Vellum (from the Old French Vélin, for "calfskin") is mammal skin prepared for writing or printing on, to produce single pages, scrolls, codices or books. It is generally smooth and durable, although there are great variations depending on preparation, the quality of the skin and the type of animal used. The manufacture involves the cleaning, bleaching, stretching on a frame, and scraping of the skin with a hemispherical knife. To create tension, scraping is alternated by wetting and drying. A final finish may be achieved by abrading the surface with pumice, and treating with a preparation of lime or chalk to make it accept writing or printing ink. Modern "paper vellum" (vegetable vellum) is used for a variety of purposes, especially for plans, technical drawings, and blueprints.
Material and manufacture
There is some confusion about the relationship between the words vellum and parchment. In Europe, from Roman times, the term vellum was used for the best quality of prepared skin, regardless of the animal from which the hide was obtained, calf, sheep, and goat all being commonly used (other animals, including pig, deer, donkey, horse, or camel have been used). Although the term derives from the French for "calf", except for Muslim or Jewish use, animal vellum can include hide from virtually any other mammal. The best quality, "uterine vellum", was said to be made from the skins of stillborn or unborn animals, although the term was also applied to fine quality skins made from young animals.
Vellum is a translucent material produced from the skin, often split, of a young animal that has been soaked, limed, and scudded (a depilatory process), and then dried at normal temperature under tension, usually on a wooden device called a stretching frame. The distinction between vellum and parchment has been made in several different ways, and no one definition can be considered correct, but vellum has always denoted the better quality. French sources, closer to the original etymology, tend to define velin as from calf only, while the British Standards Institution defines parchment as made from the split skin of several species, and vellum from the unsplit skin. The important distinction between vellum (or parchment) and leather is that the former is not processed using tanning.
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