Research Session 3: Choosing the collections to discuss in my presentation

Source: Specimens of Parchment: with notes by Ronald Reed

The above image is from one of many photos I took from the RBML's copy of Specimens of Parchment: with notes by Ronald Reed. I consulted this source as one of several manuscript collections on which I presented. The background photo on this page is of the sample "Japan Vellum," which, as Reed points out in the sample's description, "is not a parchment." In fact, it is made of paper. However, to me this sample (plus the many others that are actually made of parchment) best demonstrates how parchment has been able to assume many forms throughout the centuries, and that when studying a parchment manuscript it is arguably as important to review the parchment itself as well as the text. The material can tell just as compelling a story about how the work came to be in its current form.

I have included these two samples because I want to show the degree to which the process of making parchment has transformed over time. It is incredible to me that these two samples are in fact both made from parchment. Yet each has been transformed to such an extent that, at first glance, I had believed that they were of different materials.

“It is incredible to me that these two samples are in fact both made from parchment.”

In the image on the left, a sample produced from a goat, it is evident to me that this material has been produced from an animal. I believe that the hair follicles of the animal can be viewed as well, even though Reed does not address this possibility in his notes. In addition, the way that the sample is slightly bent upward demonstrates the thickness of the sample. I appreciate that while the material here has clearly been manipulated, it still does not erase its identity as coming originally from an animal.

The image on the right is appropriately titled "A Modern Specimen of Parchment." According to Reed's notes, this sample was probably made of goatskin. However, despite the fact that it is also made from an animal, to me it looks as though it could have been made of plain white paper because all of the parchment's distinguishing characteristics have been removed. We also know from the image's caption that this type was originally made in the 1890s, according to specific regulations used at the Kelmscott Press - this fact is also, according to Reed, what makes this sample useful for archival recordkeeping. Regardless of its historical significance, what I hope to take away from looking more closely at both of these examples is that parchment comes in many different forms. Its history and legacy in the publishing of manuscripts merit the same level of critical analysis that we devote to studying the text that is printed on the parchment.

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