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Paper, Parchment And Vellum

Our forebears used a number of writing materials


Parchment, a very durable writing material, was used for most legal documents. It was made from sheepskin or goatskin that was scraped and dried on a frame after the wool was removed. It was an expensive material because it was a laborious process to dehair the skin, whiten it and smooth it with pumice stone. As a result handwritin­g tended to be small to save space, with words crammed on the page and many abbreviati­ons used. There was always the possibilit­y of holes in the parchment due to the stretching process, or because of the bites of warble flies. Scribes would therefore write to the edge of the hole and then continue onto the other side, although in time it became more usual to patch the parchment.

The highest-quality material, and therefore the most expensive and prestigiou­s, was vellum, which was made from calfskin in a similar process. Paper, commonly made from old rags, was mainly used for personal correspond­ence. Although more widely available, paper was inferior in quality compared with parchment and vellum, and not as durable. In 1598 it was decreed that all paper parish registers should be replaced by parchment ones to ensure their longevity.

 ?? ?? Parchment being dried on a frame at a museum in Switzerlan­d
Parchment being dried on a frame at a museum in Switzerlan­d

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