parchment, untanned skins of animals, especially of the sheep, calf, and goat, prepared for use as a writing material. The name is a corruption of Pergamum, the ancient city of Asia Minor where preparation of parchment suitable for use on both sides was achieved in the 2d cent. B.C. Parchment, which is more durable than papyrus and susceptible of being folded into book form, very gradually superseded papyrus. In Europe it gave way to paper for use in books only after the advent of printing. The skins were soaked in water, treated with lime to loosen the hair, scraped, washed, stretched, and dried, and then rubbed with chalk and pumice stone. A fine grade prepared from the skin of the calf or kid became known as vellum, a name applied during the Middle Ages to any parchment used in manuscripts. For important manuscripts vellum was often dyed purple. Parchment is still used for certain documents and diplomas, for bookbindings and lampshades, and for the heads of drums, tambourines, and banjos. Vegetable parchment is paper treated to make it tough, translucent, and impervious to water.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.