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Friday, June 11, 2010

TRLN Bookbinders: Islamic Binding

The interesting thing about Islamic bindings is that they haven't changed much. According to Jane Greenfield in "ABC of Bookbinding," the format was likely learned from binders in Ethiopia. This structure strongly influenced bookbinding in Europe, traveling through Italy and Spain.

Extant bindings are generally made of highly burnished paper text blocks with a simple chain stitch. The covers were made off the book and included a fore edge flap. The case itself was adhered in a tight-back fashion (the spine of the case is glued to the spine of the text block). The endbands are an interesting combination of sewn and woven techniques as described in "Headbands and How to Work Them" by Jane Greenfield and Jenny Hille. The leather-covered boards and flap were decorated, but not the spine. More information can be found on the National Library of Medicine's Islamic Medical Manuscripts web site.

Our models strayed a little from the extant bindings we looked at from our collections. Mostly due to our desire to keep personal costs down, we used Western paper and book cloth to create our samples. They follow the original structure, and we now understand the bindings a little better than we did before. You can see Jamie's wonderful models on his Flickr page. Henry's model is at the top of this post, can see more on Henry's web site.

What struck me is how influential these bindings were on the progression of binding through Europe. The chain stitching, sewn headbands, the case construction...these were lost and seemingly rediscovered sometime later in the 19th Century A.C.E. What happened? how did this structure migrate through Europe, get lost, and come back without being cited as a major influence in the histories of book binding? We need a better understanding of non-European bookbinding history. Anyone have some good resources for that? they seem to be missing from the canon.

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