Historical Bindings Project: Late Coptic Codice

The second book in my historical models series is done (see the first model here)! This is a late Coptic codice. This binding dates from the 7th to 11th centuries. I based my covers off the Hamuli codices found in 1910 near Hamuli, Faiyum, Egypt. These original codices are part of the Pierpont Morgan Library collection. Check them out here: themorgan.org/collection/coptic-bindings

Our models are sewn with a link stitch (coptic stitch), typically they have guards of parchment in each signature to protect the brittle papyrus. We used elephant hide paper instead of parchment to protect our papyrus pages. The book’s boards are made from papyrus pasted together to create a board, this is used from the first signature of the textblock. We then created a cover with brown leather (off book) and then laid on leather in red with the design cut out. A layer of gold leaf was placed in between. The red leather was sewn on (to keep it on the cover) and also has vellum lacing for decoration. A Coptic endband is sewn onto the board and textblock and the fastenings were created two ways, the miniature has a leather toggle and the larger book as a peg and strap.

I am really pleased with how it turned out! I still have to finish my second mini (we are making 2 miniatures for each model) but there is no rush. If you want to read more you can find information on this binding in “The Archeology of Medieval Bookbinding” by J.A. Szirmai or at the Morgan Library.

Next up is hornbooks and limp vellum bindings, with my area in another lockdown we can’t get to the woodshop to cut the wood for wax tablets and several other covers, but there is plenty to do in the meantime!

Here are some photos of the stages to make the books!

First up we used papyrus for the textblock of the large book, and paper for the miniature book. They were sewn with a Coptic link stitch.

Following that, the ‘boards’ of the book were created from the first section, a number of pages were pasted together to create a stiff board on either side. A thin strip of leather was pasted around the edges of the board.

Leather wrapped boards

After that we sewed a Coptic endband — this was my first time doing a Coptic endband and it took a bit of practice but after a while it wasn’t so bad! We also sewed one on the miniature, which was another first for me, I usually just use stick on endbands afraid of sewing something so small, I was glad I tried it! They turned out really nice!

Coptic endands

The design on the cover is created by cutting out a design in another piece of leather. This then is pasted onto the cover with a layer of gold beneath it. To make sure it is adhered very well it is also sewn around the edges. There is decorative lacing with vellum around the center circle.

Once the covers were designed and created we made the clasps – the large one was made with wooden pegs we carved, and braided leather. The little book used a leather toggle.

And then the book was cased in and finished! It took quite a few Saturdays to get through this binding but I really like how it turned out! Especially the miniature one.

As I said above, next up is the hornbook — we made the big version but the miniature version is proving a little difficult and a limp vellum binding! I’ll hopefully get one of those posted up on my blog soon.

Until next time,

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