The Technique of Islamic Bookbinding: Methods, Materials and Regional Varieties.

Author:Kropf, Evyn
Position:Book review

The Technique of Islamic Bookbinding: Methods, Materials and Regional Varieties. By KARIN SCHEPER. Islamic Manuscripts and Books, vol 8. Leiden: BRILL, 2015. Pp. xii + 428, illus. $181, [euro]140.

In this heavily illustrated volume, conservator Karin Scheper has offered a refined picture of the extant material evidence for the bookbinding techniques practiced in the Islamicate cultural areas during the manuscript age. While the wealth of technical detail presented is obviously of great benefit to conservators and bookbinding practitioners, it is also quite valuable for philologists, historians, codicologists, and, indeed, anyone relying on Islamic manuscripts as carriers of source content--textual, visual, or material.

Previous scholarship on Islamic bookbinding has addressed the descriptions of materials and techniques provided in each of the few known historical treatises and technical manuals in Arabic and Persian (Bosch 1961; Gacek 1990, 1991, and 1997; Porter 1992), elaborated classification schemes based on cover elements such as a flap or stamped or tooled ornaments (Weisweiler 1962; Deroche 1985), highlighted evidence for particular structural features and techniques as observed on a small scale (Baydar 2002; Rose 2010; Benson 2015), or relied on written and physical evidence to explore the codicological potential of structural features such as repairs (Kropf 2013).

By contrast, Scheper's substantial study is the first to attempt to resolve from a large manuscript corpus an expanded typology of classification based on structural binding features and their associated construction techniques and materials. This approach is novel in that it looks beyond the decorative elements that have drawn so much of the attention in the material study of Islamic bookbinding until now, and focuses instead on approaches to construction, covering, and board attachment via such elements as sewing, linings, endbands, and joints. Scheper has assessed these features for more than one thousand volumes from the Oriental collections of the Leiden University Library. As her volume's title suggests, her approach anticipates variety across time and space and attempts to resolve distinctive characteristics that may be associated with particular historical moments and particular locations.

The volume comprises six chapters and four appendices. In her introduction and opening chapter Scheper includes a much appreciated discussion of the research value of studying binding structures in the context of the material study of books and their manufacture. She briefly discusses the challenges that must be addressed when attempting this type of study and introduces her own multi-faceted approach, in which structural and technical evidence gathered during the physical examination (or "autopsy") of a selection of collection material now held in the Leiden University Library is subsequently linked with available catalogue data. The whole is then interpreted in the light of technical descriptions in historical sources and the secondary literature. Finally, reproductions of the structures and techniques are hand-crafted to verify or discount certain interpretations.

In chapter two Scheper presents an incredibly valuable...

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