Resources

A History of Parchment & Leather

Pergamena has played a significant role in the history of parchment and leather, and we are proud to carry centuries-old methods and traditions into the future. If you’re interested in learning more about our story — and how it fits into the broader history of parchments and leathers — check out the timeline below.
Pergamena milestones are featured in gold boxes while parchment and leather highlights are presented in silver.
Dirty Jobs

2007–2008

Mike Rowe and the crew at Discovery Channel’s Dirty Jobs, a television show that highlights the messiest vocations around, visit Pergamena. They film an episode all about the mess that comes along with tanning leathers. A year or so later, Dirty Jobs returns to Montgomery, N.Y., and films a second episode that focuses on the parchment-making process.

Ellen Sigunik

2006

Ellen Sigunik begins working with Jesse Meyer. Inspired by the work of Jean-Michel Frank, she starts developing parchment paneling for use in interior panels and furniture design. Before long, her applied designs (using leather and parchment) come in many forms, ranging from room partitions to stationery sets.

Pergamena Founded

1999

Pergamena is founded under its parent company, Richard E. Meyer & Sons. Pergamena becomes the first new North American commercial parchment producer in generations.

Mexico

1990–2005

Large scale American tanneries that survived the industry decline in the US move in large numbers to Mexico and Central America to take advantage of lower labor costs and less environmental controls while still being close to U.S. markets.

Jesse Meyer

1980

Karl Meyer moves the tannery from North Bergen, N.J., to Montgomery, N.Y. This brings an end to a 124-year run in northern New Jersey.

Africa

1972–1973

The third world stops exporting raw material (i.e. untanned hides) to the West and begins setting up tannery industries of their own. With the help of state sponsorship, countries like Nigeria and Sudan develop value-added, finished leathers for sale to the world market.

Jesse Meyer

1967–1971

The tannery joins forces with the counterculture by producing leather for hippie belts. This venture is a wild success — until other tanneries invade the market, that is. In the early ’70s, this business dried up overnight and the tannery nearly closed.

Leather Apparel

1960–1970

Leather apparel sees a large increase in popularity among contemporary designers.

Bowling Shoes

1948

Leslie Lind, a U.S. soldier who injured his foot during the war, develops orthopedic shoes using Meyer leather. Not long after, the Lind Shoe Company begins producing professional leather-soled bowling shoes. Meyer & Sons provides the leather until 2007, when leather is replaced with synthetic materials.

R.E. Meyer

1936

R.E. Meyer buys back the tannery and reopens its doors. The primary business in the years prior to World War II consists of various leathers for pianos and sheepskin leather for coat linings.

Wet Blue

1928

Chrome tanning begins to replace vegetable tannage as the favored process because it is quicker, more stable, and results in a soft, stretchy leather perfect for upholstery and clothing articles. Often referred to as “wet blue“ because it has a bluish cast and can be shipped and processed wet, chrome tanning is still used today.

Walter Meyer

1910

Walter Meyer is born.

Piano

1875–1932

This was the golden age of the piano, when dozens of piano manufacturers operated in the U.S. The R.E. Meyer & Sons tannery supplied buckskin leather to many of them.

Meyer Family

1856

The Meyer family relocates to Glahnville (now North Bergen) in northern New Jersey. The family moves, in part, to take the tannery close to Steinway & Sons, who thereafter use Meyer leather in their pianos.

Constitution

1776

The U.S. Constitution is initially drafted on paper, but the final document is written on animal-skin parchment. The Declaration of Independence had been written on parchment as well.

Shakespeare

1603

William Shakespeare, the son of a glove leather tanner, published Hamlet, which includes the following exchange:
Hamlet: Is not parchment made of sheepskin?
Horatio: Aye, my lord, and calves’ skins too.

Gutenberg

1452

The Gutenberg Bible, produced in Germany, becomes the first book printed on the printing press, ushering in the era of mass book production. Forty-five of the 180 copies were printed on parchment. Eleven of these are still known to exist today.

Magna Carta

1215

The Magna Carta is written on calfskin parchment and signed by King John of Britain.

Cordoba

711

Cordoba, in Spain, becomes the global center of leather production when Moorish conquerers bring tanning methods with them. From this, we now have the terms “Cordovan leather” and “Spanish leather.”

Eumenes II

197–158 BC

During the reign of Eumenes II, the Kingdom of Pergamon (in Asia Minor) perfects the production of parchment as an alternative to papyrus. Pergamon is the namesake of parchment: “Pergamena” became “perkament,” which translates to “parchment.”

Papyrus

3100 BC

The papyrus plant is pioneered as a writing surface in Ancient Egypt. It’s the writing surface of choice until around 800 AD.

Ancient

5500–4500 BC

Cultures in modern-day Pakistan and Egypt leave behind evidence of tanning.

Jesse Meyer

2007

Meyer & Sons builds on research involving vegetable-tanned leathers to begin offering goatskin and calfskin leathers for bookbinding and upholstery. This same year, Steinway & Sons piano company discontinues its use of buckskin leather, bringing an end to its 151-year partnership with Meyer & Sons.

Luxery Goods

2005–Present

Remaining tanneries and related industries in the U.S. must concentrate on very specialized and/or upscale markets to stay in business. Products have applications for high end design and luxury goods.

Jesse Meyer

1995

After graduating from college, Jesse Meyer starts working with raw animal skins. Before long, he begins making parchment, even as he works full time with his father tanning leather.

Leather

1980s

The leather tanning industry sees steep declines in the U.S. Among the reasons for this: technological advancements in the developing world; increased environmental restrictions; and the rising popularity of synthetic alternatives.

Jesse Meyer

1972–1978

As part of war reparations, the U.S. government exports the tanning industry to Korea. American hides are sent to Korea for free or very cheaply, and training is provided to help South Korea develop their own industry. Korea remains a large leather producer today.

Jesse Meyer

1972

Jesse Meyer, the driving force behind Pergamena’s parchment-making, is born. This is also the year that Karl Meyer assumes control of the tannery from his father, Walter.

Leather

1970s

Leather finishing makes large advances in technology and efficiency, allowing for consolidation of process under one roof and within one company. Lower grade leather can be salvaged and improved upon which helps expand cheaper markets for leather goods and upholstery.

Gloves

1958–1972

“Handwork” or glove production, declines in United States. For decades, glove leather manufacture and glove production is a major American industry. However, the rise of unions in the 1950s leads to increased overhead costs of handwork and the industry eventually relocates to Asia, where labor is much less costly.

Sheepskin

1939–1945

Sheepskin supplies from London are virtually halted due to the dangers associated with international shipping. In 1944, shipping and supply issues cause the Meyer tannery to close for the remainder of World War II. Soon after, Walter Meyer is drafted.

Depression

1935

During the Great Depression, R.E. Meyer & Sons tannery is foreclosed on for back taxes.

Pergamena Founded

1920s

Designers like Bugatti and Frank popularized the use of parchment in art deco style furniture and interiors. This is still the most recognized and reproduced aesthetic in parchment design today.

Frank

1895

French interior designer Jean-Michel Frank is born. He eventually develops a reputation for using unusual materials in minimal but luxurious furniture and interior designs. Frank popularizes the use of parchment as a surface material.

Richard

1875

Richard E. (R.E.) Meyer is born. He becomes the first American-born tanner in the Meyer family.

Steinway

1853

Steinway & Sons piano company is founded in New York City and soon becomes a client of the Meyer family.

Lynn

1623

The first tannery in the American colonies is founded in Lynn, Mass.

Germany

1550

Records indicate that the Meyer family is involved in tanning in Eisenberg, East Thuringia, which is today part of east-central Germany. Their leather products most likely included lederhosen, which was traditionally made with chamois-tanned deerskin or deerskin tanned in fermented oil.

Marco Polo

1270

During his travels, Marco Polo documents Russia leather, which is tanned with birch bark, lending Russia leather its characteristic smell and beneficial archival qualities

North Africa

1000

In North Africa, the Moors produce Moroccan leather using goatskins with vegetable matter as a tanning agent. This becomes the standard bookbinding leather several centuries later.

Lindisfarne Gospels

700 AD

The Lindisfarne Gospels, the oldest existing version of the biblical Gospels, were written and illuminated on parchment.

Egyptians

2600–2000 BC

Leather scrolls and parchment are used by Ancient Egyptians to record writings.

Bronze Age

3300 BC

A Bronze Age hunter dies in the Alps. In 1991, when his body is discovered, this hunter still has leather items with him.

Tanned Garments

8000 BC

Tanned garments are rendered in cave paintings in Lerida, Spain.