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A: Cairo Governorate, Egypt

Block Printing in Arabic in the Tenth or Eleventh Century

Circa 950 CE to 1050
Arabic blockprint in Columbia University Library as reproduced by Bulliet, pl. 1.

Arabic blockprint in Columbia University Library as reproduced by Bulliet, pl. 1.

"In spite of the inherent difficulties, Arabic writing was printed from an early date. Some form of xylography, or block printing, was practiced as early as the tenth century, as several amulets discovered in Egypt show. Most of the known examples were block-printed on paper, but one example was printed on papyrus, and two were printed on parchment. Although these examples are undated, the use of papyrus and parchment suggests an early date, confirmed by the style of script and by another bit of evidence; scholars have interpreted occurences of the obscure Arabic term tarsh in poems of the tenth and fourteenth centuries as references to printing amulets and charms with engraved tin plates. The headpieces on some of the surviving block-printed amulets have designs incorporating bold lettering and ornamental motifs, sometimes in reserve, which may have been printed with separate woodblocks. Early in the twentieth century the scholar B. Moritz noted the existence of six printing plates in the ancient Khedivial Library in Cairo, which he dated to the Fatimid period (tenth-twelfth centuries), but their present location is unknown" (Bloom, Paper Before Print. The History and Impact of Paper in the Islamic World [2001] 218-19, figure 84).

Richard W. Bulliet, "Medieval Arabic Tarsh: A Forgotten Chapter in the History of Printing," Journal of he American Oriental Society 107.3 (1987) 427-438 (with illustrations).

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