Intern Insights: Vellum

Hello! My name is Brooke Jackson and I am a graduate student at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville where I am majoring in Information Sciences. I have been interning at the Vanderbilt Special Collections, and during my time as an intern I have been working with rare books. Many of the books are hundreds of years old, the oldest being from 1596!

One of the most interesting qualities about the books is that many of them contain vellum, which is animal skin or hide (typically calf skin) that has been dried and stretched. Vellum had a variety of uses and was often used in bookbinding, where it could be used to cover a wooden or cardboard core or alone without any backing. Vellum is thin, durable, and manufactured in a manner similar to leather. The animal skin is cleaned, soaked, placed on a frame, stretched, scraped and dried.

Vellum has a long history, it can be traced back to Egyptian times and was commonly used in the Middle Ages, where it was used on medieval manuscripts. Before canvas became the norm for artists, vellum was also used for paintings through the 1500-1700s. In today’s time, vellum is rarely used because of the cost and its complicated manufacturing process, however, British Acts of Parliament and the Republic of Ireland are still printed on vellum for archival purposes.

Here are a couple of YouTube videos that shows the process of making Vellum!

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