BPG Parchment Bookbinding

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BPG Parchment Bookbinding. 2022. Book and Paper Group Wiki. American Institute for Conservation (AIC). Accessed December 5, 2022. https://www.conservation-wiki.com/wiki/BPG_Parchment_Bookbinding

Introduction[edit | edit source]

Parchment (or vellum) has long been incorporated into various aspects of bookbinding. Its use as a covering material can be found in styles ranging from in-boards bindings, to a variety of semi-limp, to completely limp pamphlet wraps. There are several benefits to using parchment as a covering material, which have been described by Pickwoad (2000b) and Geraty (2019):

  • Parchment is easy to mold and manipulate when it is damp and soft.
  • It retains its shape when dried under tension.
  • It is durable and resistant to wear.

These features made parchment an ideal material for a variety of book components. The appearance and treatment of those components will be addressed here, but this page will mainly address parchment as a book covering material. Please visit the BPG Parchment page for information about the Identification of Parchment and the History of Manufacture and Use of Parchment. For information on the treatment of parchment documents, see Treatment Variations.

Historical Context of Parchment Bindings[edit | edit source]

Julia Miller (2018) discusses the frequency of parchment bindings in scholars' libraries.

Bearman 2018. Pickwoad 1995.

Digital Databases That Include Parchment Bindings[edit | edit source]


Online repositories

Digital Exhibits

Parchment as a Covering Material[edit | edit source]

The origin of the use of parchment as a book covering material likely cannot be assigned to a single place and time. It was used for various binding components throughout the medieval era (Geraty 2019, 9; Pickwoad 2000a). Parchment was also used in European colonies in North America (see Leonard 1942; Romero 2013; Cummins 2014).

Parchment bindings can be loosely divided into the categories of "stiff" and "limp" depending on whether the parchment that is covering the book has a support (e.g. a board) underneath. According to Albritton & Amato (2016, 4), "In reality, however, these structures exist on a continuum, the full breadth of which cannot be addressed adequately by the limp/stiff dichotomy." There are differences in opinion in how to describe various styles of parchment bindings. Roberts & Etherington (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 semi-limp, both Ligatus and Albritton & Amato agree that such a binding has a thin, flexible board underneath the covering material. They classify stiff-board bindings as having rigid boards that are fully adhered, drummed-on, or loose under the parchment. 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; if there is an adhesive connection, it is a stiff board binding [citation needed].

Parchment as a covering material first appeared in the medieval period but became popular during the 16th century. Different styles of parchment bindings have been used with varying frequency over time. For example, some "limp" styles were commonly used by book sellers as "publishers' bindings" after the advent of the European printing press, as the bindings were less expensive and less time-consuming to produce than in-boards bindings but would still protect the text (Pickwoad 1995). Complex socioeconomic factors influenced both the use and survival of these structures (Pickwoad 1994).

Manuscript Waste[edit | edit source]

Many parchment bindings survive as items separated from the books they once covered. These are frequently manuscript waste fragments, or parchment folios taken from medieval manuscripts that were recycled as covering material (or other binding components), particularly from the 16th century on. Manuscript waste binding components that have been removed from bindings sometimes appear in large collections of manuscript fragments. These fragments were valued by collectors not for their evidence as bindings but for the medieval text or, occasionally, the illuminations they displayed. Despite this, these fragments can be valuable to conservators when they bear physical remnants of the secondary binding structures that show they were used, such as folds and dirt marks, adhesive residues, board fragments, fragments of cords or thread, sewing holes, etc. Enough evidence can sometimes show exactly what the function of the former folio was (see Pickwoad 2000a; Sheppard 2000).

The use of manuscript waste in bindings was driven by both supply and demand. "The enormous growth of the use of secondhand parchment in the bindings of printed books is the result of two complementary phenomena: a great increase in the output of books occasioned by the invention of printing, accelerating rapidly in the last decade of the fifteenth century and continuously from that time; and the availability at the same time of large numbers of medieval manuscripts as waste." (Pickwoad 2000a, 1-2) The dissolution of monasteries during the Protestant Reformation contributed significantly to the availability of manuscripts for bookbinding materials. The contents of some libraries were broken up and sold on an international market, but manuscript waste was also used in bindings from areas that remained Catholic, pointing to the economic forces driving the choice of this material. Outdated liturgical texts seem to be common victims (Pickwoad 2000a, 2-3).

Supporting the theory of economic drivers is that many manuscript waste bindings appear to lack aesthetic consideration. In his article describing a survey of various books bound in manuscript waste at several institutions, Dan Paterson (2018, 453) noted that, "Not surprisingly, many [manuscript waste coverings] were done with little regard to how the manuscript appeared on the volume. Frequently there is a haphazard quality about the placement, so the written text of the manuscript may be skewed or even upside down. Bindings in these categories were occasionally made from multiple leaves of vellum pieced together, typically to accommodate larger volumes. Often there was no attempt made to disguise the fact that multiple pieces were used to form the covering."

In the early 19th and 20th centuries, rare book dealers would occasionally take parchment folios from a medieval book for covering material, possibly disbinding a codex in the process (Paterson 2018). The resulting new binding in an old style with old materials gives the impression of being not quite right. These modern manuscript waste bindings typically remain on the books. Jennifer Sheppard (2000, 169) refers to these components (while still on the book) as "in-situ fragments of bindings" rather than binding fragments.

Decoration of Parchment Bindings[edit | edit source]

Cut parchment or pierced vellum: Parchment coverings that were pierced or cut with intricate patterns appear in sixteenth and seventeenth century continental Europe (Middleton & Nixon 1978, 142; see also Nixon & Ehrman 1956). James Reid-Cunningham (Reid-Cunningham 2013) has researched this style, taught workshops on their construction, and his website has several images of historical examples.

Gold tooled parchment: Parchment can be tooled with gold, but this was not commonly done. "Parchment's hard surface gives it a slippery feel while tooling, though it is no different from tooling leather with the exception of using a slightly cooler tool when using egg glaire, while for shellac size, it does not matter. it takes surface gold well, so designs can be created using just leaf laid onto it with rabbit-skin glue." (Geraty 2019, 129)

Dyed or stained parchment: Stained vellum or parchment bindings are described as bindings that "have been colored by the application of a dilute colored liquid, a process that results in a transparent color that penetrates the material, allowing the underlying texture of the skin to be visible" (RBMS). The colorant can be applied overall or as a drip or splatter. Instructions for making "tinted parchment" appear in Cennini.

Green parchment for book covering appears in Europe first in France in 1657, attributed to Pierre Portier, a Paris binder (Pollard 1956, 83). During the 18th century, green parchment was frequently used as a spine covering along with paper sides (usually marbled) on quarter bound books. This style was made popular by London publisher Francis Newbery and is sometimes known as the "vellum manner" (according to contemporary advertisements) or "Newbery manner". Newbery used the style to market books written for the nascent field of children's literature (Nash 2020, 248). (See also Bennett 2004 and Pearson 2005) In the 20th century, Peter Franck (1964, 11) described batik-dyed parchment bindings, created with the use of mordants and wax or shellac by contemporary bookbinder and teacher Johann Rudel.

Julia Miller (2018, 95) describes an early 18th century stained vellum binding on stiff boards decorated with panels of mottling in what might once have been red, yellow, and blue.

Transparent parchment: In England in 1785, transparent parchment or transparent vellum bindings were patented by James Edwards, member of the Edwards of Halifax bookbinding and publishing firm. The vellum was made transparent and then decorated on the underside with opaque paints. (Middleton & Nixon 1978, 145) "The Edwards patent of 1785 described the method of rendering vellum transparent by soaking it in water in which a small quantity of pearl ash had been dissolved and by pressing it hard until it became transparent. It can then be drawn upon and painted; the completed decoration must be lined with paper attached with flour paste." (Nixon and Foot 1992, 91) [The patent is quoted in T. W. Hanson, Papers, Reports, Etc. Read before the Halifax Antiquarian Society (1912), 193-4.]

Early in the 20th century, an English binder named Cedric Chivers revived the technique, modifying it slightly by executing paintings on paper, which were then covered with transparent vellum during binding. He called the material "Vellucent", and the first Vellucent binding was completed in 1903 (Middleton & Nixon 1978, 146). Shortly after, Vellucent was recommended as a repair material for nineteenth century leather bindings that had broken joints or red rot. The Vellucent was meant to be applied over the original binding as a literal protective skin, allowing the decorative tooling to be seen through the material (MacAlister 1905, 208-211).

Historic Parchment Book Covers[edit | edit source]

Stiff-Board Parchment Binding[edit | edit source]

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.

Historic manuals (cited in Geraty 2019) that describe parchment bindings in English include: Dirck de Bray, 1658; Jean-Vincent Capronnier de Graffencourt, 1763; Rene Martin Dudin, 1772; Christoph Ernst Prediger, 1741-1753; Anselme Faust, 1612.

Geraty (2019, 135) describes challenges to using parchment in stiff board bindings but also potential remedies:

  • changes to the planarity of parchment-covered boards is difficult to mitigate over the life of the book
  • parchment is usually lined with paper before covering. This reduces translucency and "stabilizes" the parchment, making it easier to work with
  • laminating paper was adhered with paste but not allowed to dry completely before covering. residual moisture helped with cutting and working the joints and turn ins.
  • cockling usually results from unrestrained drying

Middleton & Nixon observed that stiff-board parchment bindings were not common on English printed books. "Full vellum over boards was not a popular style of binding in earlier centuries in England for printed books, and certainly was not used as much here as in Continental countries. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, however, vellum was certainly used extensively as a covering for the boards of ledgers. It was used to a limited extent by fine binders at the end of the eighteenth century and during the nineteenth.... Early in the nineteenth century the full-vellum covering of ledgers was done while the vellum was dry." (Middleton & Nixon 1978, 143)

Cowie's Bookbinder's Manual (1828 or 1860) directs the binder to line the parchment with cartridge or strong white paper and dry between boards. "This method must have been used earlier on printed books also, both continental and English, for one usually finds no linings on the inside of the boards other than the pastedown of the endpaper." (Middleton & Nixon 1978, 144)

Stiff-Board Parchment Binding with Slotted Spine[edit | edit source]

Frequently found on Italian books of the 16th and 17th centuries (??) Pugliese (2001, 93).

Pugliese (2001, 94) describes this variant of the stiff-board binding with a modified parchment cover: "The textblock is sewn on raised supports and the slips are then laced through the boards as for other in boards bindings. The spine is slightly rounded and lined, accurate endbands are sewn on the head and tail, and then, to keep the cover close to the spine, slots are cut in the vellum, a sort of buttonhole exactly fitting the sewing supports protruding on the spine. In fact the sewing supports have been previously covered with patches of alum-tawed skin ending on the outer side of the boards. This protects the sewing thread and highlights the sequence of bands on the spine." In the collection analyzed by Pugliese, textblocks tend to be sewn all-along rather than skip station, indicating a higher quality of binding (Pugliese 2001, 95).

See Clarkson 1999 for a discussion of this structure. A blog post by Morgan Adams (2013) describes making a model of this structure.

Semi-Limp Parchment Binding[edit | edit source]

A category that exists between stiff board and limp parchment bindings is "semi-limp". This phrase can describe an array of binding structures with varying degrees of support from stiffening materials beneath the covering parchment. Albritton and Amato (2016) conducted a study of 105 "semi-limp" parchment bindings in the collections of the New York Academy of Medicine (NYAM). The bindings dated from about 1500-1800, though the collection skewed more to 1660-1760. Such bindings came about with the rising popularity of printed books and were frequently used by printers on smaller, octavo-sized books as a cheap "retail binding". (See also: Pickwoad 1994; Pickwoad 1995; Martin 1993)

Albritton and Amato describe two types of semi-limp bindings: a wrapped-board binding and a floating-boards binding. A wrapped-board binding "appears, from all available evidence, to have arisen at a very specific place and time - France in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries - amidst a very specific confluence of geographic, political, economic, and social circumstances." (Albritton and Amato 2016, 4) Pickwoad (??) confirms this. The floating-board bindings they observed were more likely to be Italian (Albritton and Amato 2016). Pickwoad (1995, 225) posits that the linings on semi-limp bindings allowed for cheaper, flimsier, or flawed parchment to be used on these bindings.

Features of wrapped-board bindings and floating-board bindings observed in a survey of 105 semi-limp bindings by Albritton and Amato (2016).
Wrapped-board binding features Shared features Floating-board binding features
Flexible board under the covering material, wrapping around the spine --- Two boards held into the covering material via the turn ins, stopping at the shoulder
Reverse endcaps --- Unshaped endcaps
--- Typically no fore edge yap or ties ---
Full spine lining, often of printers' waste --- Paneled, plain paper spine linings
Most likely sewn in a two-on pattern --- Likely sewn two-on or all-along (in older or larger books)
Loose supports, sometimes adhered to pastedown or stiffener Sewn on single, raised vegetable-fiber cords that are not laced through the outer parchment cover Likely to have sewing supports trimmed flush to the shoulder
--- Most have simple worked front-bead endbands in two colors. Endband cores are laced through the outer covers at the joint. ---
Most common endleaf is a single fold hooked towards the board End leaves and pastedowns of plain, undecorated paper More diversity in endleaf styles
--- Trimmed, undecorated edges on most ---

Lined Parchment Cover[edit | edit source]

In Nicholas Pickwoad's survey of bindings in the Ramey collection, he described a structure frequently observed in the collection that he called the "cover lining binding":

Pickwoad (1995, 228): "This new structure, which appears on a small group of imprints around 1560 but not in larger numbers until the early 1580s (Graph 4) - making it likely that the first group comprises old texts bound up later - is distinguished by having a double cover. First a lining, usually of cartonnage or laminated paper, is wrapped around the sewn textblock, and the main sewing support slips are laced through it. The parchment cover is then folded around the lining, and the endband slips are laced through both, a feature which makes them easily recognisable as the main sewing support slips do not appear on the outside of the binding.... It appears to be an especially French structure, and a date for its introduction in the late 1570s accords with example in other collections. The name often used to describe the structure is 'semi-limp' parchment, but this can be confused with bindings which have thin, separate, flexible boards inserted into them, and thus form an entirely different structure. In the absence of any historical name, it is most clearly referred to as a limp parchment binding with a cover lining."

"Manuscript leaves were often rather thin for making the covers of any but the smallest format books, and many German binders reinforced the parchment covers with paper linings which were pasted to the inside of the cover before it was folded to fit the book. The linings might be of new, clean paper, but more often were of printed or manuscript waste. Depending on the size of the book and the thickness of the parchment, one, two, or even three laminations might be used, and it is characteristic of this usage that the linings were cut to the same size as the parchment cover before the turn-ins were folded, resulting in a double thickness or lining (and therefore extra strength and stiffness) around the edge of the folded cover. The sewing support slips, and endband slips if there were any, were then laced through both the cover and the linings, a process that further distinguishes them from a different type of lining used by French binders from the last quarter of the sixteenth to the middle of the eighteenth century" (Pickwoad 2000a, 6).

Limp Parchment[edit | edit source]

"Limp vellum bindings came into their own at the time of the first printed pocket editions, for which they were so admirably suited," Clarkson (1975 7/15/3-3). Clarkson recognized the value of this structure after working in the recovery efforts after the Florence Flood of 1966, where he observed that printed textblocks bound in limp parchment covers could be relatively easily recovered.

Pickwoad (1995, 209, footnote 2) describes limp bindings as, "...books whose covering material, typically parchment but also paper and occasionally leather, is not wrapped around stiff boards, but forms the sole component of the cover. Such covers, which can be prepared off the book, are usually secured to the sewn textblock by the sewing support and/or the endband slips at the final stage of the binding process."

Limp parchment bindings were often sewn as longstitch bindings, described by Pickwoad (1995, 209, footnote 3): "the book is sewn through both the gatherings and the covering material (Typically parchment or thick paper) at the same time, and results in lengths of thread showing in one or more rows across the spine. It was a rapid and economical way to hold books together, and was often used for temporary, retail bindings and cheaper blank books from the late fifteenth century onwards."

"There was an alternative technique designed to reinforce covers made from thin parchment (and therefore especially covers cut from manuscript leaves) in which the unlined cover was made with turn-ins that were pasted before they were folded in, which resulted in an extra-stiff double thickness of parchment around the edges of the cover. Of the sixty-seven examples of this technique that I have seen, fifty-five were bound in Germany and six in the Low Countries, and all the examples that have covers made from manuscript waste are German. It would appear, therefore, that this technique is likely to be characteristic of the work of German-speaking binders." (Pickwoad 2000b, 7)

"Another structural type that commonly makes use of manuscript waste as a wrapper material- because the covers were often intended to be temporary-is the tacketed binding, where the cover is attached to the sewn text block, not by lacing the sewing support slips through the cover as was more common (in surviving examples at least), but by threading a tacket, a length of parchment, leather, tawed skin, or thread, through the cover and attaching it to the sewing supports (fig. 6). 16 It is a binding type that was borrowed from the stationery binding tradition but for some reason was almost exclusively restricted to Germany, the Low Countries, and Italy. Although examples are found from the last quarter of the fifteenth century, surviving examples do not become common until the second decade of the following century, peak in the 1530s, and slowly fall out of favor over the next forty to fifty years. The use of manuscript waste on these bindings does not appear to have been common before the 152os, but this may be as much a reflection of poorer survival rates among earlier examples as evidence of a historical pattern. It is, however, quite clear that the use of manuscript waste as a cover material is an indication of an even lower than normal economic status within the canon of tacketed bindings.

"In the majority of the German examples, the binders also used parchment as the tacketing material, and in several cases the parchment was obtained for this purpose by cutting narrow strips off the piece selected to make the cover." (Pickwoad 2000b, 7-8)

Pickwoad (1995, 226) also observed that limp parchment book covers were occasionally reused. The covers were often turned inside out so that the flesh side was on the exterior, referred to as "reverse skin". This, according to Pickwoad, is "an Italian habit."

Pugliese (2019) describes a 16th-century example from Padua, Italy, of a limp parchment binding with cartonnage end leaves that have been attached to the parchment cover via the sewing support slips at the joint and fore edge ties. This non-adhesive structure would stay intact even if some components started to fail due to the additional attachment of the cartonnage.


See Michigan State University Library's online exhibit, "Limp Bindings: The Ageless Book."

"Traveling Scriptorium, Page 36: Traveling Scriptorium.

Stationery Binding with Leather Overbands[edit | edit source]

Rather than covering a book block that was already printed or written, stationery binding structures are generally found on blank book blocks used as continually updated logs. The earliest known stationery binding was made in Florence in 1310, but the style was most likely in use before that date. It is a non-adhesive parchment case, often having a fore-edge flap, with leather overbands that are pierced with lacings to form a decorative pattern. This style of book was used by 14th century merchants and bureaucrats alike, and spread throughout Europe as business grew (Bearman 2018). This style of cover can be limp, semi-limp, or stiff-board parchment bindings and has been referred to as a number of ways including: blank-book binding, account-book binding, journal or ledger binding, vellum binding, spring back binding, wallet binding, portfolio binding, and, most commonly, stationery binding (Bearman 2018, 197).

Chela Metzger (2007) gave a talk at Guild of Book Workers about this style of binding.

Parchment Binding Sewing Structures and Attachments[edit | edit source]

See Scholla 2008; Albritton and Amato (2016); Pickwoad.

Front outside cover of a limp vellum stitched binding, mid 16th century. STC 462.2, Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, D.C.

Stitched Binding[edit | edit source]

Stitched bindings, or stab-sewn bindings, were in use before the advent of printing in Europe. (Gillespie 2014, 92) They were intended to be inexpensive, and perhaps temporary. Pickwoad (2000a, 12) asserts that, "In England the use of medieval manuscript waste as a covering material is much more likely to be found on stitched books than on sewn books-that is, on books held together by stabbing thread or thongs through the inner margins of the entire text block of a book, the very cheapest form of binding used by the book trade." Printers and booksellers frequently sewed books into this structure for sale to the public, avoiding the need to engage the services of binders. The practice was apparently common enough by 1586 that in London, several stationers asked the Lord Mayor to regulate the practice of stitched bindings in order to protect the binders they associated with (Gillespie 2014, 92).

Longstitch Binding[edit | edit source]

"Manuscript waste is also associated with less expensive structures such as longstitch and stitched books, many of which were intended to be either temporary or so cheap as to be expendable." (Pickwoad 2000a, 4)

An example of a longstitch binding bound in manuscript waste can be seen here.

This style of sewing is also seen with paper and canvas covers.

Tacketed Binding[edit | edit source]

Pickwoad (2000b) describes two types of tackets:

  • primary tackets: tackets are laced through the holes in the spine folds to hold together several bifolia. They may also be used to simultaneously hold a covering to the bookblock, but they are defined by their primary function as a page fastener. "Quire tackets" are an example.
  • secondary tackets: tackets attach a cover to a bookblock that is already fastened together by additional means.

Pickwoad writes about secondary tacketed bindings, giving over twenty examples of attachment patterns. These bindings are generally from "Germany, the Low Countries, or Italy," (Pickwoad 2000b, 120). Szirmai (1999) also discusses tackets in the chapter on limp bindings in The Archaeology of the Medieval Book.

Gillespie (2014) also writes about tacketed bindings.

Pinkney (2020) describes several tacket styles and making a model in a blog post.

Parchment as Structural Components[edit | edit source]

Parchment has been used (and re-used, in the case of manuscript waste) as several types of binding components, including: pastedowns, spine linings, sewing supports (also covering strips over cord sewing supports), and endband cores. See images in the gallery above for examples.

Treatment Protocols[edit | edit source]

Though generally very sturdy and long-lasting, parchment book covers are vulnerable to a variety of damages. Some common condition issues occurring on parchment covers include:

  • distortion or shrinkage caused by high relative humidity or direct contact with water
  • split joints, frequently occurring in stiff-board bindings
  • losses to end caps, caused by shelving (tail) or retrieving from a shelf (head)

Repair Material[edit | edit source]

Goldbeater’s skin is an excellent repair material for parchment due to its strength, translucency, and proteinaceous nature. Using Goldbeater's skin adds a collagen-based repair material that closely resembles the collagen that has deteriorated along the original parchment joints. It can be difficult to apply Goldbeater's skin as it is highly reactive to moisture (i.e. it becomes tightly curled) and its smooth surface can result in a weak attachment. Laminating goldbeater’s skin to a kozo paper with bovine gelatin can make it slightly stiffer and easier to handle, as well as increase its strength of attachment. A 5 gsm kozo paper or lighter is recommended in order to retain the translucency of the goldbeater’s skin (Victoria Wong).

Humidification and Flattening of Covers[edit | edit source]

Techniques used in the humidification and flattening of parchment folios can be adapted to parchment book covers.

Joint Repair[edit | edit source]

A split parchment joint repaired by laminated strips of goldbeater's skin and Kozo. Image by Victoria Wong.

"The main problem with vellum bindings relates mostly to the board hinging, with the joints cracked or split at head and tail, or even the whole length of the joint" (Katinka Keus, 2011). This can occur as the parchment becomes brittle or shrinks. As parchment spines are often not adhered to the book block, broken joints leaves the spine areas additionally vulnerable.

Split or splitting parchment joints can be repaired with laminates of goldbeater’s skin and kozo papers. One technique is to apply strips of the goldbeater’s skin laminate in an over-and-under fashion at an angle along the split (see the 2019 BPG Tips Session submission by Victoria Wong). This method emulates historic sewn repairs of knife-cut parchment without adding holes to the original parchment. By modifying the sewn technique, this application provides the strength and flexibility of the historic repair without puncturing the original parchment. To facilitate adhesion, kozo paper must be applied to alternating sides of the Goldbeater’s skin in order to be applied in an over-and-under fashion. The resulting application provides tensile strength at a point of flexion with minimal visual impact. This technique may be useful for tears in other areas of parchment books, such as along a folio fold.

Another technique is using laminates of Tyvek (R) and long-fibered paper as joint material, as described by Katinka Keus (2011).

Filling Losses[edit | edit source]

Paterson (2018, 462) used a Hollytex and Korean handmade paper (1003) laminate to fill losses in a parchment binding. The paper and the Hollytex were separately toned with Golden fluid acrylics. The layers were adhered with Jade 711 PVAc and dried for 24 hours under weight. The fills were attached with Lascaux 498 HV. Fills were attached to the board under the covering parchment, which was then set back down with Lascaux.

Rita Udina used toned Japanese paper to repair a parchment cover.

Removing In Situ Parchment Binding Components[edit | edit source]

These days, recycled parchment manuscript waste that remains in situ as a book component is quite rare. Removal of such fragments is not recommended unless its presence impedes necessary treatment. In that case, thorough written and photographic documentation should be carried out.

Parchment folios from medieval books were frequently used as pastedowns in later medieval manuscripts or Incunables. These pastedowns generally have writing on both sides, including the side of the folio adhered to the boards. When removed dry from a board (i.e. with a lifting knife), a common result is "skinning", where the ink and/or the parchment fibers on the surface to remain in the adhesive while the bulk of the folio comes away. Cathie Magee (2019) describes using high acyl gellan gum to remove parchment manuscript waste pastedowns that were adhered to wooden boards. The 1% gel (with 1:1 water and ethanol) was applied to the surface of the parchment and humidified the adhesive through the membrane. Once softened, the parchment could be lifted away with a Delrin spatula.

Storage of Parchment Bindings and Components[edit | edit source]

As with parchment documents, parchment bindings require controlled storage environments with a relative humidity of about 55% and a temperature of about 65 F. Due to the lime content from its manufacture, parchment will "absorb (take up) and adsorb (chemically bond)" with moisture in its environment (Geraty 2019, 128). When this happens, the membrane "usually warps toward the hair side of the animal and that is generally the side that faces out.… The result may be broken end sections (endpapers) and/or split joints in the cover. The parchment may pull back from the edges of the boards causing the turn-ins of the covers to lift and retract, breaking the pastedowns along the edges of the turn-ins (Geraty 2019, 126)."

(Geraty 2019, 131): " Shelving stiff-board parchment bindings is a good way to help control warping due to climate changes in a storage area. Parchment covers can also be restrained by making a clamshell box with a flap built into the fore edge of the small tray. The flap closes from right to left over the book, and the box cover closes from left to right effectively confining the boards. Boxes also create a microclimate that slows the permeation of moisture into its interior and thus into the book."

Modern Parchment Bindings[edit | edit source]

19th and 20th Century Parchment Bindings[edit | edit source]

Several bookbinding manuals or articles describing the process of binding with parchment were written during the 20th century (see below). Peter Franck (1964, 12) described his experience of the process at Bremer Press, particularly how their process "might deviate from the technical books of Cockerell, Luers and Wiese."

A limp vellum binding, laced into the textblock with three alum-tawed thongs and the alum-tawed endband cores. Alum-tawed ties are tied shut at the fore edge. Modern binding on a rebound 16th-17th century textblock. Photo by Melina Avery.

Parchment Conservation Bindings[edit | edit source]

Chris Clarkson (1975) observed that books originally bound in limp parchment covers were more easily restored during the recovery efforts after the 1966 Florence flood. He rebound many early printed books that had been damaged in the flood in this manner. (The 1968 film by Roger Hill, The Restoration of Bindings, depicts this process and can be viewed on YouTube.) Part of the appeal of the structure is that it is a non-adhesive binding. One difference in Clarkson's rebindings is In the lacing of the sewing thongs. "Often the 15th or 16th century binder damped the previously rolled thongs and laced them through slots or bodkin holes in the cover and liner, then unrolled and flattened the end of the thong inside the cover. When dry, the end of such a thong would never pull back through its hole. I cannot justify this method as it makes disassembly more difficult, so I carefully select the right size hole for the particular whittawed thong. If the vellum is of good quality it will not tear, but grip the thong firmly, and the second hole, further in, I make smaller so that a sound anchorage is produced," (Chris Clarkson 1975, 75/15/3-11).

Clarkson (1999) also developed a stiff-board parchment binding with a slotted spine that exposed the sewing supports.

Lindsay (1991) in The New Bookbinder describes in detail the process of creating a limp parchment cover and has excellent diagrams. Following her, Espinosa (1993) in the same journal proposes a modification to the usual limp vellum structure that allows for better opening (see similar instructions in Espinosa 1994).

Artists Bindings[edit | edit source]

Limp Bindings from the Vatican Library, edited by Monica Langwe (2013) features several examples of modern parchment bindings by book artists and conservators.

References[edit | edit source]

Adams, Morgan. 2013. "Modeling History: Making a Stiff-Board Parchment Binding with a Slotted Spine." Books, Health, and History: The New York Academy of Medicine. Accessed May 20, 2020.

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.

Barrios, P. 2006. "Notes on the Limp Vellum Binding." The Bonefolder: an e-journal for the bookbinder and book artist 2(2): 24-27. Accessed March 8, 2021.

Bearman, Frederick. 2018. "The Laced Overband: Its Place in the History of Stationery Bindings." Edited by M. J. Driscoll. Care and Conservation of Manuscripts 16: 197–226.

Bennett, Stuart. 2004. Trade Binding in the British Isles 1660-1800. New Castle: Oak Knoll Press.

Clarkson, Christopher. 1975. "Limp Vellum Binding and Its Potential as a Conservation Type Structure for the Rebinding of Early Printed Books: A Break with 19th and 20th Century Rebinding Attitudes and Practices." In Preprints of the ICOM Committee for Conservation 4th Triennial Meeting: Venice 13-16 October 1975: 75/15/3/1-15. [Reprinted 1982, Red Gull Press]. Accessed March 8, 2021.

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 (Erice, 22th-29th April 1996)." Edited by C. Federici and P.F. Munafò, Palermo: G.B. Palumbo. 2: 537-549.

Cowie. 1828. "Cowie's bookbinder's manual: containing a full description of leather and vellum binding; directions for gilding of paper and book-edges and numerous valuable recipes for sprinkling, colouring, & marbling; together with a scale of bookbinders' charges; a list of all the book and vellum binders in London." Accessed March 8, 2021.

Cummins, Thomas B. F. 2014. Manuscript Cultures of Colonial Mexico and Peru: New Questions and Approaches. Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute.

Espinosa, Robert. 1993. "The Limp Vellum Binding: A Modification." The New Bookbinder 13: 27-37.

Espinosa, Robert. 1994. “The Components and Fabrication of a Modified Limp Vellum Binding: ‘Alum-Tawed Chemise/Vellum Binding.’” Guild of Book Workers 14th Annual Seminar on the Standards of Excellence. https://guildofbookworkers.org/sites/guildofbookworkers.org/files/standards/1994-Espinosa_Robert.pdf.

Franck, Peter. 1964. “Vellum Binding.” Journal of the Guild of Book Workers III (1): 11–22.

Geraty, Peter. 2019. "A Manual Approach to Stiff-Board Parchment Binding." In Suave Mechanicals: Essays on the History of Bookbinding Volume 5, ed. Julia Miller, Legacy Press: Ann Arbor, 125-196.

Gillespie, Alexandra. 2014. "Bookbinding and Early Printing in England." In A companion to the early printed book in Britain 1476-1558, eds. Vincent Gillespie and Susan Powell. 75-94. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer.

Giuffrida, Barbara. 1974. "Limp and Semi-limp Vellum Bindings." Designer Bookbinders Review 4, Autumn 1974.

Giuffrida, Barbara. 1975. "Limp and Semi-limp Vellum Bindings." Designer Bookbinders Review 5, Spring 1975.

Giuffrida, Barbara. 1976. "Limp and Semi-limp Vellum Bindings." Designer Bookbinders Review 8, Autumn 1976.

Guild of Book Workers. 2018. 2007 - Chela Metzger - Creating Medieval Stationer's Binding Structures: Lacing Patterns, Tacketing Methods, and Leather. https://vimeo.com/ondemand/07gbw2.

Hill, Roger, Waters, Peter, and Clarkson, Christopher. 1968. The Restoration of Books, Florence, 1968: A Film Based on the Work in the National Library of Florence Resulting from the Floods on 4 November 1966. Film. London: Royal College of Art funded by the Italian Art and Archives Rescue Fund.

Hill, Roger. [1970s] Limp Vellum Binding as a Modern Conservation Technique. (Binding advisor: Christopher Clarkson. Film editor: Peter Watson. Directed and photographed by Roger Hill at the Slade Bindery, Petersfield, England. Early 1970s. (Possibly a BBC production))

Keus, Katinka. 2011. "Conservation of Vellum Bindings with Tyvek®." The New Bookbinder 31: 61–62.

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

Leonard, Irving A. 1942. "Best Sellers of the Lima Book Trade, 1583." The Hispanic American Historical Review 22 (1): 5–33.

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

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

Lindsay, Jen. 1991. "A limp vellum binding sewn on alum-tawed thongs." The New Bookbinder 11: 3-19.

MacAlister, John Young Walker, Alfred W. Pollard, R. B. McKerrow, and Frank Chalton Francis. 1905. "A new method of preserving old bookbindings, or of rebinding old books" In The Library Ser. 2 (6). London: Oxford University Press, 208-211. Accessed March 9, 2021.

Magee, Cathie. 2019. "High Acyl Gellan Gum for Parchment Conservation." Book and Paper Annual 39, 112-118.

Martin, Henri-Jean. 1993. Print, power, and people in 17th-century France. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press.

Metzger, Consuela. 2007 - Chela Metzger - Creating Medieval Stationer’s Binding Structures: Lacing Patterns, Tacketing Methods, and Leather.

Warning: paywall.
See also: Metzger, Consuela G. 2007. "Creating Medieval Stationer’s Bindings Structures."

Middleton, Bernard C., and Howard Millar Nixon. 1978. A History of English Craft Bookbinding Technique. London: The Holland Press.

Miller, Julia. 2018. “Beyond Tree Calf: Bindings Decorated by Staining.” In Meeting By Accident: Selected Historical Bindings, 8–127. Ann Arbor: The Legacy Press.

Nash, Paul W. 2020. “Two Hundred Years of Publisher’s Cloth.” Journal of the Printing Historical Society Third Series (1): 241–303.

Nixon, Howard Millar, and Albert Ehrman. 1956. Broxbourne Library: Styles and Designs of Bookbindings, from the Twelfth to the Twentieth Century. London: Published for the Broxbourne Library by Maggs Bros.

Nixon, Howard M., and Mirjam Foot. 1992. The history of decorated bookbinding in England. Oxford [England]: Clarendon Press.

Paterson, Dan. 2018. “Treatment of two vellum manuscript waste bindings and a survey of similar bindings in American research libraries.” Edited by Matthew James Driscoll. Care and Conservation of Manuscripts 16: 449–65.

Pearson, David. 2005. English Bookbinding Styles 1450-1800: A Handbook. New Castle: Oak Knoll Press.

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.

Pickwoad, Nicholas. 1995. "The Interpretation of Bookbinding Structure: An Examination of Sixteenth-Century Bindings in the Ramey Collection in the Pierpont Morgan Library." The Library s6-17 (3): 209–49.

See also: Pickwoad, Nicholas. 2004. "The Interpretation of Bookbinding Structure: An Examination of Sixteenth-Century Bindings in the Ramey Collection in the Pierpont Morgan Library." In Eloquent Witnesses: Bookbindings and Their History, edited by Mirjam M. Foot, 127–70. New Castle: Oak Knoll Press.

Pickwoad, Nicholas. 2000a. "The Use of Fragments of Medieval Manuscripts in the Construction and Covering of Bindings on Printed Books." In Interpreting and collecting fragments of medieval books: Proceedings of the Seminar in the History of the Book to 1500, Oxford, 1998 eds. Linda L. Brownrigg and Margaret M. Smith, Los Altos Hills: Anderson-Lovelace, 1-20.

Pickwoad, Nicholas. 2000b. "Tacketed Bindings: A Hundred Years of European Bookbinding." In For the Love of Binding: Studies in Bookbinding Presented to Mirjam Foot, ed. David Pearson, 119-167.

Pollard, Graham. 1956. "Changes in the Style of Bookbinding, 1550–1830." The Library s5-XI (2): 71–94.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.

Pugliese, Silvia. 2019. "When Cover Paper Meets Parchment: A Non-Adhesive Variation of the Limp Parchment Binding." Journal of Paper Conservation 20 (1–4): 152–57.

Romero, Martha E. 2013a. “European Influence in the Binding of Mexican Printed Books of the Sixteenth Century.” In Suave Mechanicals: Essays on the History of Bookbinding, edited by Julia Miller, 1: 382–411. Ann Arbor: The Legacy Press.

See also: Romero Ramirez, Martha Elena. 2013b. “Limp, Laced-Case Binding in Parchment on Sixteenth-Century Mexican Printed Books Vol. 1 and Vol 2.” Doctoral Thesis, London: Camberwell College of Arts, University of the Arts London.

RBMS Controlled Vocabularies Community Discussion. 2016. “Term: Stained Vellum Bindings (Binding) | RBMS Controlled Vocabularies Community Discussion.” Rare Books and Manuscripts Section. January 4, 2016.

Reid-Cunningham, James. 2013. “Pierced Vellum Bindings by James Reid-Cunningham | The Guild of Book Workers.” Guild of Book Workers. January 20, 2013. Accessed May 26, 2020.

Roberts, Matt T., and Don Etherington. 1994. “Bookbinding and the Conservation of Books: A Dictionary of Descriptive Terminology.” CoOL. 1994.

Definition for limp binding.

Scholla, Agnes. 2008. "Terminology and Typology of Limp Bindings." In La Reliure Médiévale: Pour Une Description Normalisée, 61–73. Turnhout: Brepols.

Sheppard, Jennifer M. 2000. "Medieval Binding Structures: Potential Evidence from Fragments." In Interpreting and Collecting Fragments of Medieval Books: Proceedings of the Seminar in the History of the Book to 1500, Oxford, 1998 eds. Linda L. Brownrigg and Margaret M. Smith, Los Altos Hills: Anderson-Lovelace, 167-175.

Spitzmueller, Pamela J. 2015. “A Visual Dictionary of Traditional Long and Linkstitch Bookbinding Terminology.” In Suave Mechanicals: Essays on the History of Bookbinding, II: 382–425. Ann Arbor: Legacy Press.

Writing simultaneously about European longstitch and linkstitch bindings, Spitzmueller describes the variety of structures and materials commonly found in these volumes. She acknowledges the "Eastern" origins of linkstitch bindings, but does not describe the history or evolution of the structures in-depth. She provides a selective literature review, half of which are 20th-century German sources. The drawings of longstitch binding structures are somewhat lacking in clarity, but the drawings of historical bindings are detailed and interesting, offering clues to condition issues not discussed in the text of the article.

Szirmai, J. A. 1999. “Limp Bindings.” In The Archaeology of Medieval Bookbinding, 285–319. Aldershot: Ashgate.

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.

Wong, Victoria. 2019. “Laminates for Mending Split Parchment Joints.” Presented at the 47th Annual AIC Meeting, BPG Tips Session, New England.

Parchment Binding in Manuals from the 19th and 20th Century[edit | edit source]

Burdett, Eric. 1983. The Craft of Bookbinding: A Practical Handbook. London: David & Charles.

Diehl, Edith. 1946. Bookbinding: Its Background and Technique. 2 vols. New York: Rinehart & Co.

Available at: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/001161392

Middleton, Bernard C. 1972. The Restoration of Leather Bindings. Chicago: American Library Association.

———. 1978. A History of English Craft Bookinding Technique. Second supplemented edition. London: Holland Press.

Zaehnsdorf, Joseph W. 1890. The Art of Bookbinding: A Practial Treatise. Second. London: George Gell & Sons.

Blogs and Instructions[edit | edit source]

Pinkney, Annabel. 2020. "Independent Study in the Lab – Tacketed Binding." Bunsen and Bronte: C-U at the Lab (blog). April 13, 2020.

Udina, Rita. n.d. "Limp Vellum Binding Conservation." Rita Udina: Paper & Books Conservator - Restorer. Accessed July 9, 2021.

History of This Page[edit | edit source]

Prior to the creation of the AIC Conservation Wiki, this page was created as "Section 4 - Chapter 2 - Parchment" of the Book Conservation Catalog by Abbey Haywood and Jim Hinz. For more see: History of the BPG Wiki. In 2020, the page was substantially rewritten to focus on parchment used as a covering materials for books.

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