BPG Parchment Bookbinding

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Background Information on Parchment

Please visit the BPG Parchment page for information about the Identification of Parchment and the History of Manufacture and Use of Parchment. See Treatment Variations for general treatment protocols for parchment as codex leaves or single folio documents.

Use in Book Making

Removing the flesh from a deerskin with a traditional curved blade

Covering Material

"Traditionally, research has divided parchment bindings into two basic categories: limp and stiff. In reality, however, these structures exist on a continuum, the full breadth of which cannot be addressed adequately by the limp/stiff dichotomy." (Albritton and Amato 2016, 4)

There are differences of opinion in how to describe various styles of parchment-covered bookbindings. Etherington & Roberts (1982), Ligatus, and Albritton and Amato (2016) describe a "limp binding" or "limp covers" as having no underlying board. Although Ligatus disagrees with the use of the term, but both Ligatus and Albritton & Amato agree that a semi-limp binding has a thin, flexible board underneath the covering material. Stiff-board bindings have rigid boards that are fully adhered, drummed-on, or loose (i.e. the classification depends on the rigidity of the underlying material).

Other conservators base the classification on whether or not the covering material is adhered to the board. If there is no adhesive connection, then it is a limp binding, and if there is an adhesive connection, it is a stiff board binding [citation needed].

Limp Vellum

Semi-Limp Vellum

Albritton and Amato (2016) describe two types of semi-limp bindings:

  • a wrapped board binding has a "full flexible stiffener found wrapped beneath its outer parchment cover."
  • a floating boards binding has "two separate flexible boards inserted at the front and back covers."

Stiff Board Vellum

As discussed above, this can refer to a binding with a stiff board underneath the vellum cover or to a binding where the vellum is adhered to a board, rigid or not.

Stiff-Board Vellum Binding with Slotted Spine

See Clarkson and Pugliese articles below.

Manuscript Waste

Manuscript waste from medieval manuscripts was frequently used as covering material.

Codex Structure Components


Spine linings

Scroll Components

Treatment Protocols

Covering Material

Codex Structure Components

Scroll Components

  • Surface Cleaning
  • Adhesive Removal / Stain Reduction
  • Media Consolidation
  • Mending Materials and Adhesives
  • Humidification and Flattening
  • Housing and Environment


Albritton, Erin and Christina Amato. 2016. "A Study of Two Semi-Limp Parchment Binding Styles in the Rare Book Collection at The New York Academy of Medicine Library." In Suave Mechanicals, vol. 3, edited by Julia Miller, 2-61. Ann Arbor: Legacy Press.

Brownrigg, Linda L., and Margaret M. Smith. 2000. Interpreting and collecting fragments of medieval books: Proceedings of the Seminar in the History of the Book to 1500, Oxford, 1998. Los Altos Hills, CA: Anderson-Lovelace.

"The Use of Fragments of Medieval Manuscripts in the Construction and Covering of Bindings on Printed Books" - Nicholas Pickwoad
"Educators, Collectors, Fragments, and the "Illuminations" Collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum in the Nineteenth Century" - Rowan Watson
"Selling Manuscript Fragments in the 1960s" - Christopher de Hamel
"A Livy Copied by Giacomo Curlo Dismembered by Otto Ege" - A. C. de la Mare
"Newly Discovered Fragments of Music at Worcester Cathedral: A Preliminary Account" - Rodney Thomson
"The Illustrated Fragments of the Roman de la Rose" - Meradith T. McMunn
"Manuscript Fragments at Windsor Castle and the Entente Cordiale" - Jenny Stratford
"Fragments of Middle English Verse: An Overview and Some Speculations about their Survival" - Linne R. Mooney
"Fragments of Medieval Music Codices in Ljubljana Archives and Libraries" - Jurij Snoj
"Medieval Manuscript Fragments in Sweden: A Catalogue Project" - Jan Brunius
"Medieval Binding Structures: Potential Evidence from Fragments" - Jennifer M. Sheppard
"Fragments Used for "Servile" Purposes: The St Bride Library Frisket for Early Red Printing" - Margaret M. Smith
"Recycling the Written Word: Manuscript Fragments and Late Medieval Readers" - Eric H. Reiter
"A Scribe at Work: Fragments as Witnesses to Changes in Style" - Michael Gullick
"The Fragments of a Double Antiphonal from Beaupré" - Lilian M. C. Randall
"A Pair of Franco-Flemish Cistercian Antiphonals of the Thirteenth Century and Their Programs of Illumination" - Elizabeth C. Teviotdale

Langwe, Monica. 2013. Limp Bindings from the Vatican Library. Langwe: Sweden.

This slim volume contains eleven historical examples of limp bindings (nine parchment, two paper) from the Vatican Library. Each example has one color photograph of the object in a three-quarter view plus several black and white diagrams of different components of the structure.

Ligatus Language of Bindings Thesaurus. Accessed April 30, 2018.

Has definitions for limp covers, laced-case limp bindings, and drummed-on.

Pickwoad, Nicholas. 1994. "Onward and Downward: How Binders Coped with the Printing Press before 1800." In A Millennium of the Book: Production, Design & Illustration in Manuscript and Print 900-1900. Ed. Robin Myers and Michael Harris. New Castle: Oak Knoll Press, 61-106.

Roberts, Matt and Don Etherington. 1982. Bookbinding and the Conservation of Books: A Dictionary of Descriptive Terminology. Washington DC: Library of Congress. Available online through CoOL.

Definition for limp binding.

Additional References

Abt, Jeffrey & Margaret A. Fusco. A Byzantine Scholar’s Letter on the Preparation of Manuscript Vellum. Journal of the American Institute for Conservation (JAIC) 28,2 (1989): 61-66 http://aic.stanford.edu/jaic/articles/jaic28-02-001.html

Abt, Jeffrey. 1985. The Deterioration Mechanism in Byzantine Manuscript Illuminations of Greek Origin. Washington, DC: AIC Preprints. 1-14.

The Archimedes Palimpsest treated at the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, MD. www.archimedespalimpsest.org

Banik, Gerhard. 1996. Parchment. In: Conservazione dei materiali librari archivistici e grafici, v. 1. Torino: Umberto Allemandi & Co. 79-91.

Belaya, I.K. Softening and Restoration of Parchment in Manuscripts and Bookbindings. Restaurator 1,1 (1970).

Belaya, I. K. Selecting and Testing Adhesives for the Restoration of Skin Bindings and Parchments. Restaurator 1,4 (1970): 221-31.

Bykova, G. Z. Medieval Painting on Parchment: Technique, Preservation and Restoration. Restaurator 14 (1993): 188-197.

Bykova, G. Z. T. B. Rogozina, N. L. Petrova, V. S. Petetskaya. 1996. The Elimination of Parchment Deformation in a Text Block from Simeon Gordyi's Codex. Edinburg Congress Postprints, ICOM Committee for Conservation. 500-509.

Cains, Anthony. The Vellum of the Book of Kells. The Paper Conservator: Journal of the Institute of Paper Conservation 16 (1992): 50-61.

Cains, Anthony. 1987. Repair Treatments for Vellum Manuscripts. In: Conservation of Library and Archive Materials and the Graphic Arts. Guy Petherbridge, ed. London: Butterworths. 183-94.

Clarkson, Christopher. 1987. Preservation and Display of Single Parchment Leaves and Fragments. Conservation of Library and Archive Materials and the Graphic Arts. Guy Petherbridge, ed. London: Butterworths. 201-209.

Clarkson, Christopher. 1999. “A stiff-board vellum binding in which the covering has been slotted across the spine to accommodate raised bands.” In International Conference on Conservation and Restoration of Archival and Library Materials (Eric, 22th-29th April 1996), edited by C. Federici and P.F. Munafò, Palermo: G.B. Palumbo, vol. II, 537-549.

Describes the slotted spine structure.

William Cowley (UK firm making parchment since 1870) http://www.williamcowley.co.uk/about-us/

The Dead Sea Scrolls at Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. http://www.ibiblio.org/expo/deadsea.scrolls.exhibit/intro.html

Dobrussina, Svetlana A., Vitaliya Visotskite. Chemical Treatment Effects on Parchment Properties in the Course of Ageing. Restaurator 15 (1994): 208-219.

Down, J. L., G. S. Young, R. S. Williams, M. A. MacDonald. 2002. Analysis of the Archimedes Palimpsest. Works of Art on paper, books, documents, and photographs: Techniques and conservation. Contributions to the IIC Baltimore Congress, 2-6 September 2002. London: IIC. 52-58.

Ellis, Margaret Holben. Drawings on Parchment: Special Conservation Problems for Collectors. Drawing 2, 4 (November-December 1980): 85-6.

Fairbanks, Theresa. 1999. The Mystery and Mystique of Printing on Parchment. In: Changing Impressions: Marcantonio Raimondi & Sixteenth-Century Print Connoisseurship. Clay Dean, et al. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999. 44-59.

Federici, Carlo, et al. Trans. Margaret Hey. 1996. The Determination of Animal Species Used in Medieval Parchment Making: Non-destructive Identification Techniques. Roger Powell: The Compleat Binder. Guy Petherbridge and John Sharpe, Eds. Turnhout: Brepols. 146 -153.

Fuchs, R. The history of chemical reinforcement of texts in manuscripts - What should we do now? Care and Conservation of Manuscripts 7 (2003): 159-170.

Giuffrida, Barbara. Book Conservation Workshop Manual, Part Four: The Repair of Parchment and Vellum. The New Bookbinder 3 (1983).

Gonzales, L. and T.J. Wess. The importance of understanding the terminology of collagen and gelatine in the study of parchment. Journal of the Institute of Conservation 36, 2 (2013): 104-108.

Gottscher, Leonardo. Ancient Methods of Parchment-Making. Discussion on Recipes and Experimental Essays. In: Ancient and Medieval Book Materials and Techniques, Erice 18-25 September, 1992. Marilena Maniaci, Paola Munafo, Eds. Vatican City: Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, 1993. 40-56.

Gullick, Michael. 1991. From parchmenter to scribe: some observations on the manufacture and preparation of medieval parchment based upon a review of the literary evidence. Pergament, Geschichte, Struktur, Restaurierung, Herstellung. Peter Rück ed. Sigmaringen: Jan Thorbecke Verlag. 145-158.

Gumbert, Peter J. 1993. Sizes and Formats. Ancient and Medieval Book Materials and Techniques, Erice 18-25 September 1992, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana. 227-263.

Hansen, Eric F., Steve N. Lee, & Harry Sobel, The Effects of Relative Humidity on Some Physical Properties of Modern Vellum. JAIC 31 (3) 1992. http://cool.conservation-us.org/coolaic/jaic/articles/jaic31-03-005_3.html

Huxtable, M. and V. Button, D. Normann. 1996. Improving and Monitoring the Condition of a Collection of Illuminated Parchment Manuscript Fragments - at Home and in Transit. ICOM Committee for Conservation Edinburg Congress Postprints. 523-532.

ICOM. International Leather and Parchment Symposium, May 1989. H. Porck, Identification of Parchment using Isoeletrofocusing, 60-64; Mook, Recent Research into the Technique of C14 dating applied to parchment; Hallebeek, Notes concerning the Condition of Parchment, 85-93; van Soest, Researching the Conservation and Restoration of Parchment, 94-103.

Jackson, Donald. 1981. The Story of Writing. New York: Taplinger Publishing Co.

John, James. 1976. Writing Materials, and the following short chapters. In: James Powell, ed., Medieval Studies, Syracuse University Press.

Kennedy, C.J. and T.J. Wess. The Structure of Collagen within Parchment - A Review. Restaurator 24, 2 (2003): 61-80.

Kruger Grossman, Annlinn. The Gantse Megillah: Conservation of a 14-15th Century Parchment Esther Scroll. BPGA 16 (1997) http://aic.stanford.edu/sg/bpg/annual/v16/bp16-04.html

Lawson, Margaret. A Method of Mounting Parchment Using Hair Silk. BPGA 18 (1999): 53-57.

Ligatus Language of Bindings Thesaurus. Accessed April 30, 2018.

Has definitions for limp covers, laced-case limp bindings, and drummed-on.

Logan, Judith A., and Young, Gregory S. ‘A Message in a Bottle': The Conservation of a Waterlogged Parchment Document. Journal of the IIC-Canadian Group, 12 (1987): 28-36.

Moktsova, I.P., Bykova, G.Z., and Ivanova, I. 1972. The Conservation Methods for Miniature-Painting on Parchment. In: Conservation of Paintings and Graphic Arts. London: International Institute for Conservation. 915-17.

Munn, Jesse. Treatment Techniques for the Vellum Covered Furniture of Carlo Bugatti. BPGA 8 (1989). http://aic.stanford.edu/sg/bpg/annual/v08/bp08-04.html

Normann, Daniel. The Mounting of Single Leaf Parchment and Vellum Objects for Display and Storage. Conservation Journal (Oct. 1993): 10-13.

Odlyha, M.N. and S. Cohen. 2002. Assessment of the state of degradation of historical parchment by dynamic mechanical thermal analysis and solid-state 13C NMR. ICOM Committee for Conservation, 13th Triennial Meeting, Rio de Janeiro 22-27 Sept. 2002. London: James & James. 615-621.

Oldford Churchill, Lee. The conservation and mounting of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) Charter. Journal of the Institute of Conservation 38, 1 (2015): 65-76.

Pataki, Andrea, A. Blüher, G. Banik, and J. Wouters. 1999. A Dyeing Method for Reconstituted Parchment. ICOM Committee for Conservation, Preprints, 12th Triennial Meeting, Lyons, August 1999, New York: James & James Science Publishers. 534-538. Pataki, A., K. Forstmeyer, A. Giovannini., 2002. Leafcasting parchment documents degraded by mould. ICOM Committee for Conservation, 13th Triennial Meeting, Rio de Janeiro 22-27 Sept. 2002. London: James and James. 622-627.

Peckstadt, A., and L. Watteeuw. 1996. The Conservation of Parchment Manuscripts: Two Case Studies. ICOM Committee for Conservation, Edinburg Congress Postprints. 539-544.

Pergamena (Jesse Meyer, 4th generation of family in parchment making business in US) https://www.pergamena.net/about-us/

Public Record Office. 1996. An Introduction to Parchment. Introduction to Archival Materials. Surrey, England.

Pugliese, Sylvia. 2001. “Stiff-Board Vellum Binding with Slotted Spine: Survey of a Historical Bookbinding Structure.” Papier Restaurierung – Mitteilungen der IADA (2, Suppl. S.). 93-101.

Describes the slotted spine structure.

Quandt, A. 2002. The Archimedes Palimpsest: Conservation Treatment, digital imaging and transcription of a rare mediaeval manuscript. Works of Art on paper, books, documents, and photographs: Techniques and conservation. Contributions to the IIC Baltimore Congress, 2-6 Sept. 2002. London: IIC. 165-170.

Quandt, A.B. Recent Developments in the Conservation of Parchment Manuscripts. BPGA 15 (1996). http://aic.stanford.edu/sg/bpg/annual/v15/bp15-14.html

Quandt, Abigail B. 1986. The Conservation of a 12th Century Illuminated Manuscript on Vellum. AIC Preprints. Washington DC: American Institute for Conservation. 97-113.

Reed, R. 1972. Ancient Skins, Parchments and Leather. London: Seminar Press.

Roberts, Matt and Don Etherington. 1982. Bookbinding and the Conservation of Books: A Dictionary of Descriptive Terminology. Washington DC: Library of Congress. Available online through CoOL.

Definition for limp binding.

Rosa, Halina, and A. B. Strzelczyk. 1991. Parchment - Report on the Conservation and Scientific Methods developed in the Laboratory of Paper and Leather Conservation at the Nicolaus Copernicus University, Torun, Poland. In: Pergament Geschichte, Struktur, Restaurierung, Herstellung. Sigmaringen: Kan Thorbecke Verlag. Rück, ed. 254-261.

Rück, Peter, ed. 1991. Pergament, Geschichte, Struktur, Restaurierung, Herstellung. Sigmaringen: Kan Thorbecke Verlag, Articles by various authors, see other items in this bibliography.

Rudy, Kathryn. Dirty Books: Quantifying Patterns of Use in Medieval Manuscripts Using a Densitometer. Journal of Historians of Netherlandish Art 2 (1) Summer 2010.

Ryder, Michael. 1991. The Biology and History of Parchment. In: Pergament, Geschichte, Struktur Restaurierung, Herstellung. Peter Rück, Ed. Sigmaringen: Jan Thorbecke Verlag. 25-34.

Ryder, Michael. Parchment—Its History, Manufacture and Composition. Journal of Society of Archivists 2 (1964): 391-399.

Stachelberger, H., A Haberditzl, G. Banik, F. Bauer, F. Mairinger. 1987. Electrophoretic Investigations on Parchment Decay. ICOM Committee for Conservation. 8th Trienntial Meeting, Sydney, Australia, 6-11 Sept. 1987, Preprints. Los Angeles: Getty Conservation Institute. 727-279.

Ustick, W. Lee. Parchment and Vellum. Library 4, ser. 16 (1935-36): 439-443.

Vest, M., ed. Micromethods for the Analysis of Parchment. 1988. Poster session, 25 Years – School of Conservation. The Jubilee Symposium, 18-20 May 1998, Preprints. Kopenhagen: Det Kongelige Danske Kunstakademi. 169-179.

Wallert, Arie. 1996. Tannins on the Parchment of the Dead Sea Scrolls. ICOM Committee for Conservation Edinburg Congress Postprints.. 560-564.

Wallert, Arie. 1989. Medieval Recipes for the Coloring of Parchment. In: International Leather- and Parchment Symposium, 8-12 May 1989. Offenbach: Deutsches Ledermuseum. 118-132.

Wikipedia. "Conservation and Restoration of Parchment". Accessed December 19, 2016.

Wikipedia article with a fairly recent list of references to conservation sources.

Williams, Stephen L., Sarah R. Beyer, Samina Khan. Effect of 'Freezing' Treatments on the Hydrothermal Stability of Collagen. JAIC 34, 2 (Summer 1995): 107-112.

Wood, Maria. The Case for Casing. Library Conservation News 14 (Jan. 1986): 1, 6.

Wouters, Jan and Gely Gancedo. 1993. Parchment Leafcasting with Dermal Tissue Preparations. ICOM Committee for Conservation 10th Triennial Meeting, Washington, DC, 22-27 Aug. 1993, Preprints. 524-528.

Wouters, Jan, An Peckstadt, Lieve Watteeuw. Leafcasting with Dermal Tissue Preparations: A New Method for Repairing Fragile Parchment, and its Application to the Codex Eyckensis. The Paper Conservator 19 (1995): 5-22.

Verheyen, Peter D. 2002. "Vellum on Boards". Handout available on philibiblon.com.

Describes a case binding structure for vellum binding with stiff boards, as presented to the 2001 Guild of Book Workers Standards of Excellence. See also Verheyen's article "Vellum Over Boards. Presentation at 21st Standards of Excellence Seminar (2001). Guild of Book Workers Journal 39:1 Spring 2004. 6-20.

Yeager, Nicholas. 1996. An Analysis and Review of Parchment Making Literature and Recipes. Austin: Outlaw Press.

Young, Gregory S. 1985. The Potential of Shrinkage Temperature Measurements for Use in Studies of Skin and Leather Conservation. Abstracts of IIC-Canadian Group, 11th Annual Meeting, May 1985. 27.

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