John Lawrence Sharpe III
Cataloguer, Consultant, and Appraiser of Rare Books and Manuscripts
Academic Librarian specializing in Early Printed Books and Manuscripts

Work History
Teaching History
Consulting and Advisory Activities
Partial List of Clients
Selected Publications
Selected Lectures and Presentations

For over thirty years I worked at Duke University with all aspects of rare books and manuscripts including description, cataloguing, and conservation; engaged in fundraising both for rare books and the general university library; and served as an academic reference librarian, having been appointed at the age of 24 I was the youngest person in the country appointed to this position. This work has been supported by a strong foundation of broad experience both in writing and public speaking for the academic and the general reader in the history of book production. For two years I did weekly radio commentary for South Carolina Public Radio on Books and Bookmaking.

Throughout my career I have appraised collections for institutions and insurers, and have testified in court as “expert witness” in matters concerning values and damages to books and manuscripts whether through water, fire, theft, or mutilation.

Since 1970 my research interests have been in the history, technology, and role of the book in society. The book as an object provides an opportunity to examine the uses to which multiple technologies have been utilized to present a subtle but significant statement of the place of those technologies when used in service of the printed or written word.

The historical study of the form of the book in the eastern end of the Mediterranean has occupied most of my research interest since 1976 when I began a search for the origins of the forms used in Greek manuscripts prior to the fifteenth century. The search has taken me into an examination of all the cultures which produced the codex (leaf) book as part of their literary heritage including the Ethiopic, Coptic, and Armenian traditions.

Within the context of my work as Reference and Research Librarian at Duke, I am preparing for publication a catalogue of the collection of Greek Manuscripts at Duke. A modified short title version of the some one hundred Greek manuscripts is now available on the Duke Library website.

At present the priority of my research is the preparation of a descriptive catalogue of the Coptic bindings in the J. Pierpont Morgan Library of New York City. To this end I have examined onsite in the USA, Europe and Egypt all bindings described by Theodore Petersen in his preliminary catalogue (ca. 1950) and have added to his list descriptions of the discoveries made since his catalogue was prepared.

Grolier Club
Gutenberg Gesellschaft
London Bibliographical Society
Caxton Club

Magna cum laude Duke Divinity School (Durham, NC)
Phi Beta Kappa Duke University. Alumnus honor for contribution to scholarship in the history of the book and the development of the collection of rare books at Duke
Visiting Scholar 1992 Wolfson College, Oxford
Younger Humanist Fellow
National Endowment for Humanitarian
Cambridge University
AB 1961 Wofford College (Spartanburg, SC)
Major: English Literature; Minor: Foreign Languages (French, Greek, and Russian)
BD 1965 Duke Divinity School (Durham, NC)
Reading Greek, German, Latin, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Syriac. Magna cum laude.
1965 St. Mary's College, St. Andrews University (Scotland)
1966 Frederick Alexander University (Erlangen, Germany)
Exchange Student
PhD 1969 Duke University
Work History  
1967-1989 Curator of Rare Books, Duke University Library
1989-1998 Academic Librarian for Research Affairs, Reference Dept., Duke University Library
1992, 1994 Adjunct Assistant Professor of History, Duke University
1997 Entered Private Consultation, Writing, and Research
1998- CPRM, Inc., Vice President

Teaching History
History of the Book as an Art Form. Fall 1978-Spring 1979, Duke University. Art 139.
Rare Books Seminar. Summer, 1978, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: LS 349.
Mystery and History of the Bible. Fall 1985. Duke University. Continuing education.
Rare Books Seminar. Spring 1986. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: LS 349.
Rare Books and the Design of Books in the 1890's. Summer 1986. Duke University. Continuing Education.
The History of Books and Printing. Fall 1992-1994. Duke University. History 103B.

Acquired notable collections such as:

  • The Harold Jantz Collection of Baroque and Post-Baroque German Literature

  • The Harry L. Dalton Collection of Rare Books and Manuscripts

  • The Abram Kanof Collection of Jewish Art

  • The Glenn Negley Collection of Utopian Literature

  • The Styron Collection of manuscripts and printed books

  • The William Blackburn Collection of Duke Authors: such as Ann Tyler, Fred Chappell, Reynolds Price and Guy Davenport

  • The Lionel Stevenson Collection of Romantic Literature, especially Canadian authors

  • Including smaller collections and individual volumes of significance, like the research library and first editions of Walt Whitman assembled by the Whitman scholar Gay Wilson Allen

  • The Kenneth Willis and Adalaide Dickenson Clark Collection of Greek Manuscripts

Catalogued the collection of broadsides (over 5,000 items). Duke University.
Organized and catalogued the collection of maps before 1865. Duke University
Organized and arranged the shelving system and inventory of the Confederate imprints collection.


  • “The Revival of the Classics in the Italian Renaissance.” Duke University 1978

  • “German-American Literary Relations: the Harold Jantz Collection.” Duke University 1979

  • “Separation and Unity in Early Modern German Lands,” for the Früheneuzeit Interdisciplinär, Duke University 1995

  • Conceived and organized “The Bible as Book: the Manuscript Tradition, Hampton Court,” Hereford, 31 May-3 June 1995 international symposium

  • Conceived and organized “The Bible as Book: the Earliest Printed Editions,” Hereford, 29 May-1 June 1996 international symposium

  • Conceived and organized "The Bible and the Spanish Renaissance Cardinal Ximénez de Cisneros and the Complutensian Polyglot," Loyola University Chicago, 10 - 13 June 1999 symposium sponsored by Loyola University Chicago and the Cervantes Institute.

Consulting and Advisory Activities

  • Conservation and Library Management to the Monastery of St. John, Patmos, Greece. 1970-1989.

  • Conservation and Rare Books Cataloguing Adviser for UNESCO, Paris. 1985-

  • Codicological adviser and librarian for the Dakhleh Oasis Project in Egypt in association with the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Canada. 1987-

  • Coptic Museum, Cario Egypt. Consultant on Coptic bindings. January 1989-90.

  • Consultant and cataloguer of Coptic Bindings for the J. Pierpont Morgan Library, New York, New York. 1989-

  • Consultant for the Ancient India and Iran Trust, Cambridge, England, 1990-

  • Consultant and adviser for Greek manuscript conservation, The Cambridge Colleges Library Conservation

  • Consortium, Cambridge, England. 1992-

  • Consultant to the Conservation Officer at the Walters Art Gallery and Museum, Baltimore, Maryland. 1992.

  • Consultant for Library Design and Conservation for the Great Lavra on Mt. Athos for the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Greece. 1994-

  • Consultant and adviser for collection and manuscript cataloguing and conservation at Clare College, Westminster

  • College and Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, June 1994.

  • Consultant for programs and collections for Scriptorium: Center for the Study of Christian Antiquities. Grand Haven, Michigan. 1994-

  • Mounted major exhibition of Greek manuscripts at Duke University, March 1999.

Partial List of Clients

  • Archives of North Carolina Mutual Life Insurace Company, the largest African-Amercan insurance company in the world, appraisal and consulting

  • Special Collections at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill

  • Rare Books, Manuscripts and Special Collections at Duke University Library

  • Special Collection at North Carolina State University

  • Private Libraries of Doug Marlette (cartoonist and author); Willard C. Byrd (landscape architect); The Collection of the late James David Robertson Professor of Neurobiology & Chairman of the Department of Anatomy, Durham, NC.; The Collection of Herbert Crovitz, Historian; The Art Historical Collection of Dr. Herbert Levy; The Archives of the Animal Rights Network (NCSU); The Archives of PETA—People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (NCSU); The Library of Prof. Gary Gallagher (English professor), inter alia


  • Knowledge of French, German, Latin, Greek, Italian, and Spanish

  • From 1967-1989, supervised development of a rare collection of 30,000 Greek, Latin, and Ethiopic manuscripts, pamphlets, broadsides and maps to 150,000 volumes, broadsides and manuscript codices increasing the Greek and Ethiopic manuscript collections by four-fold

  • Introduced and implemented standard rare book cataloguing criteria and program at Duke University

  • Developed extensive indexing systems to include bindings, binder, imprint by city-printer-date, provenance, etc.

  • Developed a conservation program for the department

  • Developed criteria and standards for boxing, shelving, and rebinding rare books, pamphlets, maps, newspapers, etc.

  • Began the development of computer services for the university library creating on-line catalogs

  • Initiated and supervised Duke’s participation as a contributor to the original English eighteenth-century catalogue of English imprints

  • Served as Secretary of  The Friends of the Library

  • Received training as practical conservator at the University of Denver in 1967 and 1968 and continued in discussions with the major conservators in America and Europe

  • Produced and currently maintain the online catalogue of Greek Manuscripts of the Kenneth Willis Clark Collection for the Digital Scriptorium of the University Library Collection.

  • 1990-1991 wrote/produced four-minute radio segments for South Carolina Public Radio on various aspects of books and book making

Selected Publications

  • Editor, Library Notes, 1967-1987

  • "A Checklist of Collections of Biblical and Related Manuscripts on Microfilm in the United States and Canada," Scriptorium XXXV (1971)

  • "The Second Adam in the Apocalypse of Moses," Catholic Biblical Quarterly XXXV, no. 1 (January 1972)

  • Editor, Oracles, Translations of Biblical Passages by Reynolds Price, with etchings by Jacob Roquet. The Friends of the Library, 1977.

  • "An Index to Printers' Marks in The Library Quarterly," The Library Quarterly XLVIII, no. 1 (January 1978)

  • Disaster Preparedness Handbook, North Carolina Library Association 1979

  • The "Gentile Bias" and Other Essays. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1980

  • "The Library as Encyclopedia" with Elizabeth Sewell on "Encyclopedia or Circle Learning," Denver University Quarterly, Spring 1981

  • "Impressum apud Rüssinger: An Essay Establishing the Date, the Printer, and the Place of Printing of the First Book Printed in Rome," in A Leaf from the Letters of St. Jerome, Los Angeles: Zeitlin and Ver Brugge and H. M. Fletcher, 1981

  • "Checklist of Greek Manuscripts in the Kenneth Willis Clark Collection." Library Notes, nos. 51-52, 1985

  • The Life of Harry L. Dalton: I. Early Days; II. Achievement. Edinburgh: The Pentland Press, 1986, 1989. 2 vols.

  • "The Dakhleh Tablets: Some Codicological Considerations." Bibliologia 12 (1992), Colloque international du CNRS: Tablettes à écrire de l'antiquité à l'epoque modern. 11 X 1990

  • "Insights into the Origins of the Codex Book: Greek Wooden Tablets and Book Making Artifacts of the 3rd-4th Century A. D. from the Dakhleh Oasis, Egypt," The Compleat Binder: Studies in Book Making and Conservation in Honour of Roger Powell. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, Fall 1995

  • "The Kellis Tablets," The Kellis Isocrates (T.L.Kellis 2), edited by R. G. Jenkins and K. J. McKay. Toronto: Royal Ontario Museum, Dakhleh Oasis Pro-ject. [ Spring 1996]

  • "Coptic Binding Structures," Der Psalter im oxyrhynchitischen (Mesokemischen /Mittelägyptischen) Dialekt, edited by Gawdat Gabra. Abhandlungen des Deutschen Archäo-logischen Instituts Kairo. Koptische Reihe, Bd. 4. Heidelberg: Heidelberger Orientverlag, 1995

  • Editor, The Compleat Binder: Essays in Honor of Roger Powell. Turnhout: Brepols,1996

  • Codicological Description, “The Farm Account Book from Dakhleh Oasis,” Papyrological Studies, edited by Roger Bagnall. 1997 (to appear)

  • Coptic and Collage: Ancient Technique, Modern Application: A Survey of contemporary Implementations of the Coptic Structure. With an Introduction by John Sharpe. Published in conjunction with the Exhibition on view April 12-June 14, 1997, curated by Zahra Partovi at the Center for the Books Arts in New York City.

  • Codicological Description, “The Book of Isocrates from Dakhleh Oasis,” The Dakhleh Documents, the Archeologisch-Historisch Instituut der Univrsiteit van Amsterdam, edited by Klaus A. Worp 1997 (to appear)

  • Editor, The Bible as Book: the Manuscipt Tradition. Papers of the Hereford Conference. May 31-June 3, 1995. Hereford Castle, Hereford, England. London: The British Library; 1998

  • "The Arabic Book," Oxford Companion to Arabic Literature edited by Julie Scott Meisami and Paul Starkey. London and New York: Routledge, 1998

  • "The Earliest Bindings with wooden Boards Covers: The Coptic Contribution to binding Construction," International Conference on Conservation and Restoration of Archival and Library Materials--Erice, 22nd - 29th April 1996, Rome: Istituto Centrale per la Patologia del Libro, 1999

  • An Exhibition of Greek Manuscripts from the Kenneth Willis Clark Collection. Perkins Library, Duke University March 1999. For the Fiftieth Anniversary Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature and the American Academy of Religion. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Library, 1999

  • "The Four-Gospel Form in Byzantium," The Bible as Book: the Manuscript Tradition. London: The British Library; and Grand Haven, MI: The Scriptorium.

  • “Bern Dibner” Grolier 2000 (New York: Grolier Club, 2000), 77-80

  • "Byzantine Scribal Accoutrements as seen from the Portraits of the Evangelists," [in the press]

Selected Lectures and Presentations

  • "The Academic Rare Book Librarian." Lecture before the Trinity College Historical Society, Duke University, March 1972.

  • "Byzantine Books and Churches." The Library Lecture at Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, North Car-olina 1975.

  • "Mirrors of Culture: Byzantine Books and Churches." The Botetourt Lecture, the College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia, 1976.

  • "Preserving the Records of our Family History." Durham County Historical Society. 15 November, 1986.

  • "Treasures Among Your Records." Richmond County Library, Asheboro, North Carolina. 18 May 1987.

  • "The Mystery of Letter Forms." Keynote lecture for the Carolina Lettering Arts Society, Duke University, 21 May 1988.

  • "The Henkel Press--a Family Business." Address for the Henkel Family Reunion at Duke, 17 June 1989 for which a major exhibit of Henkel Press imprints from 1806 was mounted.

  • “The Earliest Bindings with Wooden Board Covers: The Coptic Contribution to Binding Construction.” Lecture. International Conference on Conservation and Restoration of Archive and Library Materials, Erice, April 22nd-25th 1996. Sponsored by the Istituto Centrale per la Patologia del Libro, Rome.

  • “The Form of the Codex from the Wooden Tablets to the End of the First Millennium.” Lecture Series. 2 -9 November 1996. Corso Europeo di Formazione Specialistica per Conservatori-Restauratori di Beni Librari Spoleto for the Istituto Centrale per la Patologia del Libro, Rome.

  • "The Book as a Cultural Emblem." Special Lecture, The Campus Club, Duke University. 1977.

  • "Principles for Describing Greek Manuscripts of the New Testament." Paper read before the Society of Biblical Literature, 1977.

  • "The Architecture of the Book: The Organization of Three-Dimensional Space." The Caxton Club, Chicago, 1978.

  • "Manuscripts and Archaeology." American Society of Biblical Archaeologists, 1981.

  • "Emblems and Perception." A paper read before Kappa Delta Pi, the Education Society, at Duke University, Durham, 1981.

  • "The Patmos Monastery Library Binding Project: Writing the History of the Byzantine Book." The London Bibliographical Society, October 1983.

  • "Conservation and Preservation." Lecture for the School of Library Science, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, 28 November 1985.

  • "The Book as a Sensuous Object." Wednesday Club, Danville, Virginia, 25 February 1987.

  • "A Manuscript Odyssey." The Hroswitha Club, New York, 23 January 1988.

  • "Some Codicological Observations on Wooden Tablets found in the Dakhleh Oasis, Egypt." Columbia University. New York, 4 May 1989.

  • "Recent Finds in the Egyptian Desert: A Preliminary Re-port." Istituto Patalogia del Libro, Rome. 14 November 1989.

  • "Stylus Tablets and Recent Discoveries at Dakhleh Oasis in Egypt" West Dean College, West Dean, Near Chich-ester, 7 October 1990.

  • "The Book as a Cultural Emblem." Inaugural lecture for the opening of the Center for the History of the Book, Pennsylvania State University. 21 November 1993.

  • "Discoveries in the Egyptian Desert: the Origin of the Codex" and "The Earliest Use of Wooden Boards as Covers." The Folger Shakespeare Library. 21 January 1994.

  • "A Day With John Sharpe: A Symposium on the Earliest Records of Books with Wooden Boards (before A.D. 600)." West Dean College, West Dean, England 29 April 1994.

  • "Bibliokleptomania: A Collector and His Books are soon Parted." Friends of the Library Lecture, Meredith College, Raleigh, North Carolina. 7 May 1994.

  • The Early Larger Codices: Introduction and Reflections on Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Alexandrinus," West Dean College, West Dean, Near Chichester, 17 June 1994.

  • "The Origin of the small Multi-Quired Codex." Lecture-Seminar. West Dean College, Near Chichester, 22 November 1994.

  • "Byzantine Scribal Acoutrements as seen from the Portraits of the Evangelists," Lecture-Seminar. King's College, Cambridge, England. 21 April 1995.

  • "The Four-Gospel Form in Byzantium." Lecture. The Bible as Book: The Manuscript Tradition. Hampton Court, Hereford, England. 31 May 1995.

  • International Conference on Conservation and Restoration of Archive and Library Materials, Erice, April 25, 1996

  • "The Earliest Forms of the Codex," Seminar, Montefiasconi, Italy. 11-25 August, 1998.

  • "Introduction to The Making of the Codex: Introductory Lectures for the Seminar in Conservation for Studies in Conservation for the ECU" Istituto Patalogia del Libro, Spoleto, Italy. 11 - 25 November 1998.

  • “The Earliest Codex: Chronology, Form, Materials,” Istituto Patalogia del Libro, Spoleto, Italy. 4 - 11 November 2000

  • “Origins of Eastern Bindings,” Oxford Bibliographical Society, University College, London, 15 May 2001.

  • Teaching in Spoleto, Istituto Patalogia del Libro, Spoleto, Italy, 12 –16 November 2001.

  • Teaching in Spoleto, Istituto Patalogia del Libro, Spoleto, Italy, 21 – 23 October 2002.

  • “The Byzantine Book: Development of techniques and materials in the First Millenium, A.D.,” Inaugural Lecture for Exhibition Opening, VII F. I. R. A. Forum International de la reliure d’art—International Forum for Fine Bookbinding “Amis de la Reliure d’Art, Municipal Cultural Centre “Melina”, Athens, 22 November 2002.

  • “Introduction to the Earliest Book Making,” University Club, New York City, 7 p.m., 11 March 2003 & 13 January 2004.


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