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Re: [BKARTS] Coptic Question

The late Reginald Walker was my apprentice at The Center for Book Arts in the
mid 1970's. His particular interest was in the origins of the book in Africa. We
went to the libraries at Columbia and Princeton to study and photograph original
examples of Ethiopian and Egyptian Coptic bindings. The earliest example we saw
was, if my recollection is correct, from the 5th century. I have heard that
there are examples dating some 300 years earlier, but have not touched them.

Reggie produced many artist books using this format, and also made blank books
using Coptic structures that he sold through stores like New York Central Art

Gary Frost, the bookbinding philosopher extraordinaire and proselytizer of the
Perennial Millenial Coptic Revival, credits Reggie with fomenting the resurgence
of this form and its mutation into the artist book toolbox.

What most interested me about the original development of this form was that it
was a radical break in the conceptualization of information technology. Its
predecessor, the scroll, used pages thousands of years ago that looked exactly
like the rectangular pages we use today. There are examples of ancient Egyptian
text in columns with boxed images, text wrapped around images, and illuminated
initials on the Colophon Page site at:

The problem was that if you wanted to refer back to a paragraph on page 27 when
you were on page 342 it took a lot of work and a long time to scroll back and

By cutting the scroll and sewing the pages together, you could flip back and
forth "instantly." This was the greatest change in information technology until
the computer. It is the equivalent in accessing information to what movable type
did for the distribution of information.

What made coptic books possible was a change in parchment technology. The shift
from papyrus to parchment was an important change, in that the new substrate was
more flexible and durable. But for scrolls it only needed to be prepared for
writing on one side. In order to make coptic books with writing on both sides of
the page, the skin needs to be finished on both sides.


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