In contrast to scientific research focussing on European paper, there is a significant gap in our knowledge of Islamic papermaking. This research surveys the evidence of techniques and materials typically used in Islamic papermaking, to deduce what might be considered as the most significant characteristics. A substantial collection of 228 Islamic papers (~18th–20th century) was characterized using chemical analytical methods: surface profilometry, gloss measurements, specular vs. diffuse reflectance ratio at 457 nm, scanning electron microscopy and infrared spectroscopy for identification of polishing, iodine test for identification of starch, Raspail test for identification of rosin, and fibre furnish analysis. Morphological analysis was performed to examine the presence of watermarks and sieve patterns.
In addition, acidity and degree of polymerization of cellulose in paper were determined to explore the average material state of paper in the collection. Near infrared spectroscopic data of the collection were correlated to chemical properties with the aid of multivariate data analysis methods. Four different models were developed focusing on two main characteristics of Islamic paper: two for identification of polishing and starch, and two quantitative models to determine the acidity and degree of polymerization of cellulose in paper. While no single defining characteristic of Islamic paper was identified, 88 % of all papers in the studied collection either contain starch or are polished, or both. ~2 % of papers contain rosin. The majority of papers are neutral to mildly acidic, which is in contrast to their extensive degradation: ~69 % have DP < 1000. Polishing and starch appear to be associated with current values of pH and DP. The developed non-destructive characterization methodology could be applied to Islamic collections in libraries and archives to expand the database with the material properties of papers of known age and provenance and thus better understand geographic and temporal distributions of papermaking practices in Islamic countries.