Parchment: An Old Technology Whose Time Has Come

Parchment Making, Das Ständebuch, 1568

Everywhere I travel, I hear people saying the same thing: “The time has come for parchment to regain its former and well deserved preeminence in the field of literature and letters.”

Parchment began to lose its dominance in Europe when paper was introduced into Spain in the 11th century. The greater availability of writing materials helped make possible the literary explosion of the high middle ages. At the same time, by starting us on the path of ever cheaper and less durable writing surfaces, paper has led the culture away from the permanent, and towards the disposable.

Johannes Gruenewald of the Parchment Alliance explains that “when you have to kill a large mammal to write, you take writing seriously. You don’t scribble something stupid and throw it away. And if you do write something stupid, parchment can be scraped and used more than once, so there isn’t the same climate of waste that paper engenders.”

Now, with increasing concern about deforestation caused by the use of trees to make paper, there is a definite resurgence in interest in this historical medium. Parchment’s greater durability is also an important selling point. When everything is so disposable, short-lived, and impermanent, the longevity of parchment is very attractive. Gruenewald explains: “You can find a parchment book lying in a barn or cave, and read it just fine, even after hundreds of years. Try doing that with a computer hard drive.”


Public domain image: Parchment Making, Das Ständebuch, 1568. Available at http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Permennter-1568.png


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