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

Covering Material

The origins of the use of parchment as a covering material for books likely cannot be assigned to a single place and time. "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) Some "limp" styles may have been popularized after the advent of the European printing press, as they were less expensive and less time-consuming to produce than in-boards bindings, yet would still protect the text (Pickwoad 1994).

Nicholas Pickwoad's chapter Onwards and Downwards describes the economic choices and situations that may have led to the normalization of a parchment binding.

pickwoad: smaller size, abbreviated sewing 1994 74-76

Stiff-board bindings began when?

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, 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 Parchment or Limp Vellum

A parchment binding with no interior stiffener.

In footnote 2, Pickwoad (1995, 209) 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 supprot 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) in 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."

Lined Parchment Cover

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."

Semi-Limp Vellum

Albritton and Amato (2016, 4) write that variations of the semi-limp vellum 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." To summarize, 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) They 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

Tutorials and Workshops



Parchment as Binding Components

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.

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.

Clarkson, Christopher. 1982. Limp Vellum Binding and Its Potential as a Conservation Type Structure for the Rebinding of Early Printed Books: A Break with Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Rebinding Attitudes and Practices. Oxford, U.K.: L & S Printing.

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

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

Barrios, P. (2006). Notes on the limp vellum binding. The Bonefolder: an e-journal for the bookbinder and book artist, 2(2), 24-27. https://archive.org/stream/TheBonefolderE-journalForTheBookbinderAndBookArtist/BonefolderVol2No2#page/n23/mode/2up

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

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

Giuffrida, Barbara. "Limp and Semi-limp Vellum Bindings." Designer Bookbinders Review nos. 4, 5, and 8 (Autumn 1974, SPring 1975, and Autumn 1976).

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.

Lindsay, Jen. (1991). A limp vellum binding sewn on alum-tawed thongs. The New Bookbinder, 11.

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

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

Martin, Henri-Jean. 1993. Print, power, and people in 17th-century France. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow 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: The Ramey Collection of Sixteenth-Century Bindings in the Pierpont Morgan Library." The Library. 17 (3): 209-249.

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.

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.

Parchment Bindings as Conservation Bindings

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

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.

Treatment Techniques

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

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.

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

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

Surface Grime on Parchment

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

History of Parchment

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

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

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.

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

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

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.

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

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

Parchment Analysis

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

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

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Parchment Fragments and Mounting

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.

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.

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

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

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.

Modern Parchment

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.

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

Not Sure

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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