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Chapter 23 - Slips, Strips, and Scraps: Scholarly Notes

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 February 2021

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Summary

While the medieval examples of ephemeral artifacts discussed in Chapter 22 involved paper, other examples, explored here, were made from parchment. In the Middle Ages, such slips were called schedulae (singular schedula). The ones discussed here were in essence the by-product of parchment production. While the waste material became used for the production of small books, which can be recognized by their uneven pages (Figure 94) and translucent patches (see Figure 4 at p. 9), the scraps were particularly popular for note-taking. Before exploring a rare surviving scholarly note that I happened upon by chance in the collections of Leiden University Library, let's first explore how the material itself came to be.

From Skin to Parchment

In order to make an animal skin into parchment, it needed (among other steps) to be stretched taut on a frame. This stretching, combined with the natural shape of the animal's body, resulted in very uneven edges. The longer sides were slightly narrower in the middle where the animal's stomach had been, which gave them an elongated dent, while the shorter sides had various smaller dents around the locations where the head, tail, and legs had been. The edges needed to be removed to make a tidy sheet to write on. What was left over when this job was done were small pieces of parchment, called offcuts (see Figure 94 and the General Introduction, p. 8).

The strips were not only deemed unsuitable for book-making because of their odd size (long and skinny), but they were also riddled with deficiencies, such as stains, discolouration, and translucent patches, either by virtue of their location on the animal's body, or because of the stretching process. Unwieldy as they were, such “offcuts” were primarily acceptable for texts of limited length that did not need to look spiffy, such as notes, short draft texts, letters, horoscopes, wills, or addenda attached to charters.2 When used as a writing support, offcuts have an informal air about them, which is also reflected by the grade of script with which they are filled.

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Books Before Print , pp. 183 - 188
Publisher: Amsterdam University Press
Print publication year: 2018

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