tracking the development of the book

Origins of various bookish things from ancient times to current; especially looking for book structures, tools and materials, bookbinders and libraries .... and a few other, miscellaneous items.

The timeline gives an idea of when certain structures and technologies were introduced but some of the dates are approximate. ;xNLx;The form and intention of the book continues to be updated and redefined: the prevalence of some structures may come and go, but once introduced, they never completely disappear, creating a rich heritage for book artists and binders to revisit and make anew.

0000-01-01 00:00:00


An ancient Jewish practice. Phylacteries were box like containers, made of leather, worn on the left arm or forehead "as a sign upon your hand and as a symbol on your forehead that with a mighty hand the Lord freed us from Egypt". Inside the boxes were long parchment scrolls inscribed with four scriptures, two from Exodus and two from Deuteronomy. Earliest examples found near Dead Sea.

0029 BC-01-01 00:00:00

Buddhist Prayer Books

About 450 years after the death of Buddha, his teachings or 'sutras' were written down on to palm leaves.

0040-01-01 00:00:00

Marcus Vaelerius Martialis

A Roman Poet describes the codex book form and mentions how useful it is on a journey as it can be read in one hand unlike the scroll which needs two.

0050-01-01 00:00:00

Origins of the Western Codex

A new book form emerges that gradually replaces the scroll. Adopted by the Copts - early Christian communities in Egypt.

0100-01-01 00:00:00

Vindolanda Tablets

Wooden tablets found at Hadrian's Wall. Oldest surviving hand written documents in Britain.

0100-01-01 00:00:00


Predecessor of the medieval bestiary, the physiologus was a book written in Alexandria around the second century from which many translations and copies would have been made.

0196 BC-03-27 00:00:00

Rosetta Stone

A decree inscribed into black granite in three different scripts - hieroglyphic, demotic and Greek - to establish the rule of a new King, Ptolemy V.

0200 BC-01-01 00:00:00


Parchment was developed as a writing support in Pergamon, an Ancient Greek city, where a great library was being built to rival that of Alexandria.

0200 BC-01-01 00:00:00

Invention of Paper

The earliest examples of paper that have been found date from the second century BC in China and was made from hemp fibre.

0200-01-01 00:00:00

Nag Hammadi Codices

Thirteen leather bound, papyrus, Coptic codices found in an earthenware jar in Upper Egypt. The books of gnostic writings were believed to be hidden by monks after they were denounced as heretical.

0300 BC-01-01 00:00:00

Great Library of Alexandria

One of the largest libraries of the ancient world. The library was created with the ambition to collect copies of every book that existed in the world.

0300 BC-01-01 00:00:00

Dead Sea Scrolls

A collection of (mostly) parchment, papyrus and copper scrolls preserved in caves near Qumran, Israel where they had been hidden presumably for safe keeping until they were discovered some 2000 years later.

0350-01-01 00:00:00

Codex Sinaiticus

One of the two earliest surviving manuscripts of the Bible. Found near Mount Sinai in Egypt, the parchment manuscript was preserved for many centuries . About half of the original book has survived and is now housed in four different places, including the British Library.

0400 BC-01-01 00:00:00


The sayings of Confucius were first written down within the first 100 years of his death in 473 BC. The oldest found version dates from 50 BC, a copy on bamboo slips.

0450-01-01 00:00:00


The Old English word for book originally meant any written document.

0500 BC-01-01 00:00:00

Palm Leaf Books

Dried palm leafs were used as a writing surface in India and SE Asia and made into books by making one or two holes in the leaves and threading them onto a cord. The piles of corded leaves were held flat between wooden boards and the cords then tied the bundle together. The long and narrow palm leaves have influenced the shape of books from this region.

0500-01-01 00:00:00


After the fall of the Roman Empire, the western monastic practice of copying manuscripts by hand continued.

0540 BC-01-01 00:00:00


An ancient epic story from India, written down in Sanskrit

0650-01-01 00:00:00

The Stonyhurst Gospel

The oldest book in Europe still in its original binding. Found in St Cuthbert's coffin. Recently bought by the British Library for £9 million.

0700 BC-01-01 00:00:00

Epic of Gilgamesh

The world's first story was related and remembered orally for thousand's of years and only later written down. The story was inscribed into 12 clay tablets using cuneiform script using a wedge shaped stylus which was pressed into the clay when it was wet.

0700-01-01 00:00:00


An Old English poem set in Scandinavia describes heroic warrior battles with dragons.

0700-01-01 00:00:00

Samarkand Kufic Quran

Believed to be the oldest Quran in existence and dating from around the 8th century but possibly earlier. Scholars continue to debate the early development of the Quran and when it was first written down.

0700-01-01 00:00:00

Lindisfarne Gospels

Originally bound in a 'treasure binding' by Ethelwald, Bishop of the Lindisfarne islanders, which was subsequently lost - either in a Viking raid or during the reformation. The current silver and jeweled binding was made in 1852.

0750 BC-01-01 00:00:00

Wax Tablets

Recessed and hinged wooden boards, infilled with wax which could be inscribed with a pointed metal stylus. Used by Ancient Greeks, Romans and Europe until Middle Ages. remnants of wax tablets have been found at Hadrian's Wall

0750 BC-01-01 00:00:00

Greek Alphabet

First alphabet to use vowels and derived from Phoenician alphabet. Around this time, the ancient poems by Homer - the Iliad and the Odyssey - were written down. Sometimes writing went from left to write and then right to left and was called 'Boustrophedon' meaning 'as the ox ploughs.'

0751-01-01 00:00:00

Paper Production Spreads to West

Travelling Chinese papermakers captured by Islamic Warriors in a fight on the banks of the River Tarus in Turkestan and taken to Samarkand, which became a centre for paper production.

0800 BC-01-01 00:00:00

Old Testament Written

The books of the OT were written over a long period of time and possibly from as early as the 10th century BC. Hebrew scriptures were first translated into Greek in Alexandria between about 280 and 130 BC.

0800-01-01 00:00:00

Supported Sewing

In the early Medieval period, books were sewn onto sewing supports to make the structure stronger.

0800-01-01 00:00:00

Islamic Bookbinding

Influenced by Coptic codex, Books were sewn with chain stitch at two sewing stations dividing the flat spine into thirds.

0868-01-01 00:00:00

Diamond Sutra

A five meter long paper, wood block printed scroll of Buddhist teachings written in Chinese and found in a sealed cave in north west China. The world's earliest known date printed book.

0950-01-01 00:00:00

Early Chinese Bookbinding

A variety of paper book structures existed in China and are very well described on the following website by Colin Chinnery and Li yi.

0975-01-01 00:00:00

Early Japanese Bookbinding

Closely linked to Chinese development and wonderfully described by Graham Dawes on his website. Follow the link below...

1000-01-01 00:00:00

Cumdach or Book Shrine

From Ireland, an ornamental box or case used to house and protect books regarded as relics of the Saints who had once owned them.

1050-01-01 00:00:00

Romanesque BookBinding

Bindings from this period are characterised by thick, split leather sewing supports. Headband sewing becomes integral to the whole sewing structure.

1100 BC-01-01 00:00:00

Bamboo Slips Books

Books made from long, narrow strips of wood or bamboo bound together with thread. Text was written with ink and brush in vertical columns. Common in China until paper became main writing material.

1100-01-01 00:00:00

Medieval Bestiary

Popular texts in the Middle Ages, describing and illustrating animals and birds, including their symbolic meaning and the moral lessons associated with each creature.

1150 BC-01-01 00:00:00

Turin Papyrus

The oldest, surviving geological map describes the location of gold mines in Ancient Egypt.

1151-01-01 00:00:00

First European Paper Mills

Paper making arrives in Europe via Spain following the Muslim conquest. A mill in Valencia is dated to 1151.

1200 BC-01-01 00:00:00

Phoenician Alphabet

An alphabet of 22 letters (no vowels) used by the traveling salesmen of ancient Mediterranean and the origin of most alphabetic writing systems including Latin

1200 BC-01-01 00:00:00

Chinese Writing

Chinese writing systems have evolved over thousands of years and is one of the oldest systems still in use. Early scripts were found on bones used for divination or "oracle bones'.

1200-01-01 00:00:00

Girdle books

These were books designed to hang upside down from a belt by means of a knotted end to long leather covers. Usually religious texts for clergy, monks and noblemen.

1240-01-01 00:00:00

Book of Hours

A small book of prayers and other religious texts, usually in Latin, illuminated according to the wealth of the owner.

1300-01-01 00:00:00

Limp Book Structures

Soft, flexible covers attached by various means were used as temporary covers on books waiting to be bound or on blank books used as note books or journals.

1300-01-01 00:00:00

Folding Physician's Almanac

A book designed to be carried on a belt containing astrological calendars, lunar tables and diagrams of the human body.

1350-01-01 00:00:00

The Felbrigge Psalter

The earliest surviving example of an embroidered binding. Embroidered by Anne, daughter of Sir Simon de Felbrigge, standard bearer to Richard II, whilst a nun in a Suffolk convent.

1360-01-01 00:00:00

The Decameron

by Giovanni Boccaccio

1382-01-01 00:00:00

Wycliffe's Bible

A translation of the Bible into common language by John Wycliffe at a time when it was illegal to do so. Wycliffe believed that every Christian should be able to read the Bible for themselves. (Middle English)

1390-01-01 00:00:00

Recipe Book

"The Forme of Cury" Earliest known cookery manuscript, written by Richard II's master-cooks to teach others how to make both everyday and banquet dishes. Vellum scroll

1400-01-01 00:00:00

Gothic Bookbinding

Paper replaces parchment and printed material replaces manuscript copying.

1403-01-01 00:00:00

Mistery of Stationers

A Guild for people working in the book trade including text writers, manuscript artists or limners, parchment sellers, bookbinders, and then later, printers and book sellers. London Bridge area.

tracking the development of the book

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