Another interesting statement from Reynolds and Wilson, Scribes and Scholars (3rd ed) appears on p.34:
Although papyrus is tougher than most people think, and a roll might last as long as 300 years (Galen 18(2),630), the average life would be shorter, and parchment was a much more durable material; in time its toughness was to prove a vital factor in the survival of classical literature.
The reference, to the Roman medical writer Galen, would be inscrutable to most of us. Fortunately on this blog we wear our underpants over our trousers, metaphorically, and so readers may know that this is a reference to the 20-volume edition of the works of Galen by Kuhn, published in the series Medicorum Graecorum between 1821-6. Such brief references are an unnecessary pain to the beginner, however.
Several volumes of this series are online. Vol. 18, part 2 is on Google books here, and page 630 is here. On p.629 we find that this is Hippocratis de medici officina liber et Galeni in eum commentarius I — 1 book by Hippocrates on the workshop of a doctor and Galen’s commentary on it. The work begins with a preface from Galen, of which this is a part. I might see if I can get the preface as a whole translated.
Meanwhile, here’s the sentence. Galen is talking about the work of Hippocrates which he is reproducing:
τινὲς μὲν γὰρ καὶ πάνυ παλαιῶν βιβλίων ἀνευρεῖν ἐσπούδασαν πρὸ τριακοσίων ἐτῶν γεγγραμμένα, τὰ μὲν ἔχονιες ἐν τοῖς βιβλίοις, τὰ δὲ ἐν τοῖς χάρτοις, τὰ δὲ ἐν διαφόροις φιλύραις, ὥσπερ τὰ παρ̕ ἡμῖν ἐν Περγάμῳ.
Quidam enim etiam vetustissima volumina ante trecentos annos scripta invenire studuerant, quae partim quidem in libris, partim vero in chartis, partim demum in tiliaceis membranis, quemadmodum apud nos Pergami conservabant.
For some also had desired to find very old volumes, written three hundred years ago, which I had at Pergamum, of which part were preserved in rolls, part on papyrus (χάρτοις), and part on excellent lime-tree bark (διαφόροις φιλύραις).
The διαφόροις φιλύραις I thought was parchment — that’s what membranis usually means in the sort of books I read! — but LSJ suggests that φιλύραις is the “the bass underneath [the lime-tree’s] bark, used for writing on, Gal. 18(2).630,” — this very passage! — “Hdn. 1.17.1, D.C. 72.8 ; for garlands, φιλύρας . . ἄφυλλος στέφανος Xenarch. 13 .”
Galen at least did indeed believe a roll could be 300 years old. The fact that some of the material wasn’t even on papyrus, but on bark, suggests that this is real testimony.
UPDATE: A translation of the whole preface from the Greek is here.