Earliest Known Book Binding in Private Hands to Auction


The Nag Hammadi Binding

The Nag Hammadi Codex I Binding, dating back to 4th century Egypt, goes on sale as part of Christie's' Manuscript Masterpieces from The Schøyen Collection on June 11.

The sheep leather book binding with papyrus cartonnage, which measures 300 x 150mm closed and 300 x 334mm fully opened, is the earliest known book binding in private hands and one of the earliest book bindings in existence. The lot is the binding of Nag Hammadi Codex I, importantly not the contents of the binding, otherwise known as the Jung Codex.

It comes with 49 inscribed and 183 uninscribed fragments of papyrus cartonnage placed behind three double-sided archival sheets, and the bowl believed to have been used as a lid covering the jar that was said to have contained the Nag Hammadi codices.

It goes under the hammer with an estimate of £100,000 – £150,000.

According to Christie's, the most recent and comprehensive analysis of the dating of the Nag Hammadi codices and their bindings gives them a 4th-century date that has generally been accepted by the academic community. "The Nag Hammadi bindings are without doubt among the oldest extant book covers, and the present binding is the only one not in a institutional collection."