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What is parchment?

Parchment is dry rawhide, which is used untanned and only oiled as book bindings, lampshades and drum-surfaces. Parchment often has a glistening look, especially when moistened by oil or water.

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Traditional: Lampshade made of parchment with intertwined parchment parts or base frame.


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Image 1: light calf parchment. - Image 2: calf parchment, antique. - Image 3: calf parchment, glassy. - Image 4: light deer parchment


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Image 1: light goat parchment. - Image 2: goat parchment, glassy. - Image 3: light horse parchment.


Parchment is made from sheep, goat or calf skin as well as pig, buffalo or donkey skins. The skin is dried without any tanning. The material is oiled, greased and smoothed during the production process. After drying in a drying frame, sanding with pumice stone is also carried out. As long as the parchment is still wet, it can be easily formed and tensioned. After drying, it is rigid and no longer malleable.

Sometimes parchment is also called "parchment leather". Whether this term is correct is debatable and depends on the definition of when an animal skin is a leather. If the term "leather" is meant when the skin is conserved, the parchment is leather, but not if leather is necessarily understood as an irreversibly tanned animal skin.


A work of art from parchment leather (


The parchment production.

The history of parchment use


Cabinet closet, 17th century, Italy, from the DLM - German Leather Museum in Offenbach. Parchment figures on the right.


The use of parchment as a writing paper is based on ancient Middle Eastern and Mediterranean civilizations. The term "parchment" comes from the once Greek and now Turkish city Pergamon. Pergamon was a flourishing city of science in antiquity and was the second-largest known library in the world after Alexandria in Egypt. This rivalry prompted the King Ptolemy VI, who ruled in Alexandria (180 to 145 BCE), in his term of office, to cease exporting the plant papyrus to Asia in order to consolidate his own position against King Eumenes II of Pergamon (197-159 BCE). In order to no longer be dependent on imported goods, Pergamon had already started writing on thin animal skins, and continuously improved the technique of parchment production. The Magna Carta (Great Certificate of Liberties) of 1215 from England was written on parchment from animal skin.

Over the following centuries, the use of parchment became more common instead of the use of papyrus. Since the fourth century of our chronology, more and more content has been gradually transferred to the parchment from the less long-lasting papyrus scrolls. Another advantage of this material was that it was re-useable. Parchment could be erased and re-used by sanding with rough stones.

Towards the end of the Middle Ages, the use of parchment reduced, when paper production became cheaper and paper was better for the improved letterpress technology.

For centuries, parchment was the preferred writing material for important documents in the British Parliament. The fine and durable texture of parchment ensured the long-term preservation of laws, royal proclamations, and other significant legal documents. Elaborately written legal texts on parchment scrolls were used and highlighted during important occasions such as royal assent or royal sessions. Over time, the Parliament of England introduced various modernization measures to make the legislative process more efficient. For example, in 2007, the "Parliamentary Papers Act" was passed, enabling the electronic publication and recognition of legal texts as the official version. This rendered the need for parchment as the primary medium for disseminating laws obsolete.

Parchment was also used a lot for lampshades. This fashion has however declined. The use of parchment leather for covering drums and comparable musical instruments is still common practice.

Uses of parchment


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Stirrup with parchment (light). - Saddle knob made of braided parchment. - Strips with braiding made of parchment (light).



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Leather belt with braiding made of parchment (light and dark).




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Instruments covered with parchment.



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Skin of a snake dried to parchment.



Cod parchment, manufactured by Bookbinding Zerbst.


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Puffer fish - Ball fish dried to parchment as a lamp from Flensburg, Germany. - Parchment lamp from Montevideo in Uruguay.


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Very exotic: Dried squid skin is also parchment.



Protective shield covered with thick parchment.


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Raincoats made of dried seal intestine from Siberia and Alaska from the 18th century.


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Lamellar armor, parchment, Tibet/China, 19th century or earlier (© German Leather Museum, C. Perl-Appl).


In Asia, shadow games were widespread. The figures were made from parchment. There were such shadow games in China, Thailand, Java, India and Turkey. Partially, the figures were painted.


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Shadow figures made of parchment (DLM - German Leather Museum in Offenbach).



Preliminary drawing of motives on parchment at the making of shadow figures seen in New York, American Museum of Natural History.


Care advice for parchment

Parchment is very durable. However, when parchment is damaged, gets stained or deformed, it is often impossible to restore.

Clean or dust off parchment only without moisture. Dry dust or brushing off is absolutely ok. At most a slightly damp wipe can be used, where necessary. Crusty stains must be scraped off carefully.

Normally, parchment does not need any care. If it is extremely dry, use an oil spray. The spray can be applied either directly or with a cloth. Important for parchment: Do not apply too much! Parchment is modest and only sensitive to moisture. Excessive product application does not apply to maintenance of parchment.

A cleansing oil spray can be purchased here: COLOURLOCK - ANILINE, SUEDE & NUBUCK PROTECTOR.

Additional information