The Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies at Penn brings manuscript culture, modern technology and people together.

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Penn Parchment Project: Sampling Process

Since the summer, the University of Pennsylvania library has been taking samples of many of its manuscripts to send to the University of York for collagen analysis. By analyzing the collagen in the samples, the team at York can determine what type of animal the parchment is from (typically goat, sheep, or cow, less commonly however other animals, even rabbit). Over the summer, we published a series of videos inviting people to guess what animals our manuscripts were made from. In the brief video below Kevin Lee, Rare Book Cataloging Assistant, demonstrates for Dot Porter, Curator for Digital Research Services, the process for taking non-invasive samples from the parchment.

Unfortunately, the University of York has not received continued funding for this project, so the University of Pennsylvania will not be sending more samples at this time. However, we do look forward to the analysis of those samples we have already sent. We will share the findings here as soon as we have them!

Previous Penn Parchment Project posts:

Manuscript Monday: Introducing the Penn Parchment Project

Manuscript Monday: Penn MS Codex 1065

Manuscript Monday: Penn MS Codex 1329

Manuscript Monday: LJS 204

Manuscript Monday: Penn MS Codex 236

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Pergamena Presentations at SIMS

On September 11, 2013, the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies welcomed Stephen Meyer from Pergamena parchment makers ( The Meyer family has been making leather and parchment since the sixteenth century. Stephen came to SIMS to present on his family’s work and to demonstrate how parchment is made. Following the formal presentation he led a hands-on demonstration which included sheets of parchment made from several different animals, large and small.

The presentation announcement read:

Hailing from 16th-century Germany, the Meyer family stems from a 500-year history of working in the tanning industry.  20 years ago, Jesse Meyer rediscovered the all but forgotten material, parchment, while experimenting with different uses and production methods for the animal skins used to make leather.  After finding that this material was not only still useful for many applications, but also in demand by the conservation, restoration, binding, and calligraphic arts communities, he set about refining and expanding his parchment production, starting Pergamena in the process.  Today, Pergamena produces many different types of parchment for dozens of niche industries that still utilize the versatile material.  And while times and technology may have changed from when its early days, our parchment production methods remain largely similar, with much of the process still being done by hand with basic chemicals, simple but elegant tools, and a little mechanical ingenuity.

Thank you to Stephen for coming to present and for agreeing to let us post recordings of his presentation and demonstration online!

Video from the presentation:

Part 1: Introduction

Part 2: Slide presentation

Part 3: Parchment creation demonstration

Part 4: Post-presentation parchment demonstration

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18th Century Mss at Penn: MS Coll 624

In this video, Schoenberg Institute Scholar in Residence Mitch Fraas discusses several manuscript petitions from Penn Manuscript Collection 624. The finding aid for the collection is available online at, however the collection has not been digitized.

This collection consists of papers relating to the governorship of George Macartney (1737-1806) at Madras on the southeastern coast of what is now India (modern-day Chennai). The documents discussed in the video come from box 22 of the collection which houses a number of petitions and other ephemeral correspondence with Macartney. The petitions in the video include ones from a guild of local barbers, a group of European officers, and a mixed assortment of Madras residents. Documents like these petitions help give us a glimpse of how everyday residents of colonial cities like Madras interacted with governmental bodies like the East India Company administration led by Macartney. The material form of petitions also provides clues about their production – whether copied and composed by a professional scribe, scrawled by a petitioner herself, or filled out in templated fashion.