Scrolls and concertinas

In a previous post we examined  lontars,  collections of dried palm leaves which have texts or illustrations inscribed on them, and held together by either a central thread or threads on either ends.

Papyrus and dried leaves do not have a very long life, and this was known to contemporary writers. As a medium they are not very flexible. It seems only logical that the invention of paper would produce an evolutionary change in how the written word was stored.

The fragility and handling difficulties of the lontar, or the Chinese  pothi made from bamboo slats, was overcome by writing on long sheets of paper.

The continuous form of the scroll was first developed in China during the Tang dynasty.  While much of the writing was previously done on silk, it wasn’t until the Tang period  that artists began to use paper as their medium. Scrolls can be read horizontally, from right to left, or vertically. Scrolls were not necessarily for every day use. While some scrolls contained religious texts, scrolls depicting landscapes and scenes were used as decoration.

Scroll

The scroll allows for the slow development of a story. Presumably, presenting bite size chunks of information allows the reader to concentrate and be fully aware of what he is seeing or reading. This form was prevalent until the Song dynasty.

In Asia there are two varieties of scroll:

The horizontal scroll, when used  for texts, is called  makimono in japanese (with few illustrations). The picture scroll is called juan zhou in chinese or emakimono in japanese, meaning in the chinese manner.

The vertical scroll can also be used for text, however as a picture scroll it is called biao-fa or guafu in chinese or  kakemono in Japanese.

In its construction, the Asian scroll differs to the European scroll in that it is made up of several sheets of paper, attached around and behind the main scroll piece.

 

vertical scroll

 

 

In Europe,  the parchment scroll had been used from the earliest times and even after  the advent of printing. In fact, scrolls are still in use today as away of archaizing information; that is, increasing the importance of the information contained within it, hence the bestowing of university degrees in scroll form.

Parchment scrolls were easy to carry in one’s pocket, vest or satchel, making information easily transportable. If you needed to add information but weren’t too sure how much needed to be added, scrolls were quite adaptable. A piece of parchment could easily be sewn onto the end. Scrolls were also particularly handy for maps or for writing out genealogies. They were used extensively in mass, where the priest read out parts of the mass, and while reading the scroll an image could be seen by the congregation.

 

However, unrolling scrolls must have been tedious and inconvenient. It is no wonder that in Asia at least, the concertina provided a first step towards the codex. While the pages of a concertina are folded, it is usually read in a two page spread, not necessarily as a drawn out concertina shape. It is my experience that more often than not Asian concertinas horizontally.

Concertinas sizes depend on lengths of paper.  One sheet may have been long enough to contain all the necessary information; however it is likely that several sheets would be pasted together end to end to form a continuous length. A search on the internet will reveal a myriad easy ways to make a concertina: folding a single sheet of paper, attaching two boards on the end, and there is a book.

concertina drawing

Different ways of folding a concertina and attaching separate leaves

 

Book artists have embraced the idea of the concertina because it is a quick and effective means of producing a book. if you want to learn more about making concertina bindings in the Asian manner,  Kojiro Ikegami’s seminal book on Japanese binding techniques[1]is a terrific place in which to start.

 

 

[1] Ikegami, Kōsanjin. & Stephan, Barbara B.  (1986).  Japanese bookbinding : instructions from a master craftsman.  New York :  Weatherhill

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Filed under asian binding, bookbinding, libraries, museum

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