What is parchment writing paper?

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Parchment is a material for writing from raw untanned animal skin (before the invention of paper), usually calves, sheep, and goats. It was used as a writing medium for more than two centuries. Vellum is a parchment writing paper of a better quality made of the skins of young animals like calves and lambs. Also, ancient manuscripts are written on such material.

Etymology

Parchment is named after the city of Pergamon in Asia Minor, where in the II century BC, it was widely used. In the professional environment of historians, the word parchment is mainly used, from Latin – pergamen.

History of parchment

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According to the testimony of the Greek historian of the 5th century BC. Ctesias, the skin at that time had long been used as a material for writing from the Persians. From there it, under the name of diphthera, passed early to Greece, where processed sheep and goat skins were used for writing.

According to Pliny the Elder, in the II century. BC, the kings of Egypt, wishing to maintain the book wealth of the Alexandria Library, found its rival in the Pergamon library, in Asia Minor, forbade the export of parchment from Egypt. Then in Pergamon, attention was paid to the dressing of the skin. The ancient diphthera was perfected and put into circulation under the name derma and later, at the place of the main production – pergamena. The legendary inventor of parchment is the king of Pergamum Eumenes II.

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The Hebrews know parchment as gevil, as the canonical material for the recording of the Torah scrolls (Sefer Torah). On a more widespread form of parchment, vellum, fragments from the Torah for tefillin and mezuzah are also written. Another type of parchment, duchsustus, made from the lower layers of the skin, was used only for mezuzah. However, with the development of the slaughterhouse industry, when skins became more accessible, this kind of parchment stopped being used because of its poor quality. For the writing of Jewish sacred scrolls, only the skins of kosher animal species could be used.

In the period of the origin of the printed matter, there was a short period when parchment and paper were used interchangeably. Most of the Gutenberg Bible is printed on paper, but parchment versions are also preserved.

The rapid growth of book printing in the Middle Ages led to a reduction in the use of parchment, as its price and complexity of production, as well as the volume of production no longer met the needs of publishers. Since then, and to this day, parchment has been used mainly by artists, for book publishing, and only in exceptional cases.

Manufacturing

In the monastic book of the Middle Ages, the parchment codes gradually supplanted the papyrus scrolls. Since the 4th century, it was already common practice to write liturgical books on parchment, and in the Middle Ages for this purpose papyrus was almost not used.

In the Middle Ages, there were two main varieties of parchment:

  • The proper parchment. For the manufacture of parchment, skins of sheep, calves, pigs, and other animals were used.
  • Vellum. Vellum was used from the skins of newborns and especially stillborn lambs and calves.

In the south of Europe in the Middle Ages, goats and sheepskins were used, while in Germany and France, they used mostly veal skins. Of the donkey skin parchment was not made.

The parchment was thicker and coarser than the vellum, but the early Middle Ages knew little of the vellum – it was widely used in the production of books only from the end of the 12th century.

Regardless of which skins were used, masters of parchment began with the washing of the skin and removal of the coarsest and hardest hair. After this, the skins were subjected to curing, i.e., prolonged soaking in a calcareous solution. In lime, skins were kept from three to ten days, depending on the temperature of the surrounding air, and then washed in water. This facilitated hair removal.

After the hair fall out, the skins were pulled on wooden frames, that is, the lower layer of the skin – subcutaneous tissue - was separated from the dermis. This operation was carried out with the help of semicircular knives. Then the skins were smoothed with pumice stone.

During the last step, a chalk powder was absorbed into the parchment, absorbing the fats that were not removed during previous treatments. In addition, the chalk powder made the parchment lighter and more uniform in color, as well as prevented the spreading of the carcass. To bleach the parchment, flour, protein, or milk was rubbed into it.

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In the Russian National Library, there is a manuscript of St. Augustine, written on a fine, soft and thin, almost white parchment, the preparation of which represents a kind of perfection.

Scribes and artists received parchment in the cut form and, as a rule, collected in a notebook. The advantage of parchment over papyrus is that you can write on parchment on both sides of the sheet.

The parchment was not cheaper than papyrus, because the production of large books (and sacred books were often made in large format) left a lot of skins. For example, each double page in the Lorsch Gospel (about 810 Rome, Vatican Library) required one calfskin skin; for the production of the Book of the Celts (circa 800, Dublin, Trinity College Library), it was required to use a herd of about 150 animals, and to create the Winchester Bible (1160–1175, Winchester, Library), a herd of 250 calves was required. For the production of the monumental format of the complete Bible, skins of about 500 animals were required.

Recycling

In the period from the 7th to the 9th centuries, many parchment manuscripts were scraped and washed away to reuse them, although the original text can still be read. Recycled parchments were called palimpsest. With the development of the processing and the emergence of more advanced scrapping technologies, the original text disappeared.

Types of parchment

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Meliora di Curci wrote in the work “History and technology of making parchment” that parchment is not always white. Cennini, a master of the 15th century, gave recipes for the coloring of parchment in various colors, including purple, indigo, green, red, and peach.

In the early Middle Ages, imitating the Byzantine manuscripts, such as the Rossano Gospels and Sinope Gospels or Vienna Genesis, for the particularly luxurious manuscripts of the master, except for the white, they used colored, mostly purple parchment, on which they wrote with silver and gold. Yellow or black parchment was less commonly used.

These include, for example, the Silver Code, a manuscript of the translation of the Bible into Gothic, made by Ulfilas. It is written on colored parchment with silver and is stored in Sweden, in Uppsala. In the Russian National Library, there is the Greek four-gospel, written in gold on violet parchment – according to legend, by the hand of Byzantine empress Theodora.

Vellum and paper

Vellum is a material for writing or printing from the skins of mammals. The name comes from French vélin, which means calfskin. The process of producing the vellum completely coincides with the production of parchment. The main difference between vellum and parchment is the materials used in production and the quality of the fabrication.

It is often difficult to distinguish the terms vellum and parchment. In Europe since Roman times, the term refers to high-quality skin vellum, regardless of what animal it was made of. French sources tend to refer to only vélin calf, although British sources consider parchment a skin divided into layers while vellum is not divided skin of various mammals. Therefore, although the modern term derives from the French word vélin, calfskin, it is rightly to attribute this term to other animal skins.

The most high-quality vellum is made of the skins of newborn or unborn animals. Sometimes this term is also used for the skins of young animals of very high quality.

The British and Irish parliaments were issuing their acts on the vellum until April 2016. Refusal of the order, according to the representative of the House of Lords, will save £80,000 annually.

A real vellum is used for the publication of the Torah, collectible and memorable books, as well as calligraphic documents. Vellum is used for musical instruments, such as banjo.

Due to the low demand and complexity of the technological process, today’s vellum is expensive and difficult to find. The substitute is made on the basis of cotton and is called velin paper. It sis much cheaper and more affordable than a real vellum. Manufacturers often use the term vellum only in the sense of high-quality, although the product may not be made of vellum.

Paper is a material in the form of thin sheets, manufactured by processing rags, straw, wood, and other organic raw materials with a fibrous structure, used for writing, making printed products, packaging, etc.

Thin sheet material can be considered real paper only if it is made from a mass consisting of individual fibers, which is obtained by maceration of cellulosic raw materials. This mass is stirred in water and then scooped out by a frame with a stretched mesh. The fibers taken out of the water settle in an even layer, while excess water leaves, seeping through numerous small holes in the mesh bottom. A thin layer of randomly entangled pieces of fibers on a grid, drying out, turns into a paper sheet. This is the method that Tsai Lun used to make the first sheet of paper in 105 AD. The same method underlies the principle of the operation of the largest and most productive paper machines of our day. In the past 2,000 years, there were no radical changes in the formation of paper from plant fibers.

How to make parchment paper suitable for writing

So, you need a paper that looks like parchment. Maybe you want to decorate a school assignment or just make parchment for pleasure. Whatever the reason, follow these steps to make parchment writing paper:

  • Brew a cup of strong coffee, almost black, depending on how dark the paper should be.
  • Take a piece of paper and crumble it.
  • Carefully spread it.
  • Dip the cotton swab into a cup of warm coffee and evenly spread over the entire paper.
  • Dry with a fan.
  • Light a candle and gently cauterize the edges, making sure that the paper does not catch fire, otherwise much of it can deteriorate. Do not forget that this should be done away from flammable objects.
  • Put the paper in a frying pan and turn it on medium heat, use a spoon or a stick and gently squeeze the paper for 30 seconds. On the paper, there will be small brown spots.
  • Now you have a parchment paper, which was used in the early 15th century. For writing, use the pen to make the parchment look old. You can use it to make unusual birthday invitations. Tie the paper with a leather cord or an old brown rope so that it really looks like an ancient manuscript.

Additional advice

Follow these tips when creating parchment:

  • To quickly achieve the result, you wet the paper with a tea bag. If you squeeze a tea bag, the water will flow out, saturated with tea leaves.
  • As an easier way, you can use tea or orange juice.
  • To cover the paper, you can use a paint brush and brown ink or soy sauce.
  • It is not necessary to make brown stains on the parchment.
  • Try not to set fire to the paper, otherwise the fire will destroy most of it.

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