Before computers and even before typewriters, most documents were hand-written. Letters, contracts and notes were all recorded by hand. Contracts have been executed since the days of Charlemagne (742-814) - perhaps even before. Because of the importance of agreement by the two parties involved in a contract, it became quite important to record what the agreement actually was.
An indenture is a legal contract between two parties. Such contracts were generally for indentured labor or servitude, apprenticeships and certain land transactions. At first, such important documents were printed on sheepskin vellum, as paper making had not reached Europe until well into the middle ages. And, many Europeans did not accept paper as worthy, and did care for its impermanence. Many heads of state refused to honor anything written on paper.
Finally, with the dawn of the printing press around in the 15th century, the use of paper became more widespread. However due to the importance of indentures, and the possibility that the contract might have spanned generations, indentures were executed on vellum through the 19th century, and, in some rare instances, beyond.
The process of writing an indenture was tedious. Two copies of exactly the same terms were written on the same sheet in permanent ink by dip pen. Then the two copies were separated by cutting along a jagged (as if chewed) line. Later, the two parts could easily be identified if the they fit back together along the separation - like puzzle pieces. The jagged, or toothed, edge is called an indenture. In some cases there were 3 pieces, one piece to be kept at the court.
These small pieces of legal indentures are from legal contracts made between 1750 and 1890. We have a collection of contracts, influenced by my Mom's background as a librarian. Several of the pieces in our collection arrived in very poor condition, so we felt comfortable creating collage pieces from them. Each piece has been cut carefully into about 2 inch square pieces. Some are a touch larger. All incorporate some of the writing originally on the indenture. No two of these are alike, so please let us choose a fragment for you.