By Don Baker
The Paper Conservator, Vol.15 (1991)
Introduction: Western descriptions of Arab papermaking contain much that appears to be conjecture. The aim of this paper is to identify what can be learned from early Arab accounts and from the examination of existing samples of the paper itself.
First, to define the word ‘Arab’. It includes those who speak the Arabic language and those who have laid claims to links with the nomadic tribes of Arabia. Arabs are usually Muslims, but not always. About the time that the secret of papermaking escaped from China, the Arab world had reached its maximum size. The transfer of this jealously-guarded technique at the middle of the eighth century CE took place near Samarqand in Transoxania. This region was held by the Arabs as the result of military conquest but was administered by local rulers on payment of suitable tribute. The Arabs were the occupying power; they were not the original Islamic papermakers. Only when the technique of papermaking started to spread could the product really be described as Arab paper. In the early years it might well have beencalled Soghdian paper, named after the region about Samarqand. However, the following eight hundred years, up to the mid-sixteenth century, saw the manufacture of what can be called without any hesitation Arab paper. By this time the great secret of papermaking had escaped to Christendom by way of Spain, or perhaps Sicily.