Quill Books before print mediamediamediamediamediamedia
choosing a writing support
making quires and sheets
preparing the page
copying the text
correcting the text
decorating the book
binding the book
using the book
> Choosing a Writing Support > Parchment

Dead Cows

What was once a calf, sheep or goat frolicking grazing in the meadow, may
now be a page in a manuscript. That is not a bad way to go. It is a strange experience leafing through a medieval book, knowing that you are
touching an animal that stopped breathing over 500 years ago.
Sometimes the page shows the tiny dots where the hairs
once grew, as in this image. Up to c. 1300 books in
Europe were almost exclusively made from animal skin.
Then scribes started to use paper, tempted as they
were by the lower cost of the material.

However, parchment was regarded as the more durable
of the two: "If you want a real book, use parchment,"
was the sentiment in the streets, which is why some
scribes, particularly monks, were hesitant to use paper
as default material. When in c. 1450 the printing press
arrived, animal skin quickly became obsolete, although
the trend was already set half a century earlier.