The Chinese discovered that if they pounded wood pulp along with old rags and hemp, then boiled the mixture, the result was more stable and could be folded or rolled up without damage. This processed paper became popular and used for many purposes, including hats and wrapping paper. Marco Polo records his surprise at finding rich Chinese using toilet paper.
Meanwhile, in medieval Europe, parchment and vellum were the preferred materials. Both parchment and vellum are made from the skins of animals, but vellum, made from young calves, was considered the finer material. Real parchment, carefully manufactured, can last for thousands of years. The Magna Carta, for example, was written on sheepskin parchment and signed by King John in 1215. Eight hundred years later, four copies still remain in excellent condition.
Like papyrus and Chinese paper, parchment making was a long, labor-intensive process, and the final product was expensive. So the scribes who used the parchment learned how to recycle it. Since the ink was usually made from vegetable dyes, they found it possible to scrape it off. The scribes would carefully scrape away the old writing, leaving the surface clean and ready for new writing. We know this because today we have x-ray machines that can pick up traces of the old writing.
So today when you write a note on a piece of scrap paper or throw away an old receipt, try to remember the days when paper was an extremely valuable item…almost as valuable as the words written on it.