9th – 10th Century Coptic Bound Book with Papyrus Book Boards – Isabel del Okes

EK wiki page: https://wiki.eastkingdom.org/index.php?title=Isabel_del_Okes

Blind Tooled Leather Cover 

I made a book based on the 9th and 10th century Coptic manuscript covers found in the Morgan Library & Museum’s Coptic Binding Collection. My version is made with papyrus bookboards, waxed linen thread, modern “parchment” paper, linen cloth, and veg-tanned goat leather. The sewing of the text block and the attachment of the cover is based on information presented in The Archaeology of Medieval Bookbinding by J.A. Szirmai and “Early Islamic Bookbindings and Their Coptic Relations,” by Theodore C. Petersen and on visual analysis of the online pictures of manuscript covers in the Morgan. There are a few reasons I wanted to try and recreate these books. I wanted to test the validity of the sewing technique that both Petersen and Szirmai speculated for this type of book. I also wanted to work on more complicated blindtooling patterns like the ones found on the manuscripts found in the Morgan Collection. Lastly, I wanted to explore the creation of papyrus bookboards.

32 thoughts on “9th – 10th Century Coptic Bound Book with Papyrus Book Boards – Isabel del Okes

  1. I love this so much – the decoration on the book matches the extant example so perfectly, and your video is wonderful!

  2. This is beautiful! The papyrus part is fascinating, the blind tooling is gorgeous.

  3. Beautifully done. Your use of materials and very exacting stitching reflects your research, and the tooling on the leather cover is most impressive. Might you consider teaching bookbinding?

    1. Thank you!

      I have considered teaching though I am struggling with the challenges presented in this time of plague.

  4. Elegant work, excellent scholarship, and a great choice of materials. It’s reassuring to see more commonplace articles being reproduced!

  5. This is beautiful, and it’s so interesting to see the differences in technique outside of Europe. I hope you use this book to inscribe your future wonderful ideas.

  6. Very nice work, it’s interesting that the basic bookbinding techniques are still being used today by restorers of old publications. Good job!

  7. Isabel, it has been a joy to watch you progress in the art of bookbinding. You have challenged yourself and succeeded here, taking on the making of the papyrus boards, using period fastening materials, covering and tooling in this re-creation of a period book. Thank you for sharing this lovely example of the best of period bookbinding!

  8. Excellent work! The stitch work and tooling is absolutely stunning. I really like the video that gives a look at all the components. Thank you so much for sharing your art with us!

  9. Gorgeous work. What was the most challenging part of working with these various materials?

    1. Thank you!

      I think the most challenging part was making and working with the papyrus boards. It took a long time to put them together (60 sheets glued together to get about 13 mm of board) and then they needed to be cut down to fit the size of the paper. This time I used a utility knife to cut them but I would like to experiment with using a saw.

      The corners of the leather were also a challenge as they are done at right angles and not mitered like later period and modern books often are. I need a lot more practice to get the corners right.

  10. This is just stunning! I love your book and your video!! In particular, I loved the views of the seams and how the pages were sewn in and then covered with decorative leather.
    Thank you so much for sharing your work!!

  11. After seeing your books in person as part of the Largess Derby I was excited to see an entry from you here. You create excellently crafted items. Thank you for sharing more of your work! I also hope that you teach a class on bookmaking some day.

  12. Really lovely work! And, thank you for the video! I especially liked the way you displayed your work against the black fabric. Super clear.

  13. So beautiful! Was it common for the covers to be so much thicker than what I think of for books? (I haven’t looked at period books much, so I could just be ignorant.)

    That’s a lot of papyrus to layer up to 13mm. From the photo, it looks like the papyrus has a ‘grain’ to it. When you’re gluing wood together, you often make sure the grain of various layers are not going the same way. Did you do something similar with the papyrus? (just curious)

    Hope I get to oggle this in person someday!

    1. Thank you!

      It was common for boards to be thicker than what standard in modern book binding. For example, the boards in the Coptic Binding Collection at the Morgan average 15mm in thickness with the thickest one being 33mm.

      The grain of the papyrus is weird because is a crisscross of long stalks and short stalks. It seems to want to change grain direction as it is cut, which is something modern grained paper doesn’t do. I was thinking of the papyrus as “paper” until it finished drying and became a board but it might help my future experiments with papyrus to think of it as “wood” as well. Thank you!

  14. This is a beautifully executed piece and your video was wonderfully informative! Well done! I’m also enjoying your responses to the questions posed here in the comments.

  15. Such a nice book. Your explanation of how it all went together was really helpful (even though I know nothing about bookbinding).

  16. This piece is so lovely, and such a great example of experimental archeology at work. Those papyrus book boards were such an awesome thing to take on!

  17. That is beautiful! I love the Coptic tooling, and it’s so cool to see how you put it all together. I’ve never done book-binding, so I learned something today…thank you!

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