Numerous times in my life, I have been commissioned by one member of my family or another to produce some authentic-looking yellowed paper, and it can be suprisingly tricky to produce something convincing. Here's a few steps on the way to perfection:

Step One: Yellowing the paper

Take a sheet of white paper in any size. You can do this with normal paper, or thicker paper for a more convincing feel, if that's important for your purpose. Coated "shiny" paper is somewhat less effective because it doesn't absorb the colour. Ouroboros suggests the use of paper without a watermark, or the endpages cut from a book of the appropriate age.

Take a few used teabags and a cup of water. Submerge one of the teabags in the the water, and wet another just enough to produce a little of that brown tea-stain fluid. Wipe the first bag over a piece of test paper until it no longer produces puddles of water but is still leaving a healthy trail of brown stain.

Now stroke this bag across the desired paper, in a horizontal motion, until it stops producing the stain. You can now wet the teabag again, or use a new one if the old one isn't producing solid streaks or is splitting. Use the other teabag that was only slightly wet to clean up any parts that you over-saturate or to touch up any mistakes. Repeat the wetting process until the whole page is covered in horizontal streaks, which will still be easily visible as discontinuous streaks at this stage.

You now have a choice. For quickest results, dry the page with a hairdryer until it is crisp and dry; this will probably result in some curling of the page, although this is not always undesirable. Alternatively, leave it to dry by itself, which takes longer but you are unlikely to curl the paper. You could also dry it on top of an Aga, if you have one, which is something of a compromise. If it's not dried properly, the paper begins to go transparent in places and the end results looks messy.

Now streak the paper again, at various angles to the original streaks. You should eventually be left with an equal, browny-yellow tone all over the page. When you have applied sufficient layers to get the colour you desire, leave it to dry one more time.

Step Two: Making the edges

There's plenty of opportunity for personalising your paper here. You can leave the edges completely straight, which is especially useful if you plan to print straight onto the paper. Otherwise, you can cut the edges into all manner of jagged shapes or smooth curves, to simulate good ol' parchment. Bear in mind when doing this, the limitations of the next step.

Step Three: Shading the edges

If you have straight edges or only gently curved ones, you can run the edge of the paper along the hot plate of an Aga to make it turn black. However, if you don't have access to an Aga or you have very variagated edges, the best solution is to take a lighter and light the edge of the paper, allow it to burn for a few seconds, then blow it out. Move along the edge of the paper, lighting each section and blowing it out. This can be extremely time consuming, but it looks totally convincing when finished.

There you have it! This obviously takes practice, but once you get it you can have pretty convincing parchment without buying the real (and very expensive) item.

Update: Ouroboros also suggests using a mixture of coffee and orange juice as a replacement for tea. GangstaFeelsGood also suggests lightly brushing milk onto the paper and then carefully baking them in the oven, watching to ensure you get the brown colour you desire.

Back when I was playing Dungeons and Dragons, I used to make rather nifty maps for the players on special quests.

This is how I made them:

  1. Start out with a regular paper bag, thinner ones tend to work better. Cut out a section that will not have creases or overlaid edges.
  2. Soak them in instant coffee or iodine. The cheaper the better.
  3. Dry them using an oven or the top of a woodstove. This gives you interesting random mis-colored areas.
  4. Draw your map or add your text using waterproof India ink and a quill or nib. I've made maps that were 6 inches by 4 inches, and it took me a couple of days at this stage. Take your time.
  5. Reheat the paper to make sure the ink is dried.
  6. Using cheap cooking oil, lightly coat the paper on both sides. Don't soak it - put on a light layer so it is absorbed by the paper. You may need several light coats with thick paper.
  7. Reheat the paper.
  8. Fold the paper as if it were to be stored in a pocket or pouch.
  9. Put it (folded) in a paper bag and place a large weight on top of it. The paper bag will absorb the excess oil, and the weight will also help to set your folds. I used to use a 55lb anvil on a Franklin woodstove. Make sure you don't make the woodstove or oven too hot, or combustion will take place!
  10. After a day, re-fold the creases in the opposite direction and repeat the above step. Do this process until you're satisfied.
  11. You may want to put burned spots or burn the edges. My best maps have this.

Some of the maps I came up with look very authentic. I've had them over 20 years, and they still look great.

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