BOOKBINDING (article 2)


BOOKBINDING (ṣaḥḥāfi, jeld-sāzi), the traditional craft of binding new books and decorating the cover with embossed or painted designs, or of repairing worn out volumes by restoring their cover or providing them with new ones. The ornamentation was usually created by means of gilding and took the form of floral or geometrical patterns enclosing calligraphic designs indicative of the title and authorship. Usually the front cover was ornamented, and the back was also frequently treated similarly, but the spine was seldom given any decoration. The artisans engaged in bookbinding and its related crafts has been called in Persian by different titles at different times: warrāq (producer or seller of leaves), mojalladgar, mojalled, jeldsāz (all meaning “cover maker"), and, more commonly in recent centuries, ṣaḥḥāf. The terms related to bookbinding have likewise changed with times. In addition, those used by bookbinders of Persia differ from the ones used by their colleagues in Transoxiana and especially in India, since in each of these lands a particular school and style has been in vogue.

The traditional binding was of two types: the binding of a newly written book, and the repairing and binding of an old one damaged by rodent, worm, or termite, or by fire or water, or simply worn out by age and constant usage. Since manuscripts were hard to obtain and writing and copying books were costly, the mending and conservation of old books was a profession both necessary and important. The need for restoration of old bindings was such that some pious individuals bequeathed charity specifically for repairs of books endowed to mosques and funerary shrines. A typical example is a deed dated 1218 (1803) allocating the sum of 300 dinars from the rent of an orchard in Ardakān of Yazd for the mending of the Korans kept in the Soflā (or Zirdeh) Mosque of that town (Afšār, 1969-75, I, p. 59).

In Persia bookbinding has always been one of the respected crafts. During the last two centuries, the bookbinders’ shops were usually located in the wing of the marketplace (bāzār) where goldsmiths had their shops. Naturally in some major cities the paper sellers and bookbinders had their own special markets. It was in one such “Binders’ marketplace” (rasta-ye ṣaḥḥāfān) in Ḵᵛārazm that Ebn Esfandiār picked up a copy of Ebn Moqaffaʿ’s translation of Nāma-ye Tansar (Ebn Esfandiār, p. 7). There is also a reference to the bāzār-e-ṣaḥḥāfān in Yazd (Aḥmad Kāteb, p. 196). In the medieval period some book dealers were themselves bibliognosts, relaters of Traditions (Hadith), and literary scholars. Even in more recent times some of the traditional bookbinders have been noted for such accomplishments (Afšār, 1978, pp. 77-82). From the Safavid period onward the profession of bookbinding became so respected that an office and title of chief bookbinder (ṣaḥḥāf-bāši) existed in royal courts and major religious shrines, such as the Āstān-e Qods-e Rażawi at Mashad, which owned specialized libraries. Additionally, the Timurid and Safavid courts, which had their own libraries, employed a number of “cover makers.” For instance, according to a scroll now in the Topkapi Sarai (Istanbul), two bookbinders called Šayḵzāda and Zayn-al-Din ʿAli worked in the library of Shah Esmāʿil I.

The wage for bookbinding was naturally proportionate to the kind of material and work, but remunerations were definitely higher than comparable services. Probably the oldest record regarding the cost of bookbinding is in the writing of Abu’l-Ḥasan ʿAli Bayhaqi (p. 277), who has noted the payment of twenty dinars for the elaborate binding (ba takallof-e tamām) of a Koran. Naturally Bayhaqi would not have considered this information worth mentioning if it had not been large and uncommon in his view. In a 19th-century document on bookbinding, the wage of the bookbinder Aḵund Mollā Majid Moḏahheb in the year 1259/1844 for the shagreen binding of Jannat al-weṣāl and the two volumes of Ṣaḥifa-ye Sajjādiya and ruling, frontispiece, and interlinear gilding (ṭelā-andāzi) of the text of Rumi’s Maṯnawi with ornamental margins had been a total of sixteen Tabrizi tomans (Afšār, 1977, pp. 23-24). Another document from the same period (dated to Rajab 1295/July 1878) is about the repairing and mending of the Koran belonging to the shrine of Āstān-e Qods-e Rażawi by Mollā Ḥosayn Ṣaḥḥāf-bāši, wherein the expenditure of remarginating and mending the spines of its twenty-two sections has been mentioned as six tomans and six qerāns (Afšār, 1977, p. 25).

The full production expenses of a book (calligraphy, paper, binding) are recorded in the following two manuscripts: (1) Talḵis al-moḥassal, written in the 17th century (No. 7032, Central Library of Tehran University): calligrapher, 34 šāhi (an old monetary unit), bookbinder, 100 dinars, collation, 700 dinars, paper, 500 dinars; (2) al-Bayān (dated 1032/1623, Majles Library): paper, 300 dinars, cover, 200 dinars, ruling, 450 dinars. (For a list of earlier bookbinders, see Danešpažuh, Ṭāheri ʿErāqi, and Afšār, in Afšār, ed., 1978.)

The bookbinders work was not limited to binding and mending books and ruling paper. They performed other tasks, including doubling paper thickness, paper tinting, hat lining, paper ruling, cutting, and sizing, and paper starching and glazing, as well as making such items as cardboard papier mâché, fans and sun-shades, clipboards, scrapbooks, mirror frames, eye-glass cases, pen holders, writing pads, registers, receipt booklets, and book cases.

Tools and materials of binding. Tools are not so many, including: book clamp (šekanja, qayd) of the bookbinder’s press, needle, trimmer (šafra, kārdak), awl (derafš), marble anvil, scissors, compasses (pargār), saṭṭāra (a steel, wood, or bone instrument or ruler generally 20 to 50 cm long and 3 to 5 cm wide), knife, straightedge shears for cutting paper (also called šamšir “sword”), curved knife, file (for smoothing cardboard and book edges), mallet (mošta), finishing (taḵta-ye ṣayqal; for flossing the paper), thin-edged wooden ruler, engraved brass and steel tools for stamping quarter medallion, medallion, and pendant designs, and edge tools for ruling.

Materials include: glue (vegetable glue, animal glue, gum, gum tragacanth, starch, egg white), thread (cotton and silk), tinting compounds, paper, leather (shagreen, saffian, morocco, etc.), gold powder, gold leaf, gold emulsion, and cotton and denim cloth.

types of binding. Over the ages, the binding methods and materials have changed, although leather has been used most commonly for book covers. Generally, the covers are: (1) goat leather, shagreen, vellum, and morocco; recently, sheepskin and kid skin have also been used; (2) lacquered covers with marcasite spines, featuring painted designs; (3) fabrics such as brocade cloth, flannel, satin, velvet, calico, chintz, or denim; (4) materials such as oilcloth and plastic recently have been used for binding. Incongruously, some binders have used such materials as covers of ancient, rare manuscript volumes.

Cover ornamentation. Suḵt (or suḵta “burned”) designates highly ornate covers in which elaborate designs are cut out on a separate piece of leather, which is then glued into the openings carefully cut out of the mildly scorched and browned cover. To make the designs stand out, the surface under the ornamental leather piece was tinted orange, red, green, or blue.

Moʿarraq (mosaic) is the inlaid leather cover of the suḵta type of binding, with the difference that the various designs are inlaid and patterned like mosaic work.

Żarbi or kubida is a book cover bound in leather featuring quarter medallion, pendant, and medallion affixed into depressions created by pressing the ornament into the dampened leather. Sometimes these designs were trimmed with emulsified gold.

Ṭelāpuš denotes bindings with leather covers featuring incised and somber bindings with large parts of its ornamental designs gilded with emulsified gold.

Rawḡani describes a lacquer cover placed on a papier mâché base and treated with thick layers of lacquer and tinting compounds with painting designs on it. This kind of binding has been in existence since the 10th century.

Maḡzi (also called sejāfdār) refers to covers made of high quality cloth (sometimes of marbled paper) with leather protective edges; it has also been occasionally used for leather covers as well, especially covers made of leather alone without cardboard stiffener. This kind of cover, which is flexible, is also called lāyi and do-lāyi.

stages of binding.These are: Jadwal-sāzi or jadwal-bandi, drawing straight lines to form rectangular frames around the writing on a page, sometimes in two columns; jozwa-bandi or korrāsa-bandi, stitching of the form together with needle and thread; širāza-bandi, fastening together of the quires of the book from top and bottom by thread and joining them with the front and back covers, sometimes using multi-colored thread for additional attractiveness; paring of the leather, especially its ends, to make it even and easier to be glued to the cardboard; manufacturing of cardboard with wastepaper for the backing of the cover; patching of torn sheets of paper and trimming their edges; mounting of worm- and mouse-eaten sheets of manuscript on fresh paper for preservation purposes.

Technical terms. Other important terms used in the craft follow:

Abri, paper tinted with designs like clouds and waves. This paper has been used sometimes for gluing on the cover and inside the cover and came in vogue in the 17th century. It is used particularly in personalized fragments and making of moraqqaʿ albums.

Adim, tanned leather of red tint.

Āhār mohra, the treatment of the paper with starch or rice water so that the pen may glide more easily on its surface.

Āstar-e badraqa (end paper), paper for lining inner side of the cover facing the text.

ʿAṭf, the middle part of the two sides of a cover that are joined together (back or back strip).

Bayn al-daftayn, gathered quires sewn inside the front and back covers.

Bolḡār, wavy, tanned, aromatic skin imported from Russia.

Do-pust kardan, separating two layers of the paper; an economy measure, especially in the case of costly paper.

Jadwal-keši (or jadwal-bandi, jadwal-sāzi), drawing straight lines to form rectangular frames around the writing on a page, sometimes in two columns.

Jozw (or korrāsa), the gathering and sewing of pages in folio, quarto, octavo, or duodecimo quires; now the term “form” is used in the printing industry.

Katiba, incised or stamped verses on the margin of inner side of the cover, occasionally supplemented with the name of the binder and the date of the completion of the project. This work is mostly seen in suḵt and rawḡani covers.

Kimoḵt, tanned skin of horse or ass, otherwise called sāḡari.

Korrāsa, see above, Jozw.

Laba, the trimmed, smooth outer edges of the book. Sometimes the title of the book was inscribed in ink on the out edge.

Lačaki, triangular pattern stamped on the four corners of the cover, containing floral or arabesque designs.

Matn o ḥāšia, mounting of salvaged manuscript pages on fresh paper cut in the shape of a frame. Expert binders executed this mounting by thinning the edges of the damaged sheet before gluing so that the mounting was hardly noticeable.

Moqawwā (papier mâché), cardboard generally made by gluing waste papers in layers and sometimes from the mashed cotton or old cloth.

Moraqqaʿ, an album containing a collection of calligraphic pieces or drawings on sheets of paper reinforced by a piece of thin cloth.

Mosaṭṭar; a sheet of cardboard with pieces of cotton thread were glued at the desired distances customary in the lineation of manuscripts and then placed under a blank sheet of paper and the surface of that paper was pressed by a roller to leave impressions of thread to guide the scribe in spacing the lines of the manuscript.

Naqqāri, a kind of cover ornamentation.

Pust-e āhu, the thin white leather made of deer, generally used as scrolls for writing Koranic verses and prayers. It has rarely been used in binding.

Qalamkār, a tooled (qālebi or bāsmaʾi) cloth that has been rarely used in binding since the 19th century.

Qeṭʿa, a specimen of high quality, artistic calligraphy glued in the center of a cardboard surrounded by elaborate, colorful designs or artwork.

Sāḡari, tanned skin of horse or ass (shagreen); it is also referred to as kimoḵt.

Saḵtiān, tanned goatskin.

Sar-ṭabl (or ṭabla), trapezoid or triangular flap to fold over the left-hand side edge of the of the cover in a way that it rests on the right hand cover and protects the edges of the pages of the book.

Sar-toranj, a lozenge-shaped device stamped on both sides of the binder’s medallion insignia.

Ṭabla, a term referring to the two covers (front cover and back cover) mostly came in vogue since the Timurid period and Šaraf-al-Din Yazdi has used it in a poem composed for the binding of a manuscript of the Šāh-nāma.

Ṭelā-andāzi, gilding of the outer cover, also on the pages of the manuscript.

Ṭelāpuš, a kind of gilded ornamentation mentioned before. It is frequently seen in the Catalogue of Sheikh Ṣafi-al-Din Ardabili’s Collection.

Terma, a costly brocade, generally with floral designs woven into its fabric.

Timāj, tanned sheep skin.

Toranj, a floral or arabesque design (medallion) that sometimes contains animal figures and has been stamped on the middle of cover (inside or outside).

Waṣṣāli, patching and mending of damaged volumes.

Zari, a soft and delicate silk cloth with gold threads in its fabric (brocade silk).



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November 28, 2005

(Iraj Afshar)

Originally Published: July 20, 2005

Last Updated: July 20, 2005