Bookbinding and the Conservation of Books
A Dictionary of Descriptive Terminology

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papyrus

A giant sedge, Cyperus papyrus, native to the region of the Nile, the pith of which was used to make a writing material by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. Papyrus was the forerunner of paper and the origin of the word, although it is not paper because it is not a matted or felted sheet made from a fibrous material. After the pith was sliced, the strips were laid out in a row with the edges slightly overlapping. Another row was laid crosswise on top of the first, and the two layers were moistened with water and pounded into a sheet of writing material. Presumably, the sheets were then sized, dried, and otherwise finished. When of a high quality, papyrus was very supple and flexible. The individual sheets were generally glued together side by side to form long sections which were usually rolled up.

Papyrus was sold in large quantities in the form of bales or rolls from which sheets could be cut off as required. The size of the sheets ranged from 6 or 7 inches up to about 18 to 20 inches. The better grades were more brownish in color.

One common characteristic of papyrus, regardless of quality, is the difference between the two sides of the sheet, which stems from the strips being at right angles to each other. The recto side, on which the strips run horizontally, was the side generally preferred for writing, while the verso, which had vertical strips, was less frequently used. A material as pliable as papyrus was well suited to be rolled. and when this was done the recto became the inner side and the verso, with no writing, the outer side.

The greatest use of papyrus as a writing material was between the 4th century B.C. and the 4th century A.D. (192 , 218 , 236 )




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