Medieval book made of fish skin
Here’s something special. You are looking at a handsome 15th-century Arabic manuscript - a Kuran - with a most peculiar shape: the pages are round and have a pointy tip on the right-hand side. It looks kind of fishy. Literally, it turns out, because the leaves are made out of fish skin. Before today I never heard of medieval manuscripts made from fish. In fact, when I encountered the Kuran in the Flickr account of the Mama Haldara Library in Timbuktu, where it is kept, I first thought it was a ruse - a whopper. Some digging around revealed, however, that fish skin is a most suitable material for parchment, as well as for the “leather” covers of bookbindings. It made total sense, of course, for book producers in the coastal regions of Western African to turn to fish, which are up for grabs there. Still, very few fish-made books appear to have been identified as such. When you cut the skins into rectangular sheets (and remove the pointy tail bits!) you can’t really tell that the animal was a swimmer rather than a walker. This splashy book is therefore quite the thing.
Pic: Timbuktu, Mama Haldara Library, MS 9167 (Kuran, 15th century). This is the source of the image and here it is confirmed that the pages are made from fish skin. Here are some examples of bookbindings made from fish skin and in this piece you find a scholarly study showing the skin’s suitability for bindings and parchment.