Thailand 100 years ago: books on palm leaves

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There are various kinds of books. The most elegant are said to be written, or rather engraved, on tablets of ivory, but I have never seen any of those. Some are made of long strips of coarse paper, either white or black, and folded too-ether somethina: like a fan. These are written with gamboge or soap-stone pencil, which can be erased, or with the ordinary lead-pencil and ink.

Others, mostly sacred books, are written with a brass or iron stylo, on carefully prepared palm-leaves, and rubbed with ink and oil to bring
out the characters. Sometimes the letters are gilt, and the edges of the leaves are also gilt, or colored with vermilion.

They are placed in order on strings, and when read are usually laid upon a table or cushion, to preserve them, it is presumed, from the injurious moisture of the warm hand, or, more likely still, the reader is too superstitious or indolent to hold them.

The preparation and copying of these sacred palm-leaf books is considered a work of great merit. Some perform the work themselves, others hire it done, but all derive merit from the gracious work. We have little idea of the labor and ” passionate patience ” required for work of this kind. We, with our steam-presses that multiply copies with the rapidity of thought, smile with grim pity at the small accomplishments of years of careful labor.

Text: Mary Lovina Cort
Siam: or, The heart of farther India.
New York, A.D.F. Randolph & Co
Publication date 1886
Photo: internet
Fragment from Illustrated Liturgical Manuscript of Chants.

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