Parchment (Lat. pergamena), the skins of sheep and other animals, prepared in sheets to render them fit for being written upon. Parchment was known at a very early period, and the manufacture of it is said to have been improved if not originated by Eumenes II., king of Pergamus (who reigned 197-159 B. C), whence its name. According to Herodotus, the ancient Ionians wrote on skins many ages before that time, and it is certain that its use was common in Egypt ages before the time of Eumenes. The early Arabs inscribed their poetry and compositions on the shoulder bones of sheep; but after their conquests in Asia and Africa they so profited by the inventions of the nations they subdued, that parchment was manufactured in Syria, Arabia, and Egypt, which in color and delicacy might vie with our modern paper. The ancients generally wrote only on one side of their parchment; but so valuable was it, that they not unfrequently erased the writing and used it a second time. To the present day no substitute has been found for a variety of purposes to which it is applied. The finer sorts of parchment called vellum, used for important writings, as deeds, wills, etc, are manufactured from the skins of calves, kids, and still-born lambs.
The heavier parchment for drum heads is made from the skins of asses, older calves, wolves, and goats. All these are similarly prepared. The skin, being freed from the hair, is placed in a lime pit to cleanse it from fat. The pelt is then stretched upon a frame, care being taken that the surface be perfectly free from wrinkles, and dressed with knives, scrapers, and pumice stone. The skin is dried gradually, tightening being occasionally required. If traces of grease remain, it must be replaced in the lime pit for a week or ten days, and again stretched and dried. A green color is given to parchment by a solution made with 30 parts of crystallized acetate of copper and 8 of bitartrate of potassa in 500 of distilled water, 4 parts of nitric acid being added when the mixture is cold. The parchment being moistened, this preparation is applied with a brush, and the polish is given by white of egg or mucilage of gum arabic. - Paper or vegetable parchment is a remarkable substance, first noticed in 1847 by Poumarede and Figuier, who called it papyrine. No practical application was made of the discovery till 1857, when it was patented in England by W. E. Game. The material is manufactured in large quantities by De la Rue and co.
It is made by dipping unsized paper for a few seconds in a mixture of equal volumes of strong sulphuric acid and water. Complete success requires attention to the strength of the mixture, which must also be allowed to cool before the paper is dipped in it. Paper parchment is used for legal and other documents and maps, for connecting laboratory apparatus, covering preserve jars, and various other purposes.