Correction: At the time of publication, we incorrectly stated that Wabash College continued the tradition of printing their diplomas on sheepskin. They discontinued use for the spring 2020 graduates after 187 years.
Framed, rolled, or in a booklet, there’s many ways to display a diploma -- the coveted evidence of educational credentials, but did you know they weren’t always made of paper? Yes, diplomas were once widely made of sheepskin!
Originating in the Middle Ages, the idea of sheepskin diplomas came as a convenient way for scholars to travel with their credentials, something that was commonplace. The material provided unmatched durability and allowed graduates to roll and unroll it countless times without running the risk of breaking, unlike its popular document-sharing counterpart, papyrus.
It became a tradition and the popularity peaked in the 1950s/60s when prices skyrocketed after a drought in England caused a shortage of quality sheep (rainy weather is their friend). Since then, the art form saw a steep decline with the introduction of technology, and with graduates mostly choosing to enshrine their diplomas framed on a wall, the durability of rolling a diploma became less of a concern. Additionally, many colleges have opted for larger diplomas, providing more of a statement piece, and sheepskin is known for shrinking once exposed to heat or humidity. Despite the shift, Wabash College in Indiana continues with the tradition, giving students sheepskin diplomas with handwritten calligraphy in Latin since its inception in 1832.
Today, you’ll find that most colleges in the US have moved to using parchment paper, which is a relief to sheep everywhere.
Is your diploma made of sheepskin? Did you even know that was an option?! Let us know in the comments!