Is it real sheepskin?


SPFG, Supreme Picture Framing God
Jun 11, 2004
Edwardsburg, MI
I have a 1996 Masters Diploma that I'm fixing for a customer because of slipage. I opened up the diploma and found it was sandwiched between two pieces of glass, unmounted. I'm reasonably sure this is not proper treatment for anything, but how can I tell if it is real sheepskin or, in Frank Zappa's terms, a Sears sheepskin. ("Is that a real poncho, or a Sears ponch?").

I think the date gives it away somewhat and it looks too even to be real. Does any school in the United States still use (as of 1996) real sheepskin. I don't think I would be as concerned except that the original framer must have thought it was sheepskin to have mishandled this way.

I think it is a heavy weight semi-translucent-aged looking paper vellum, but...

Does anyone know of a test to determine whether or not it's a simulated sheepskin or the real McCoy?

I had planned on hinging it with Lineco's Mulberry Paper tape, but that wouldn't be good if it is sheepskin, would it...


Dave Makielski

Try chewing on a corner and ............. no, that wouldn't be the FACTS way of doing it!!!

To answer your question about whether they still use real sheepskin, yes, it is still used by a number of the Ivy League colleges and others. Some charge up to $75 for a real sheepskin giving a parchment paper diploma for free if you are a vegetarian or are part of a PETA group.

Hugh may be able to guide you to testing it but I would think that it would have a certain "feel" that paper wouldn't have. All of the vellum and sheepskin documents I have had in my shop had that look and feel of real hide. (Plus the owners told me that they were real.)

There have been some other discussions on the Grumble in the past about handling and mounting sheepskin and vellum. Try a search and see what you find.

I think you can usually see "pores" in real sheepskin - tiny dots - just like on your skin! I also haven't seen any schools using real sheepskin for many years - but maybe all my customers go to cheap schools! LOL!

I'm sure Hugh or Rebecca can give you a real answer.
Some schools still do use sheepskin/vellum*. Rice, for instance.

To test it:

1. Hold it up to the light and look for pores from where the poor animal's wool or fur was once attached.

2. It will have an oily or waxy feel to it.

3. If all else fails, try the pin test. Use a pin at the very edge and try to "pick" at it in a tiny spot. If you see fibers come up, it's paper. Skin won't have fibers. Of course, do this only with the cutomer's permission.

* There is a difference between parchment and vellum, although they've come to be used interchangabley. (sp?) One is made from sheepskin, the other from calfskin. I can never keep them straight though.
I appreciate all your help...gonna get at it now...

Dave Makielski

That would be too easy!

Good thought because I'm still not 100% sure it's not a synthetic material.

By the way...the schools searching for a new head "pigskin" coach. Can ya' guess which school?

I'll deal with it Monday.


Dave Makielski
Some schools still do use sheepskin/vellum*. Rice, for instance.
I believe vellum is the cow - parchment/sheepskin is the sheep. You can recognize Wisconsin vellum because it is white with big black spots.

Dave, when I graduated from Rice, they gave us 6"x8" diplomas. I think they were photocopied on newsprint. A customer came in about ten years later with the only "recent" sheepskin I've ever seen, and it was HUGE, and it was from Rice. I was tempted to put it in the heat press so it would be the same size as the one I got.

I wonder what they gave Leslie.
I got a perfectly enormous sheepskin, it cost so much to frame it I decided I'd better become a framer and make the BIG bucks! :D
I guess some parents thought a 6 x 8 was a little winky for what the danged thing cost, and complained!
I think my son Andy will be getting one from there in about four years (I hope!), so I'll get back to you...
Animal skins are extremely hygroscopic, so you don’t want to do this; but, if you wet your finger tips and gently rub the edge or the corner of the document it will feel “slimy” if it is sheepskin or vellum.
Y'all might learn? something by reading this little description on mounting and framing "sheepskins". It was compiled by a frameshop in Virginia and makes very interesting if not controversial reading.


Disclaimer: I offer this URL for your viewing pleasure only. I do not condone any methods or recommendations made therein.
Ack! Ack! Boo! Hiss!

"After about ten minutes, the museum-quality mounting should be completed." Museum?? What museum does this?

"CAUTION: Over-wetting the diploma by applying too much paste or getting paste on the front of the diploma can cause irreparable damage." Then don't do it.

What chaps my butt about these instruction sheets is that the customer assumes we're idiots if we don't follow those directions. Ugh.

I re-framed my diploma lat year. About a 5-inch wide double mat with fillet and a big honkin' frame. It's obnoxiously big. But of course the diploma itself is about 16 x 14 to begin with, and that's after coming in on it a good bit. It's sort of a HEY LOOK AT ME I HAVE A DEGREE kind of thing.
As was mentioned, pores are the tell tale sign.
When will these Universities realize that paper
was invented 1900 years ago and that flattened
animal sinks do not stay flat unless they are kept
under pressure, as they were in ancient manuscripts? All mounting is very risky and experience is to gain, since there is nothing to
practice on. Preservation mounting relies on very
carefully applied hinges that are passed through
the back mat so they can be pulled, snug, onto
its back side; but this does not ensure flatness.

I have a 1996 Masters Diploma that I'm fixing for a customer because of slipage. I opened up the diploma and found it was sandwiched between two pieces of glass, unmounted. ...

I recently took apart two old diplomas (circa 1920) and found the following:

One was mounted the "regular" way, which is to say stuffed in the frame with no hinging. It had collapsed and is terminally wadded up.

The other one was pressed between two pieces of glass and inserted into the frame. When we took it apart, it looked as good as the day it was minted. Maybe we might be wrong on framing parchment?