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Near East Collection: Islamic Book and Bookbinding

Exhibits from the Near East Collection at Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library & Yale University Library

Exhibit "Islamic Book and Bookbinding"

Islamic Book and Bookbinding

Muslims learned the art of papermaking in the eighth century through their contacts with the Chinese, following their expansion into Central Asia. By the 11th-12th centuries, this technique reached Europe by way of Muslim Spain. Prior to the introduction of paper, Muslims used parchment (made from goatskin) and papyrus (indigenous to Egypt which they conquered in 641) for writing. Papermaking contributed to the flourishing of Islamic civilization in the middle ages, by providing readily accessible writing materials, and to the proliferation of the Islamic book and the craft of bookbinding.

The oldest surviving sample of early Islamic bookbinding is a fragment made of cedar wood dating back to 9th century Egypt. In general, early Islamic bindings show a Coptic influence: leather covers with pasteboard made of wood, papyrus or collated sheets of paper.

A distinctive feature of the medieval Islamic book is the flap, an extension of the back cover (the left side of an open book). It is tucked under the front cover when the book is closed, and has the dual purpose of protecting and preserving the book, and serving as a bookmark.

The decoration of early book covers was accomplished through the tracing of the design on the leather and its execution through tooling. Stamping was introduced later through Iran.

Lacquered bindings began to appear in Iran in the 15th century. From the 16th century onward, some book covers exhibited decorations similar to Persian miniatures. These new features are examples of the impact that Mongol rule in Iran had on the development of new art forms in that country and in the rest of the Islamic Middle East.