There’s No Place Like Home

Flipping through the pages of the Divine Comedy, it’s simply easy to find beauty. The poetic language that flows off the tongue, the gorgeous illustrations that bring those words to life, and even the aesthetic italics used to tell the enchanting story…all beautiful. But the truth is, these things would be absolutely useless without a place to put it all. Where would the words go? Where would the pictures dance? Where would the text call home? Where would you print this wonderful story if you didn’t have an all-important canvas: paper!

In order to print a book, you obviously need a place to put the ink. There were three main things used during the printing of my Baby, so I thought it would be interesting to discuss the differences between them. The first one is paper. Paper is made by a fairly simple process of beating, casting, couching, and press drying. Through these series of steps, plant fibers are transformed into the silky white sheets that we are accustomed to seeing in our modern day books.

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The second item used was parchment. Parchment is a general term for an animal skin, usually calf, goat, or sheep skin, which has been prepared for printing. To make parchment, the skin is removed from the animal, the hair is cleaned away, and the material is stretched over a wooden frame. The parchment is scraped, wetted, and dried many times to create the perfect amount of tightness. Parchment was usually used instead of paper for important documents such as public laws, land records, and religious texts. The third popular item used in printing, vellum, is a type of parchment specifically made from calf skin.

The invention of these three materials made printing books possible. Without them, there would only be words in someone’s head, paint left in a pallet, and ink stuck in a pen. Paper gave them a home, a place to go. And that is beautiful.

National Archives, 2012. The difference between parchment, vellum, and paper. http://www.archives.gov/preservation/formats/paper-vellum.html

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