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Contribution to Book
Paper Trade across the Sahara: European writing paper and Northern Nigeria
IPH Congress Book / IPH-Kongressbuch/ Livre des Congres IPH (2018)
  • Michaelle L. Biddle
Today what is called Northern Nigeria was historically the thousand year old polities of Kanem-Bornu, Hausaland with it great trans-Saharan trading cities of Katsina and Kano, and the Sultanate of Sokoto.  All were Islamic intellectual centers with thriving and prolific manuscript cultures, a part of the West African intellectual tradition of which Timbuktu was a major hub.  In these places printing did not replace manuscript copying in a significant way until the 1930s.  All of the paper used in Northern Nigerian manuscripts was produced in Europe with the majority coming from Italy.  An examination of the watermarks in over 65,000 manuscript sheets from the 17th to early 20th century, and extensive research, has led to the identification of over 60 paper mills that produced this paper, many of which specialized in paper for the wider Islamic market - the Sublime Porte, the Levant, the Balkans and Malaysia.   This essay is an extract from a larger and ongoing study that examines the details of paper trade across the Sahara - including how to pack a camel, trade routes and conditions, the many ways paper was used once it reached Northern Nigeria, and many of the Italian Paper mills that produced the paper for this lucrative market.
  • paper trade,
  • Italy,
  • Borno,
  • Hausaland,
  • watermarks
Publication Date
Fall 2018
International Association of Paper Historians
IPH Congress Book
Citation Information
Michaelle L. Biddle. "Paper Trade across the Sahara: European writing paper and Northern Nigeria" Fabriano/AmalfiIPH Congress Book / IPH-Kongressbuch/ Livre des Congres IPH Vol. 20 (2018) p. 21 - 32
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