Sorenson (2022 Congress)

David W. Sorenson
(Alan Berman, Numismatics)

“Turkish Imitations of Italian Paper in the Later Fifteenth Century”

Abstract of Paper
57th International Congress on Medieval Studies
(Online, 2022)

Session on
“Medieval Writing Materials:
Processes, Products, and Case-Studies”

Sponsored by the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence
Organized by Mildred Budny
2022 International Congress on Medieval Studies;  Program



Late fifteenth-century Ottoman manuscripts use a variety of paper types. One variety, described here, superficially resembles imported Italian paper, being white and reasonably fine, as opposed to earlier paper, which tended to be thick, crude, and very off-white. The mouldlines are distinctive and clearly Eastern.


After 1453 the Ottoman Empire gained a more intense westward outlook, if for no other reason than that of conquest, but also for purposes of trade. One aspect of this was increased attempts of Turkish papermakers to compete with importers of Italian, mainly Fabriano, paper, which in this period was improving in quality while falling in price. Paper in Asia Minor, as characterized by the mould lines visible in surviving examples, fell into four categories.

First, the traditional paper which predated the Ottomans, was thick, yellowish-brown, and had chain-lines in groups, usually of threes; it was thick enough so that the lines were often difficult to see. Second, the Ottoman variety of this, which was similar, albeit less thick and crude; the wire-lines are easily visible. Third, imported European paper, with the usual wire-lines and watermarks. Fourth, which concerns this paper, a variety which is white, of fine quality, and with single, closely-spaced, chain lines, clearly eastern in origin, but superficially resembling imported Italian paper.

At present there is very little information available regarding this latter product.  Occasionally an author mentions it in passing, but it is rarely recognized as a paper type, let alone studied. In this paper I will attempt to define it, using a variety of examples, to develop a rough idea of its characteristics, and possibly some ideas regarding its date range and areas of use.


Specimen 1:  Turkish Paper Imitating Italian Paper

Private Collection, Turkish Paper, Specimen 1: Manuscript Opening.

Detail of the Paper and Chainlines

Private Collection. Turkish Paper Specimen 1, Detail of Paper Structure.

Specimen 2:  Ottoman variety of traditional paper, in a Juz’ section of the Quran

Private Collection, Turkish Paper, Specimen 2: Manuscript Opening.

Detail of the Paper, Chainlines, and Wiremarks

Private Collection, Turkish Paper, Specimen 2: Detail of Paper.

Specimen 3:  Typical Watermarked Italian Paper

Detail of Paper
Watermark:  Outstretched Hand with Cuff and Extended Fingers

Private Collection, Italian Paper, Specimen 3: Detail of Paper.


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