Paris BNF arabe 400, the outer covers are larger than the assembled gatherings, an instance doubtless of a binding originally belonging to another manuscript being re-used.[8] According to Richard Ettinghausen, the original boards of MS. New York Pierpont Morgan Library M. 500 were conserved during restoration work on the manuscript before being applied to a new binding whose dimensions were slightly greater than its predecessor.[9] In exceptional cases of old manuscripts whose binding has subsequently been recycled and reutilised, the covering may instead predate the book block. Similarly, in the course of restoring a bookbinding, a craftsman may save an old and damaged cover and mount it on the inside of a new board.

75. Central Asian binding, signed by the binder. Thirteenth/nineteenth century. Paris, BNF arabe 6772 (front cover).

In grasping the thorny question of the relationship between a manuscript and its cover, an appreciation of the history of binding in the Islamic world is also of advantage. If the boards are decorated, examining the ornamentation may help to assign an approximate date to the bookbinding. The use of one given technique or material in preference to another can also offer clues: it is, for instance, supremely unlikely that a quarter-binding with covers wrapped in marbled paper could be contemporary with a manuscript copied in the fifth/eleventh century.

On occasion, a binding can even be dated by a signature: this happens now and then on bindings from Central Asia or Afghanistan, where the name of the bookbinder and the date are inscribed in the middle of a central motif on the cover or within one of the pendants - as, for example in MSS. Tashkent IOB 3ɪ05 and Paris BNF arabe 6772 (illus. 75).[10] Such instances, however, are limited to a specific period and region. Overall, signed works seem to be uncommon: on the outer covers, signatures normally figure inconspicuously in subsidiary zones of tooling without any indication of date, though they also occasionally turn up on decorations on the inner cover.[11] Artists who produced lacquered bookbinding decorations were far more likely to sign their work, albeit discreetly, than more ‘traditionalʼ craftsmen.[12]

Materials and techniques

Component parts of the binding

76. Type III binding

A number of kinds of book covering were known to the Islamic world. These types can be divided for convenience into three major groups (Types I, II and III). All three share certain elements in common, namely covers (or ‘sidesʼ)[13]  and a spine. The ‘upperʼ (or ‘frontʼ) cover is the one visible when the volume is shut, with the ‘spineʼ (also known as the ‘backʼ) equating to the sewn part of the gathering block - lying in the present case to the right for an observer; in this position, the ‘lowerʼ (‘backʼ or ‘reverseʼ) cover lies beneath the volume. The elements enumerated above are the basic parts of a binding that will be here called Type III (illus. 76).

The other components of a Type III binding are substantially the same in all cases and include the ‘inner coverʼ, that is to say that section of the cover lying next to the book block, and the ‘boardsʼ, the rigid element of the cover that can be made of wood, paper or even papyrus pasteboard or cartonnage. Most often, the boards are designed to be covered or wrapped with some other material, the covering.[14] Where the totality of the outside of the) boards and spine is covered, the term used is ‘full bindingʼ; if, on the other hand, the covering is applied only to the spine and adjacent parts of the sides (i.e. without corner pieces), the expression is ‘quarter-bindingʼ; if the corners are also covered, the term is ‘half-bindingʼ. The inner covers may also be covered or lined: this ‘doublureʼ may be made out of leather, parchment, paper (a ‘pastedownʼ), or fabric. Finally, there exist bookbindings, often known as ‘limpʼ bindings, distinguished by a total absence of boards: ancient examples in leather as well as in parchment have been recorded

77. Classic seventeenth century Western binding. BnF persan 297.

Type III, however, represents only a fraction of Eastern bindings, including in the first place Christian Arabic manuscripts bound in conformity with Byzantine techniques, as well as manuscripts produced in Central Asia - in the broad sense - in later times. For codicologists, technical dissimilarities, particularly in the way cohesion is ensured between the block of gatherings and the covers, distinguish them clearly from the type of bindings made by Western binders and extensively encountered in major Western collections (illus. 77). In fact, the predominant form of bookbinding in most of the Muslim world is Type II (illus. 78). From a technical point of view, it is

close to the modern ‘pasted down to endsʼ style in case-bindings[15] in which the block is attached directly to the endpapers.[16] Once the gatherings are sewn, the back is lined (‘backedʼ) with a strip of cloth (the ‘spine liningʼ) wider than the thickness of the volume so that there is enough space to paste the edges down to the boards. Depending on the taste and style of an individual bookbinder, the pastedown[17] consists of the initial (or final) bifolium,[18] or else of a genuine doublure whose extremities are stuck to the first or last leaf, thereby ensuring the coherence of the whole.[19]

78. Type Il binding

The most salient feature of Type II is the presence of the fore-edge flap and the envelope (or ‘tongueʼ) flap, two elements connected by flexible hinges, which extend from the long side of the lower cover. Rectangular in shape, the ‘fore-edge flapʼ is that part of the covering which lies over the fore-edge to protect it when the volume is closed. As broad as the book is thick, the fore- edge flap continues over a second hinge into the pentagonal ‘envelope flapʼ, tapering to a point in line with the central axis of the manuscript. (For ease of reference, Type II bookbindings may here be designated by their traditional name of ‘flap bindingsʼ.) A further characteristic of this type of bookbinding is the absence of a shoulder.[20] Arabic treatises on bookbinding are adamant that any ‘swellʼ at the jointing must be ‘knocked outʼ with a maul or reduced in the press.[21] Finally, the edges of the assembled sections are practically flush with those of the bookcovers.

79. Type I binding.

Intriguingly, however, the oldest surviving examples of Islamic bookbinding known today belong to another group, Type I (illus. 79). They are as a general rule oblong in format with wooden boards. The chief distinguishing feature is a continuous leather protective wall or strip of the same thickness as the text block glued to three rims of the lower bookcover to form a box or case whose spine constitutes the fourth side.[22]  When the book is shut the pagesʼ edges lie snugly within the leather surround. Such a binding-cum-case (or ‘box-bookʼ) is customarily fitted with some kind of fastening.

Divers types of cases and boxes were produced as book protectors, from the crudest cloth bags[23] to actual rigid boxes.[24] In the Ottoman world, manuscripts, especially small-format Qurʼāns, were often provided with a closefitting envelope made from two pieces of paper pasteboard lined with leather and held together on three sides by a cloth accordion gusset; a fore-edge flap reminiscent of those in bookbindings proper allowed the box to be sealed shut once the manuscript was replaced, and a cloth pull was fixed inside the case so that it could be slid out easily.[25] The leather panels were for the most part decorated in a style close to that observed in normal bindings. Customarily used for Qurʼāns, this species of case was in addition utilised for copies of other texts. In West Africa, leather satchels fitted with a strap served to transport Qurʼānic manuscripts or other works of a religious character, providing much-needed additional protection for the text within.[26]

The Materials

The boards[27]


Bookboards were made out of wood, particularly for ‘bindings-cum-casesʼ, the earliest type of binding for Qurʼāns (see below). The pieces of wood utilised in these cases are of variable thickness, ranging from 4 to ɪɪ mm.[28] There are some remarkable overall dimensions for these boards: MS. Istanbul TIEM ŞE 43, for instance, measures 29.5 x 40.5 cm.[29] In spite of the frequently modest format of most manuscripts of the early period, the boards were not invariably made as a single piece and may be pegged and glued. There are also cases of timber having been recycled and bearing telltale signs of prior use.[30]

According to research by Georges Marçais and Louis Poinssot, the most commonly used species of woods at Kairouan were white and black poplar (Populus alba and nigra), Aleppo pine (Pinus halepensis), fig (Ficus carica), sweet-bay (Laurus nobilis) and (common) tamarisk (Tamarix gallica).[31] In a bookbinding manual dating from the thirteenth century, al-Ishbīlī also recommends cedar wood.[32] Almost all the wooden-board bindings examined by this author are equipped with coverings; exceptions exist, but their precise significance is hard to assess.[33]


As far as is known, today there exist no Arabic manuscripts whose surviving binding is made of papyrus board; and the tax register London, BL Pap. ɪ442 dated to the years after 7ɪ6-7 CE only retains the remnants of a papyrus lining of its leather binding.[34] The technique was well known in Egypt and several early Coptic bookbindings were indeed fitted with boards of this material.[35] In the West, the Sarezzano Gospel preserves a fragment of its original binding with a papyrus bookboard.[36] It is quite conceivable that the same processes were employed for Arabic manuscripts back in the time when papyrus was still commonly available.


Undoubtedly the most common material employed by bookbinders in forwarding was paper pasteboard. As described in bookbinding treatises, the manufacture of such boarding was a very simple process and had the advantage of being relatively inexpensive.[37] Paper waste was pasted together to an adequate thickness to make the boarding sufficiently solid.[38] In the Ottoman world and more generally wherever the Ottoman bindersʼ methods predominate, makers of fine bindings occasionally used differences in layer among the various components of a decoration to create pronounced relief effects during the preparation of the pasteboard: the craftsman cut the outline of the ornament he intended to stamp out of a sheet of cardboard and stuck the sheet onto the pasteboard support.[39] Lacquer binding boards, a topic to be addressed below, are traditionally dubbed papier mâché: this term in fact disguises the familiar pasteboard made out of layers of sheets of sized paper.[40]

Other materials

To finish, mention should briefly be made of a few of the more unusual materials used in the making of special bindings and cases: metal as a support for tortoiseshell panels,[41] inlayed plaques of jade, jewels,[42] etc.

Coυering materials

Not all the materials listed above were invariably decorated. Depending on the materials concerned, however, decoration might be executed either before the material was applied (as with marbled papers, for instance) or else after it had been laid over the bookboards (as in the case of leather). In the following account, it has not always proved feasible to separate discussion of the raw materials from that of the processes employed in the decoration.


Leatherworking was widely practiced throughout the Islamic world. Many texts lavish praise on the quality of hides prepared in the Yemen and the Maghrib, while others vaunt the advantages of such and such a method for treating leather. Dyeing was commonplace, and there is no shortage of recipes and instructions concerning the various ingredients. Ibn Bādīsʼ treatise has preserved for posterity various processes for dyeing leather black, red, yellow or green,[43] while a still richer palette could be obtained by combining those colours. In Ottoman Turkey, tanners in eighteenth-century Istanbul could supply hides in ‘sky-blue, peach-flower, red, yellow and a pure greenʼ[44]. In the same era, the traveller Jean-Baptiste Tavernier recorded that Tokat was renowned for its blue morocco, Diyarbakır and Baghdad for red, Urfa for black, and Mosul for yellow.[45] As for the quality of these moroccos, it is interesting to note the appreciative remarks of specialists virtually contemporary with the two aforementioned accounts. In a memoir of ɪ727 conserved in a register of morocco leathers purchased for bookbinding in the Bibliothèque Royale, the author remarks that ‘hides from Morocco are of a finer grain [than those of Marseilles], but they are small and graze still more easily. At source, they cost only 2 ll. ɪo s.[46] Those from the Levant are large, of good grain, brighter in colour and will last much longer without scarring or tarnishing They cost 3 ll. each. Formerly, we had them shipped in three different colours: red, violet and lemon yellow’[47].

The commonest skins in the Muslim world were goat, though sheep and calf were also employed.[48] The best method of ascertaining the origin of a piece of leather employed is to examine the ‘turn-insʼ[49]. Indeed, in describing leather, researchers are advised to concentrate on those features that pertain to the grain of the hide and to avoid terms applying more specifically to Western bookbinding practices. On the other hand, if the binding is indeed a specimen of European craft, then it is perfectly acceptable to discuss it using the appropriate technical vocabulary, which can easily be acquired by consulting the relevant specialist literature.[50]

An interesting question concerns whether an equivalent of shagreen, which is ray- or sharkskin, was ever used by Oriental bookbinders. If one caption in an exhibition catalogue is to be believed, a bookbinding in the University Library of Istanbul Üniversite Kütüphanesi A. 6570) is indeed made of sharkskin. If the binding is contemporary with the manuscript itself (c. ɪ550), its use here would pre-date not only the production of the material in the West during the eighteenth century, but also its use there.[51] Imports to France from the Middle East did apparently begin at least during the seventeenth century and provided binders with this material.[52]


In the West, it is not so very unusual to meet with manuscripts (such as MS. Paris BNF persan 327) that a bookbinder has covered with purpose-made parchment.[53] In the Islamic world, on the contrary, the few examples in which this material was utilised in binding entailed recycling old leaves taken from dismembered manuscripts. The collection of the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts at Istanbul contains a small binding stretched with a parchment covering;[54] perhaps an analogous situation is to be envisaged for manuscripts described in the mediaeval catalogue of the Library at Kairouan.[55] MSS. Paris, BNF suppl. turc 983, 984 and 986 contain ajzāʼ (fascicles) composed of a single quire protected by a bifolium made from pre-used parchment: it seems plausible that the latter served the purpose if not exactly of a binding, at least of a protective layer at a time when ajzāʼ were independent and not bound as a single ad hoc collection as they are today. [56] In his treatise on bookbinding, al-Ishbīlī explains how to make a material usable for book-covering out of layering and pasting parchment and paper, which he calls shidq.[57]


80. Boards covered with Ottoman marbled paper. Paris, BNF suppl. persan 1500 (back cover and flap)

For outer coverings, bookbinders seem to have preferred paper already decorated, tinted, or otherwise enhanced (illus. 80). Nonetheless, there exist examples of bindings made out of paper that may have been recycled to that end: MS. Munich Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, cod. turc. 229, for instance, is protected by a page covered with pen trials or doodles.[58] In the Ottoman world, marbled paper began to be used in covers and wrappers during the seventeenth century[59] and frequently appears in quarter-bindings with leather-drawn spines.[60] The introduction of marbled paper more or less coincided with the onset of the economic difficulties that the Ottoman Empire was to increasingly experience in the final phase of its history; the inference is that leather had become too costly and thus was gradually ousted by marbled paper, though the vagaries of fashion cannot be totally ruled out. In Central Asia and Iran, glossy tinted papers were employed in bookbinding from the eleventh/ seventeenth century; they may even be stamped in the same fashion as leather.


Fabric too was put to use as a book covering (illus. 52); indeed, it would seem that material was employed at a very early stage, since a text dating from ɪɪ74 CE mentions that Saladin sent several copies of the Qurʼān opulently bound in satin to Sultan Nūr al-Dīn Maḥmūd.[61] A binding in the Kairouan collection that Georges Marçais and Louis Poinssot assign to the fourth/tenth century preserves a green silk covering over wooden boards, their edges rounded smooth to avoid tearing the fabric.[62] This specimen does not quite match the lavishness of Ayyūbid Qurʼāns, but this does not reduce its historical importance since - if the date can be substantiated - it represents the earliest instance of the use of textile on a full binding in the entire Islamic domain.

Textile coverings became popular in the Ottoman world during the reign of Mehmed II, perhaps to satisfy a demand for bindings that would otherwise have outstripped production in stamped leather decoration.[63] A later manuscript in Istanbul (TKS H. ɪ365; written in 992/ɪ584) is a well-known example of a gold-embroidered silk bookcover,[64] for which parallels existed in the Safavid world.[65] Embroidery, which was occasionally stitched directly into the leather in decorative compositions, will be returned to below. When cloth is used to wrap the boards, there is normally a thin border strip of leather around the edges.

The combined use of leather and fabric is a better documented phenomenon, attested by bookbindings from the eighth/fourteenth to the ninth/fifteenth centuries, often produced in Egypt. Leather bookcoverings are decorated in cut filigree laid on a silk ground. One juzʼ of a Qurʼān (MS. Paris BNF arabe 5845, late eighth/fourteenth century) belonging to a well documented series[66] is protected by a bookbinding whose central ornament and corner-pieces executed in cut leather stand out against a green silk ground. The same technique is to be found on a contemporary Qurʼān (MS. Paris BNF Smith-Lesouëf 220), though there the ground is turquoise blue.[67]

Fabric slipcovers were made for various precious volumes, including manuscripts owned by the disciples of the famous Baghdad mystic al-Ḥallāj, as well as the Qur'āns attributed to the Caliph ‘Uthmān, one conserved at Damascus, and the other at Marrakesh after passing through Cordoba.[68]

Metal, enamel, gemstones and other precious materials

The use of precious metals for bookcovers also seems to have begun at a very early period in the Muslim domain. This is not the place to address the topic of the fasteners or bosses occasionally met with on cases for books - which can be made of silver[69] - since they are fittings or ‘furnitureʼ, and the subject here is covering materials in the strict sense. According to one literary source, al-Jahshiyārīʼs Kitāb al-𝓌uzarāʼ, a secretary to the Umayyad Caliph Mu‘āwiya ibn Abī Sufyān (reigned 66ɪ-680 CE), is supposed to have owned a Qurʼān with a silver bookbinding that he was forced to sell when he fell on hard times.[70] Another text of a later date has it that the muṣḥaf attributed to the Caliph ‘Uthmān preserved at Cordoba had a binding adorned with splendid decorations in gold embellished with pearls and rubies. After being transferred to Marrakesh in the reign of the Almohad sovereign ‘Abd al-Muʼmin in ca. 553/ɪɪ58, this same Qurʼān was rebound in gold and silver ornamented in ‘Byzantine vitreous coloursʼ, - a phrase denoting enamel.[71] As can readily be appreciated, works of this ilk owe more to the talents of the silversmith than to those of the bookbinder in the classic sense.

To the present writerʼs knowledge, no early examples of this type have survived. Documentation is relatively plentiful from the Ottoman period, however, and many bindings in precious metals have been preserved from that era; an even greater number must have disappeared in the intervening period, however, if the report recorded by Arménag Sakisian that one hundred and thirty Qur'āns with bindings set with gemstones formed part of the estate of Rüstem Pāshā can be accepted.[72] The Topkapı Sarayı Museum contains a series of bookbindings of this type set with precious or semi-precious stones.[73] The use of unusual materials presented a still wider range of possibilities, as attested by bindings on manuscripts in Istanbul (Üniversite Kütüphanesi F. ɪ426: tortoiseshell mounted on metal plaques)[74] and in Dublin (CBL ɪ578, dated ɪ26ɪ/ɪ845, which combines silver with enamel and ivory.)[75]


The last-mentioned example brings to mind the case of marquetry or inlay as decoration techniques on bindings. Certain fragments conserved in Berlin have been described by Friedrich Sarre and by other scholars subsequently as remnants from a large, inlay decorated bookbinding.[76] In fact, however, these are pieces of a wooden coffer: they are far too heavy to have served as binding, all the more so since, as will be seen below, Arab-Islamic bookbinding techniques had yet to evolve a method of durably affixing a text block to the bookboards. Reference has already been made to two manuscripts now in Milan (Biblioteca Ambrosiana H ɪ44 and ɪ45) whose timber bookboards had no covering: closer study might allow one to determine whether at this early period wooden boards were indeed left bare.[77]


The most widely used technique consisted in executing the decoration on bookboards made of pasteboard (illus. 51), although this had not been always been the case. The earliest known examples, such as the binding of MS. Istanbul TKS A. ɪ672, copied in 873/ɪ468,[78] demonstrate that craftsmen applied lacquer decoration to leather-drawn boards.[79] This method did not endure long, perhaps because of the many attendant difficulties. The oldest lacquer-painted bookbindings of classical manufacture (illus. 51) date from the ninth/fifteenth century and were made at the court of Ḥusayn Mīrzā at Herat (reigned 873-9ɪɪ/ɪ469-ɪ506).[80] In terms of decoration, they are closer to illumination or miniature painting than to bookbinding proper. Their ornamentation relies on a process similar to painting; fledgling experiments consisted in combining gilding with a black ground-occasionally in conjunction with mother-of-pearl inlayl[81] - though such a solution never proved as popular as genuine polychrome decoration.[82] The latter made its appearance at the beginning of the tenth/sixteenth century and has continued in favour up to the present day.

The doublure

Covering the inner surface of a bookboard fulfilled the purpose not only of enhancing the bindingʼs appearance, but also of strengthening the cohesion between binding and book block; doublures were in fact often set across the ‘hingeʼ[83] that served to reinforce the binding as a whole. It is common to find restoration work in these areas, evidence of the high level of wear to which they were sometimes subjected.


Bindings-cum-cases or box-books were commonly lined with parchment as a doublure for the boards. In this instance, the leaf, or piece of leaf, stuck onto the wooden bookboard generally fulfils a dual role: as well as that of a normal lining, it also contributes to ensuring continuity between the binding proper and the text block since its edge forms an integral part of the first or last gathering. Occasionally, half a bifolium from the manuscript is thus co-opted as a doublure, though leaves from discards were also regularly re-used. In MS. Istanbul TIEM ŞE 2ɪ96, the parchment bore a Qurʼānic text that had not been even scraped clean before being pasted on to the wooden board.[84]


Types of bookbinding and their decoration...

*The remainder of this article is exclusively available in the printed version of the related book. The book is available in both electronic and printed formats within Our Publications in the following link:

Source note:
This article was published in the following book:
Islamic Codicology: An Introduction to the Study of Manuscripts in Arabic Script _ English version, 2005, Al-Furqan Islamic Heritage Foundation, London, UK, pp. 253-310.

[1] See e.g. Muzerelle, Vocabulaire, p. 183, s.v. ‘couverture’.

[2] See CHICAGO 1981, p. 45 and note 156; the authors quote in this connection an anecdote from al-Tanūkhī in which a manuscript is kept as a series of gatherings that those desirous of copying them can borrow. This situation brings to mind the case of MSS. Paris BNF suppl. turc 983, 984 and 986, which gather together in a single more recent binding quires that had originally circulated separately; several of them are protected by a parchment bifolium (see chapter ‘The Quires of a codex’; G. Vajda, ‘Trois manuscrits de la bibliothèque du savant damascain Yūsuf ibn ‘Abd al-Hādī’, ɈA 270, 1982, pp. 229-256).

[3] It is a matter of regret that there are so few studies on binding techniques.

[4] In Arabic, five authors dating from prior to the thirteenth/nineteenth century have so far been recorded: Ibn Bādīs, Bakr al-Ishbīlī, al-Malik al-Muẓaffar, Ibn Abī Ḥamida and al-Sufyānī. Ibn Bādīs, “Umdat al-kuttāb wa-‘uddat dhawīl-albāb’, ed.‘A. al-Ḥalwajī and ‘A. Zakī, RIMA 17 (1391/1971), pp. 44-172 (translated in M. Levey, Medieυal Arabic bookmaking and its relation to early chemistry and pharmacology [Philadelphia, 1962], pp. 13-50); A. Gacek, ‘Arabic bookmaking and terminology as portrayed by Bakr al-Ishbīlī in his ‘Kitāb al-Taysīr fī ṣinā‘at al-tasfir”, MME 5 (1990-1991), pp. 106-113; ‘Ibn Abī Ḥamīdah’s didactic poem for bookbinders’, MME 6 (1992), pp. 41- 58; ‘Instructions on the art of bookbinding attributed to the Rasulid ruler of Yemen al-Malik al-Muẓaffar’, in Scribes, pp. 58-63; al-Sufyānī, Art de la reliure et de la dorure, ed. P. Ricard (Paris, 1925), transl. in M. Levey, loc. cit., pp. 51-55. 

[5] B. Van Regemorter, ‘La reliure byzantine’, Reυue belge d’archéologie et d’histoire de l’art 36 (1967), p. 102.

[6]T. W. Arnold and A. Grohmann, The Islamic Book (Leipzig, 1929), p. 34. D. Haldane (Bookbindings, p. 13) takes the same position. 

[7] Déroche, Cat. I/2, pp. 88-89, no. 450.

[8] Déroche, Cat. I/2, pp. 138-139, no. 552.

[9]‘The covers of the Morgan Manâfi‘ manuscript and other early Persian bookbindings’, in D. Miner (ed.), Studies in art and literature for Belle da Costa Greene (Princeton, 1954), p. 460. B. Schmitz (Islamic and Indian Manuscripts in the Pierpont Morgan Library [New York, 1997], p. 10) disagrees with this explanation and considers the binding to be an eighteenth century imitation of the original one.

[10] See FiMMOD 250; Déroche, Cat. I/2, p. 144, no. 564. A reproduction of a tool of this type appears in Witkam, Cat. 5, p. 505; Ī. Afshār (ed.), Ṣaḥḥāfī-i sunnatī (Tehran, 1357/1978), pl. B&W binding 40-45. According to E. A. Rezvan, O. F. Akimushkin dates the origin of this type of signature back to around 1730 in Kashmir (E. A. Rezvan, ‘Yet another “Uthmānic Qur’ān” (On the history of manuscript E 20 from the St. Petersburg Branch of the Institute of Oriental Studies)’, Manuscripta Orientalia 6/1 [2000], pp. 65-66, note 8).

[11] M. Weisweiler (Bucheinband, p. 38) notes several examples; Haldane (Bookbindings, p. 11) and Bosch et al. (CHICAGO 1981, p. 13, p. 87, no. 2, p. 126, no. 30 and 31, etc.) draw attention to a number of similar irons. Names of bookbinders are known through literary sources from Ibn al-Nadīm down to the nineteenth century CE. As in a number of other cases, the problem is to connect them to one (or a number) of surviving pieces.

[12] An inventory of  211 reproductions of signatures figures at the end of N. D. Khalili, B. W. Robinson and T. Stanley, Lacquer of the Islamic Lands, vol. I (London, 1996), pp. 262-268 (not every signed object is a bookbinding).

[13] ‘The outer covering of a book placed on the text bock to protect it both in use and storage’: M. T. Roberts and D. Etherington, Bookbinding and the conserυation of books: a dictionary of descriptiυe terminology (Washington, D.C., 1982), p. 67, s.v. ‘covering’; see also Muzerelle, Vocabulaire, p. 183, s.v. ‘couverture’.

[14] ‘The material, such as leather, vellum, cloth, paper or combinations thereof, which cover the spine and usually the sides of a book’: Roberts and Etherington, op. cit., p. 69, s.v. ‘covering’; see also Muzerelle, Vocabulaire, p. 185, s.v. ‘couvrure’.

[15] ‘A […] method of bookbinding […] in which the case (covers) of the book is made separately […] from the book (the text block and endpapers) and later attached to it by gluing the board papers of the text block to the inside of the boards of the case’: Roberts and Etherington, op. cit., p. 60, s.v. ‘case-binding’; see Muzerelle, Vocabulaire, p. 185, s.v. ‘cartonnage’ (the same term is occasionally met with in English).

[16] ‘[..] two or more leaves placed in front and back of a book between its covers and text block’: Roberts and Etherington, op. cit., p. 89, s.v. ‘endpaper’; see Muzerelle, Vocabulaire, p. 96, s.v. ‘garde’.

[17] ‘The [...] paper attached to the inside of the board of a book after it has been covered […]. The pastedown serves several purposes [… including acting as] the hinge between the text block and the board or case’: Roberts and Etherington, op. cit., p. 186, s.v. ‘pastedown’.

[18] In parchment manuscripts, pieces of variable size are also used to the same effect.

[19] Such techniques reappear in Oriental bindings of Type II.

[20] ‘That part of the spine of a text block at the outer extremities which is bent over in the backing process to form the projection at right angles to the text block to accommodate the board’: Roberts and Etherington, op. cit. p. 255, s.v. ‘shoulder’; see Muzerelle, Vocabulaire, p. 184, s.v. ‘mors’.

[21] Swell: ‘The additional thickness in the spine of a book caused by the sewing thread […]’: Roberts and Etherington, op. cit., p. 257; Ibn Bādīs, op. cit., p. 158 (Levey, op. cit., p. 42); al-Sufyānī, op. cit., p. 10 (Levey, op. cit., p. 52).

[22] The suggestion has been made (CHICAGO 1981, p. 56) that the three sides did not necessarily combine to form a continuous protective barrier; this objection arose from the fact that only in three cases at that time had the element survived in a state allowing it to be observed. Since then, however, other bindings of the same type have come to light. Examination of the best preserved ones has shown that the edges are indeed attached: see the recent observations of U. Dreibholz, ‘Some aspects of early Islamic bookbindings from the Great Mosque of Sanaa, Yemen’, in Scribes, pp. 16-17 and fig. 1.

[23] See below.

[24] The earliest examples of wooden boxes of this genre are known through deeds of 𝓌aqf (e.g. for the Qur’ān of Amājūr, see F. Déroche, ‘The Qur’ān of Amājūr’, MME 5 [1990-1991], p. 61); an element – with an inscription – of a box that housed the ‘Qur’ān of the Nurse’ survives: see B. Roy and P. Poinssot, Inscriptions arabes de Kairouan (Paris, 1950), pp. 27-28, fig. 6 and pl. 2. Numerous pieces in metal and wood have been preserved from later periods (see e.g. James, Qur’āns of the Mamlūks, fig. 13 and 14; BERLIN 1988, pp. 173-174, no. 99-101).

[25] See e.g. the reproduction of MS. Dublin CBL 1587, dating from 1267/1850-1851, in James, Q. and B., p. 135, no. 112 (A. J. Arberry, The Koran Illuminated [Dublin, 1967], p. 70, no. 224).

[26] In their standard form, manuscripts from that region consist of an unsewn group of leaves or of unsewn bifolia (see pp. 88-89); the box provides added security as regards the order of the leaves. Some good examples are reproduced in James, Q. and B., p. 138, no. 115: MS. Dublin, CBL 1599 (see A. J. Arberry, op. cit., p. 76, no. 241; MSS. 1597, 1598 and 1601 of the same collection appear in the same way) and in A. Brockett, ‘Aspects of the physical transmission of the Qur’an in nineteenth-century Sudan: script, decoration, binding and paper’, MME 2, 1987, pp. 47-48 and fig. 1 (MS. Leeds University Library Arabic MS. 301). See also MS. Munich BSB Cod. arab. 2641 (MUNICH 1982, p. 140, fig. 24).

[27]  As has been remarked above, certain bindings do not possess boards.

[28] See Marçais and Poinssot, Objets 1, p. 15.

[29] No account is taken here of the Berlin pseudo-binding (see below and note 76).

[30] Marçais and Poinssot, Objets 1, p. 139, no. 62; p. 149, no. 66; p. 190, no. 95; p. 202, no. 101, and p. 207, no. 104; Dreibholz, op. cit., p. 27 and fig. 11.

[31]Marçais and Poinssot have compiled a list of the bindings concerned (Objets, vol. II, p. 509).  

[32] Gacek, op. cit. (MME 5), p. 107.

[33] This is the case in particular of two Qur’ānic manuscripts, MSS. Milan Biblioteca Ambrosiana H 144 and 145: they are protected by a quarter-binding whose wooden boards are only partially covered in the leather on the spine (E. Graffini, ‘Die jüngste ambrosianische Sammlung arabischer Handschriften’, ZDMG 69 [1915], p. 80).

[34] J. David-Weill in Le Djâmi‘ d’Ibn Wahb, vol. I [IFAO, Textes arabes, 3], (Cairo, 1939) gives no further details of the appearance of the binding: Cairo Dār al-Kutub Ḥadīth 2123. Grohmann (in Arnold and Grohmann, op. cit., p. 112, note 202) compares it to a probably earlier Coptic binding, which is slightly less briefly described – see V. Scheil, ‘Deux traités de Philon’, Mémoires publiés par les membres de la mission archéologique française au Caire, IX/2 (Paris, 1893), p. 1 – whose covers are reportedly formed from ‘several fragments of leaves [sc. of papyrus] stuck together’. Haldane notes that the Coptic bindings in the Victoria & Albert Museum have papyrus boards, and adds, without however supporting his thesis with a precise reference, that ‘many other [Islamic?] bindings were made of papyrus pasteboards with leather covers attached’ (Haldane, Bookbindings, p. 11).

[35] See J. Doresse, ‘Les reliures des manuscrits gnostiques coptes découverts à Khénoboskion’, Reυue d’égyptologie 13 (1961), pp. 34, 41 and 47; The Facsimile Edition of the Nag Hammadi Codices, vol. I, Introduction (Leiden, 1984), pp. 75-77 (an example dating from the fourth century CE, MS. London BL Or. 7594 is referred to).

[36] See G. Godu, Codex Sarzanensis, fragments d’ancienne υersion latine du quatrième évangile (Montecassino, 1936); E. A. Lowe, Codices latini antiquiores, 4 (Oxford, 1937), p. 436 a, b; N. Ghiglione, L’eυangeliario purpureo di Sarezzano (sec. V-VI) (Vicenza, 1984), p. 26 and fig. 354 and pl. p. 355. The author is indebted to Jean Vezin for these references.

[37] Al-Sufyānī, op. cit., pp. 5-8 (tr. Levey, op. cit., p. 51)

[38] In the ‘introduction’ to the text of al-Sufyani (op. cit., p. 1), a quotation from Ibn ‘Ardūn advises that leaves bearing the name of Allāh or Muḥammad should not be used in the making of boards except for those intended for a copy of the Qur’ān.

[39] A. Sakisian, ‘La reliure turque du XVe au XIXe siècle’, La reυue de l’art ancien et moderne 51/I (1927), p. 278, note 5.

[40] Khalili, Robinson and Stanley, op. cit., p. 10.

[41] MS. Istanbul Üniversite Kütüphanesi F. 1426, c. 1560 CE (see BERLIN 1988, p. 134, no. 55 a).

[42] E.g. MSS. Istanbul TKS 2/2121 (see ISTANBUL 1983, pp. 230-231, no. E. 200; BERLIN 1988, pp. 102-103, no. 30; VERSAILLES 1999, p. 282, no. 242) and 2/2095 (see FRANKFURT 1985, p. 105, no. 1/86 b; VERSAILLES 1999, p. 281, no. 241).

[43] Levey, op. cit., pp. 43-45.  

[44] Evliya Çelebi, Eυliya Çelebi Seyahatnamesi, vol. I (Istanbul, 1314/1898), p. 595; quoted by Sakisian, op. cit., p. 282.

[45] J. B. Tavernier, Les Six υoyages en Turquie et en Perse, vol. I [introduction and notes by Stéphane Yérasimos] (Paris, 1981), p. 55.

[46] Those from Marseilles cost 3 liυres 10 sous (J. Vezin, ‘Les reliures de la Bibliothèque du Roi sous Louis XIV, Louis XV et Louis XVI’, Reυue française d’histoire du liυre 37 [1982], p. 601).

[47] Ibid

[48] According to Marçais and Poinssot (Objets 1, p. 16), the majority of Kairouan bindings are covered in ‘basane’ – that is to say, sheepskin; on the other hand, bindings with a relief decoration ‘on cords’ are in kidskin.

[49] ‘The extra length and width of the covering material of a book overlapping the head, tail, and fore edge of the cover, and turned over the edges of the board and glued to the inside surface’: Roberts and Etherington, op. cit. p. 268, s.v. ‘turn-in’ (also known as ‘turn-overs’); see Muzerelle, Vocabulaire, p. 185, s.v. ‘remplis’. 

[50] Muzerelle, Vocabulaire, pp. 188-191 and figs. 326- 333, provides a succinct overview and lists in the preliminary bibliography (p. 26) a number of texts to which the reader may refer for further information; Roberts and Etherington, op. cit., also provide a full bibliography.

[51] BERLIN 1988, p. 102, no. 29.

[52] See J.P. Néraudau, Dictionnaire d’histoire de l’art (Paris, 1985), p. 237.

[53] Richard, Cat. I, p. 333.

[54] Unpublished.

[55] I. Chabbouh, ‘Sijill qadīm li-maktabat Jāmi‘ al-Qayrawān’, RIMA 2 (1956), p. 363, no. 86 : ‘six volumes (safar) […] of which one is bound in parchment (mujallad bi-l-raqq)’; the situation described below is probably rather different (p. 366, no. 105 : ‘forty-three gatherings (daftar) […] mughashshā bi-l-raqq’).

[56] See Vajda, op. cit. and chapter ‘The Quires of a Codex’, above.

[57] Gacek, op. cit. (MME 5), p. 109

[58] FRANKFURT 1985, p. 110, no. 1/92.

[59] See chapter ‘The Writing Surface: Paper’.

[60] See e.g. CHICAGO 1981, pp. 218-219, no. 92.

[61] Arnold and Grohmann, op. cit., p. 32 and note 143.

[62] Marçais and Poinssot, Objets 1, p. 142, no. 63 b.

[63] J. Raby and Z. Tanındı, Turkish bookbinding in the 15th century: the foundation of an Ottoman court style (London, 1993), pp. 65 and 217.

[64] ISTANBUL 1983, pp. 184-185, no. E.124; FRANKFURT 1985, 2, p. 60, no. 1/18 a and pl. XII.

[65] Afshār (ed.), op. cit., col. pl.˂9˃

[66] Déroche, Cat. I/2, pp. 54-55, no. 346 and pl. XI A (see MSS. Dublin CBL 1474 and Chicago Oriental Institute A 12159).

[67] Déroche, Cat. I/2, p. 58, no. 352 and pl. XII A.

[68] Arnold and Grohmann, op. cit., p. 32 and note 79 and 144; A. Dessus Lamare, ‘Le muṣḥaf de la mosquée de Cordoue et son mobilier mécanique’, ɈA 130 (1938), p. 554 and 566.

[69] The example cited above of the Qur’āns presented by Saladin mentioned hasps made of gold (or perhaps gold-plated).

[70] J. Latz, Das Buch der Wezire und Staatssekretäre υon Ibn ‘Abdūs al-Ğahshiyārī, Anfänge und Umaiyadenzeit [Beiträge zur Sprach- und Kulturgeschichte des Orients, 11] (Walldorf-Hessen, 1958), p. 79.

[71] Dessus Lamare, op. cit., p. 563.

[72] Sakisian, op. cit. (52, 1927), p. 151.

[73] Several exhibitions have provided ample opportunity to examine such objects: ISTANBUL 1983, pp. 230-235, no. E. 199-E. 202 and E. 204; FRANKFURT 1985, p. 105, no. 1/86 b; BERLIN 1988, pp. 102-104, no. 30-31; VERSAILLES 1999, pp. 281-282, no. 241-242. The Chester Beatty Collection houses miniature Qur’āns of Iranian provenance preserved in metal and precious (or semi-precious) stone caskets (James, Q. and B., p. 137, no. 114; no shelfmark). Similar bindings were doubtless made in other parts of the Islamic world: that of the Maghribi Qur’ān, Istanbul TKS 2/2903, from 1572 CE – whose attribution was much debated – has recently been ascribed to Morocco (VERSAILLES 1999, pp. 280- 281, no. 240).

[74] BERLIN 1988, p. 134, no. 55 a.

[75] James, Q. and B., p. 136, no. 113 (Arberry, op. cit., pp. 69-70, no. 222).

[76] F. Sarre, Islamische Bucheinbände (Berlin, 1923), pl. I; Arnold and Grohmann, op. cit., pp. 33-34 and fig. 16; J. Pedersen, The Arabic Book (Princeton, NJ, 1984), p. 104 and pls. 20-21. Haldane (Bookbindings, p. 11) also mentions it.

[77] Haldane (Bookbindings, p. 189, no. 175) reproduces a binding for a photograph album produced in Kashmir a. 1900 (London Victoria & Albert Museum 1763-1951): the carved wooden boards were decorated with birds on a ground of vegetal ornamentation. Parallels may well be found in other traditions, for example in that of the Tibetan book; nonetheless, to the present writer’s knowledge there are no bindings of this type among manuscripts in Arabic script.

[78] Raby and Tanındı, op. cit., pp. 154-155, no. 18.

[79] This technique, which appeared shortly before the examples produced at Herat, seems to be Ottoman: see Khalili, Robinson and Stanley, op. cit., p. 232.

[80]  See Khalili, Robinson and Stanley, op. cit., pp. 16-17, with reference to MSS. Dublin CBL 155 (dating from 1478), Istanbul TKS H 676 (dated 902/1496-1497) and EH 1636 (dated 897/1492).

[81] MS. Istanbul TKS H 676, dated 902/1496-1497 (see O. Aslanapa, ‘The art of bookbinding’, in B. Gray (ed.), The arts of the book in Central Asia [London/Paris, 1979], pl. XVII). Notwithstanding the information given in the text, the illustration shows the lower board with covering.

[82] Gilt decoration over a black ground, instanced by the three bindings noted above, seems to have dropped out of fashion around the mid-sixteenth century; but the technique continued to be employed in Iran until the nineteenth, though only sporadically. Khalili, Robinson and Stanley (op. cit., p. 18) accept that it enjoyed more durable success in the Ottoman Empire in connection with the non-figurative repertoire.

[83] Muzerelle, Vocabulaire, p. 184.

[84] F. Déroche, ‘Quelques reliures médiévales de provenance damascaine’, REI 54 (1986), p. 89. See also Marçais and Poinssot, Objets 1, p. 65, note 4 (in particular binding no. 33, p. 104).

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