Historical Bindings Project: Nag Hammadi Codice

Recently I’ve started on a project with my bookbinding teacher to go through and make models of historical bindings working our way up from the early scrolls to various medieval bindings. We are creating a “normal” size version of each and then preparing two miniature copies (one to keep and one to part with, probably).

To begin with we started with a Nag Hammadi Codice based on the information in “The Archeology of Medieval Bookbinding” by J.A. Szirmai.

These are the oldest surviving codices, from the 3rd/4th century A.D. They are known as the Gnostic manuscripts or Nag Hammadi codices, named after where they were discovered in 1945 in Upper Egypt, near the town of Nag Hammadi. Thirteen codices were found by a local farmer in a sealed jar. These codices contain the Gnostic treatises and are written in the Coptic language – they are early Christian works. The most well known work is the Gospel of Thomas, which is contained in full in the codices.

The binding is a limp leather covering, stiffened to various degrees by a lining of papyrus, the quire (or signature) is joined by tackets passing through the middle, and in most cases there is a leather flap at the fore edge.

Nag Hammadi Codices from http://gnosis.org/

The materials I used were: leather, vellum, papyrus, elephant hide paper, and paper with a papyrus grain printed on to it (for the miniature book). We followed the diagram in J.A. Szirmai’s book which is shown below:

Diagram of a Nag Hammadi binding, showing the inside covers, the turn ins, ties, pastedown, and tackets.
J.A. Szirmai’s diagram of a Nag Hammadi binding

So to begin with we dyed the leather, and cut it to shape and pasted on the boards. We used boards instead of papyrus because papyrus is rather expensive! We also folded the textblock of papyrus and placed it under weight until we would need it.

Following that we placed the ties at the head and tail on both covers and included little vellum tackets at the corners.

Once that was done, we added a papyrus pastedown, hiding the ends of the ties and the vellum corners.

Once the pastedowns were on and dry we went ahead and put the textblock in, sewing through the over and through tackets to protect the papyrus textblock as it was very brittle. And then it was done! It was a very simple structure but quite nice and you can easily adapt it for the modern era. Click on the images to make them larger.

I’m excited to work through this project, we have recently completed a late Coptic codice, which I’ll blog about soon hopefully (I know I sort of fell off the wagon with blogging but I’m hoping to share my projects here again and keep up with it!)

Hope you are all staying safe!

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