The Binding of the Codex Sinaiticus - 1936 - Douglas Cockerell

Steven Avery

The Binding of the Codex Sinaiticus
Douglas Cockerell
The British Museum Quarterly
Vol. 10, No. 4 (Jun., 1936), pp. 180-182 (4 pages)
Published By: British Museum


THE Codex when received consisted of detached sections and a number of single leaves.

The 'vellum', which a vellum-maker considers to consist of sheepskin much scraped and rubbed down, is very thin and curls persistently towards the hair side.

The sections, with the eight leaves arranged with the hair side facing hair side and flesh side flesh side, and fastened together, were pricked right through as a guide to the ruling. The ruling was done with a point right across two leaves on the flesh side only, leaving an indented line on that side and a very slightly raised line on the hair side.

There is evidence of at least two bindings; the first was sewn with a single thread of loosely twisted hemp. This first binding must have come apart, as at some subsequent time numerous leaves that had become detached were roughly overcast by fine hempen thread used double, on to neighbouring sections. The overcasting was over the earlier glue at the backs of the sections and little regard was paid to the original gathering.

The overcast sections were sewn with double hempen thread

PICTURE between p. 180-181

exactly resembling the tingle thread of the earlier sewing. The back of the book was very heavily glued over the remains of the earlier glue.

The thick double thread and the overcasting must have caused an unmanageable amount of swelling in the back, and the book must have been at this period misshapen and could hardly have opened well enough for the inner columns of writing to have been read easily.

The edges were cut clumsily, while the back was out of shape, with the result that now that the backs of the sections are even, thefore edge is irregular.

It is evident from the cutting that the book was formerly bound in one volume. There is evidence that the last binding was cut off, possibly with a view to replacing it with something better. An unexplained feature is the separating of the inner pair of leaves of many sections by a clean cut.

The chief tasks in the repairing were the mending of the almost innumerable slits in the edges of the leaves, the flattening of the vellum, the joining of detached leaves, and the strengthening of the folds where, these were weak.

For the mending, after many trials, a very satisfactory thin vellum, with a buffed underside to help the sticking, was made. For the guarding fine linen, sun-bleached to exactly the right shade, was woven in Northern Ireland, while for the flattening a frame was made that allowed weights to be attached to the edges of the leaves by strings and dips. Before being stretched the Codex leaves were left for about an hour in a damp atmosphere to soften them. The stretching-frame was also used to put some tension on the guarded leaves to avoid any cockling due to contraction, and long strips of vellum edging faulty leaves were also dried under slight tension for the same reason.

As it is necessary that every part of every leaf should be available for study, the sections were thrown out on section guards to which they were sewn by continuous stitches. As this throws a considerable strain on the unsupported sewing, at the risk of increasing the already considerable 'swelling' caused by the guarding a thick three-cord thread was used to sew the sections to the guards. As the


The two volumes in there present form are illustrated in PI. LIII.

Douglas Cockerell.
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