Christopher Clarkson, "Rediscovering Parchment: The Nature of the Beast." The Paper
Conservator. 16 (1992) 5-16. Online link (pay-per-view from Taylor and Francis).
Though animal skins had been used for centuries as a durable
substrate for writing and painting, mass produced and finely finished
parchment originated in Pergamum after the Egyptian emperor cut off
Pergamum's source of papyrus around 200 BCE in order to strengthen the
power of the great library of Alexandria (according to Pliny's Natural History XIII.11). The medieval Latin name for parchment was pergamenum.
Spreading rapidly to Europe, parchment manuscripts coincided with
the rise of Christianity and they were used to make the earliest
surviving Christian biblical codices (Codex Vaticanus, Codex
Sinaiticus, Codex Alexandrinus, and Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus, circa
2) Parchment can be made from almost any
untanned animal hide that has been properly fleshed and de-haired,
stretched and dried and smoothed. The most common hides
encountered in surviving medieval MSS are calf, sheep, goat, and pig (Christina Duffy, "Here's Looking at You Kid: Under the Microscope with Leather," British Library Collection Care Blog, October 30, 2013).
Also see "Leather Identification," Lili's Bookbinding Blog, January 19, 2009.
3) Parchment is humidity-sensitive: 55-65% humidity is ideal.
Lower humidity causes parchment bindings to crack and boards to
detach. Higher humidity causes parchment leaves to curl until
books cannot be closed.
4) Parchment, like paper, can be
called a "support" or "substrate" because it exists to support ink or
painted pigments. When parchment is deformed by fluctuations in
humidity, ink and pigments can be distorted or sloughed off entirely.
Parhment does not want to lie flat, even in ideal humidity
conditions. Scribes worked with a knife in one hand and a pen in
the other, using the former to control the parchment (and to "erase"
errors by scraping off the ink), and the latter to form the letters.
of Durham, Durham, University Library. Ms. Cosin V.III. 1. f. 22v. from
Irene O'Daly, "Writing the Word: Images of the Medieval Scribe at
Work," Medieval Fragments [U. Leiden Blog, ] 10/13/14.
Key Parchment Features and their Terms of ArtHair
vs. flesh side--rougher grain/smoother grain and darker/lighter (Figs.
16, 17 and see 25, 26 for matching openings hair-hair, flesh-flesh)
Flesh wounds, sewing and demilune scars or "flaymarks" (Figs. 3, 4, 5, 15, 20, 22, 23, 29, 32, 33, 34, 35a-b, 36-39a-b).
Artery, vein and trapped blood traces (Figs. 6 & 14).
Flank, spine, and pelvis traces; neck rings; leg gaps (Figs. 7, 8, 9, 10, 111, 12).
Parchmentiers' ID marks--intentional codes to identify maker (cf. papermakers' watermarks and countermarks) (Figs. 18a-b, 19).
Grain-split skins (often mistakenly called "uterine vellum" (Fig. 27a-b, 28, 30.
Pigment and iron-gall ink corrosion of parchment substrate (Fig. 41, 42).
Post-production damage due to spiders, mold, rodents, burns, sneezes, hot wax, and cat pee (Figs. 2 & 43-54a-b).