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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Manuscript Monday: Penn MS Codex 236

This week’s entry for the Penn Parchment Project is MS Codex 236, thought to be from France, and dated to ca. 1235-1240. It is a Vulgate Bible, including prologues by Jerome and the Prayer of Manasseh, and is illuminated throughout. To find out more about the manuscript and to view a full digital facsimile visit http://hdl.library.upenn.edu/1017/d/medren/1551791.


A short video showing some sample pages from the manuscript.

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A close-up of the folio from which our sample was taken.

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A complete opening.

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The ms is about nine inches high.


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Manuscript Monday: LJS 204

The fourth entry for the Penn Parchment Project is LJS 204, an Italian manuscript dated from 1509. It is an introduction and compilation of astrological tables calculated for the Jewish calendar and the longitude and latitude of Tarascon, Provence, the home of the author, Immanuel ben Jacob Bonfils. To find out more about the manuscript (although a full digitized version is not available) visit http://hdl.library.upenn.edu/1017/d/medren/5316112.


A short video showing some sample pages from the manuscript.

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A close-up of the folio from which our sample was taken.

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The ms is about seven inches high.


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Manuscript Monday: Penn MS Codex 1329

The third entry for the Penn Parchment Project is MS Codex 1329, an Italian manuscript dated from between 1200 and about 1230. It is a commentary on the Song of Solomon. The shapes in the margins present the biblical lemmata in decorated circles and triangles, while the main text of the manuscript presents the commentary itself. To find out more about the manuscript, and to view a full digital facsimile, visit http://hdl.library.upenn.edu/1017/d/medren/4439968.


A short video showing some sample pages from the manuscript.

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A close-up of the folio from which our sample was taken.

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The ms is a bit shorter than six inches.


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Manuscript Monday: Penn MS Codex 1065

The second entry for the Penn Parchment Project is MS Codex 1065, an English (perhaps?) Bible dated from between 1240 and 1250. To find out more about the manuscript, and to view a full digital facsimile (including high-resolution images) visit http://hdl.library.upenn.edu/1017/d/medren/4170457.

A short video showing some sample pages from the manuscript.

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A not very close-up of the folio from which our sample was taken. You can also see that the book is about 7 inches high.

Goatskin, calfskin, sheepskin, or something else? What’s your guess?


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Manuscript Monday: Introducing the Penn Parchment Project

We are pleased to announce the Penn Parchment Project, a collaboration between SIMS and a team at the University of York Department of Archaeology. The team at York is working to produce a “rapid, inexpensive, and non-destructive method of species identification based on collagen analysis.” (See http://www.york.ac.uk/archaeology/staff/research-staff/fiddyment/#research for more information)

Over the next several months, Penn will be sending dozens of samples to York for testing. Will Noel, the director of SIMS and the Special Collections Center (and a world renowned expert in medieval manuscripts) will be guessing the source for a small selection of these samples, and we invite others interested in manuscripts, both professionals and students, to join in the game.

Every week, we’ll post a few photos and a short video of one manuscript, pointing out any features that might help determine the animal source of the parchment (differences between hair and flesh side, indications of the size of the sheets, suppleness). Post guesses in the comments area here on the blog. Let us know if you need more information – we can always post more photos if needed.

The first entry for the Penn Parchment Project is LJS 26, an Italian manuscript dated from between 1225 and 1275. It is a mathematical treatise. To find out more about the manuscript, and to view a full digital facsimile, visit http://hdl.library.upenn.edu/1017/d/medren/4646348.

A short video showing some notable folios in the manuscript.

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A close-up of a folio from LJS 26. This is the folio sampled for the project.

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Will Noel checking out the parchment in LJS 26.

Will has made his guess. What’s yours?