A Surah from the Qurʾān

Over the next several posts I will highlight items from our library that originate outside the English-speaking world. Within our Manuscripts and Archives many ethnic and linguistic groups are represented. Around the world people have created a wide variety of beautiful, and utilitarian forms of writing to transmit our human heritage. While we do not always know the details of some of our specific specimens, we can appreciate the importance of them to an individual or group of people. Thus, the following posts may not provide a complete analysis or extensive documentation1 of our manuscripts, but we will try to tell something about their provenance and why we are attracted to them.

I am not following any particular method of selecting these items. I am using a, first come first served, grab bag approach. In some ways this type of discovery is more engaging. Also, we will only look at one item per post so that it can receive the consideration it is due.

Now for our first selection:

Our collection includes this leaf containing a Surah from the Qurʾān. A Surah is one of the 114 chapters of the Qurʾān. Surahs are traditionally proclaimed as a part of Muslim prayers. Prior to the 19th century copies of the Qurʾān were created, by hand, in manuscript form. Many examples are known for their beautiful calligraphy and ornate style.

A Surah from the Qurʾān

A Surah from the Qurʾān (r) – 1727, India

A Surah from the Qurʾān

A Surah from the Qurʾān (v) – 1727, India

This leaf was created in AH 1140, or in our western calendar AD 17272. The copy of the Qurʾān, that this fragment is from, was made for the Nawab Muhammad Amiu Khau in India. There are nine lines of script3. Each verse is separated by a gold disk and the calligrapher embellished the margins with medallions. This is truly a beautiful example of a Qurʾān produced in India.

DLWA Call Number: AC1 BP130.4.L4243 1727

Worldcat: Link

    • Title: Medieval Qurʾān manuscript leaf.
    • Author: Anonymous
    • Language: Arabic
    • Setting: Manuscript styles, Qurʾān leaf


  1. When this series of posts is completed we will do our best to provide bibliographical and analytical resources for delving more deeply into these items. We also reserve the right to update the posts as more information becomes available!
  2. AH refers to the Hijri year (Arabic: سَنة هِجْريّة‎) which begins in the western calendar year 662 AD (We will not use the politically correct, misleading, and denialism terms BCE and CE in our works here. We all know what point in time they refer to.)
  3. Said to be scribed in uaskli script – We still need to verify what script is represented here.


Binding Fragments

It is not only in our times that recycling is in vogue. In the early modern period with the rarity and expense of books, patrons frequently relied on the bookseller to take the responsibility of binding a text, often to match other volumes in their library. Needless to say, materials were expensive and relatively rare. Paper and vellum have always been one of the most expensive costs of manufacturing books, thus, little of it went to waste. Also, because of the process of printing, a lot of leftover, defective, or damaged printed material, called printers waste, was created. It was a common practice for bookbinders to collect sturdy parchment leaves from unwanted or outdated manuscripts and reuse those leaves as binding reinforcements or covers for their books. Scraps of paper were glued together to create an early form of cardboard for the structural parts of the binding process 1. The practice was so common that many books from the Medieval and Early Modern period have printers waste and manuscript fragments in their bindings. During the 19th and 20th century many of these artifacts were discarded as old binding were replaced with new.

This quote from Chrissie Perella sums up our surprise and amazement over the destruction of old books and manuscripts:

Manuscripts used as WHAT?!

Yes, Virginia, there is such a thing as ‘manuscript waste.’ To us, several hundred years later, it seems a horrible thing. However, it was common practice for early bookbinders to cut up and use pages from unwanted manuscripts as binding material. These pages were sturdy and were used for paste-downs, wrappers (covers), spine-linings, or gathering reinforcements. Not only did the practice essentially recycle texts that were outdated, damaged, or for some other reason, no longer used, it also gives us an opportunity to get a glimpse into the history of a specific text’s use. If we think about it, it’s not too much different than how we treat old newspapers today: as decoupage, potty-training mats for puppies, packing material, etc., etc., etc 2.

More recently, scholars have begun to recognize the value of these materials and a new field of study, Fragmentology, is emerging 3. Researchers are canvassing their stacks and valuable unknown or lost ancient texts have been found. For example, one of the more important recent finds is the The Archimedes Palimpsest 4, that contained works that were only known by references in other ancient documents. Because of the new study of binding fragments there have been important biblical, Islamic and Hebraic texts discovered in recent years.

Given the above, a brief look into the stacks of our library is in order. First we have a number of manuscript fragments removed from some mid 15th century German bindings. Most of these are probably dated around 1425 to 1450 although one of the fragments (the largest, rectangular fragment on the right) might be earlier as it appears to be a palimpsest with a trace of Carolingian script dating to about c1100 AD.

Early Medieval Manuscript Binding Fragments.

Second are a set of three volumes that show different types of binders waste in use: a page, with a Greek font, using scrap from the same production run, for spine reinforcement. This example is from books printed in 18th century using more modern mechanical printing press; next a book from the 17th century where a waste leaf from an older book is used between the bands to reinforce the cover attachment; and finally a 16th printed book has strips of an earlier handwritten and rubricated manuscript cut into strips for use in reinforcing and attaching the cover.

Three examples of different Binders Waste use.

We have many more examples in our Manuscripts and Archives, none so spectacular as the Archimedes Palimpsest, but there a a gold mine of information hidden under the covers.


DLWA Call Number: AC1 DC707 M1450 01

Worldcat: Link

    • Title: Medieval manuscript binding fragments.
    • Author: Anonymous
    • Language: Latin, Unknown
    • Setting: Book Binding


  1. Specific references for this study are difficult to pinpoint as the analysis of “Binders Waste” and “Manuscript Fragments” was not considered as a ligitimate field of study. Resources for this section were gleaned from a number of small reports on the web.
  2. Fugitive Leaves : Chrissie Perella
  3. See the Fragmentarium : Laboratory for Medieval Manuscript Fragments as one example of this research.
  4. The Archimedes Palimpsest