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 Modern Ink Backgrounds

True Paper

[This is taken from David N. Carvalho's Forty Centuries of Ink, originally published in 1904.]

Victorian stationery box


WHEN it was that the great change occurred and true paper made of fibrous matter or rags reduced to a pulp in water was invented has been a subject of considerable thought and investigation. Munsell, in his “Chronology of Paper and Paper-Making,” credits it to the Chinese, and estimates its date to be included in the first century of the Christian era. He observes:

“The Chinese paper is commonly supposed to be made of silk; but this is a mistake. Silk by itself cannot be reduced to a pulp suitable for making paper. Refuse silk is said to be occasionally used with other ingredients, but the greater part of the Chinese paper is made from the inner bark of the bamboo and mulberry tree, called by them the paper tree, hempen rags, etc. The latter are prepared for paper by being cut and well washed in tanks. They are then bleached and dried; in twelve days they are converted into a pulp, which is then made into balls of about four pounds weight. These are afterwards saturated with water, and made into paper on a frame of fine reeds; and are dried by being pressed under large stones. A second drying operation is performed by plastering the sheets on the walls of a room.  The sheets are then coated with gum size, and polished with stones. They also make paper from cotton and linen rags, and a coarse yellow sort from rice straw, which is used for wrapping. They are enabled to make sheets of a large size, the mould on which the pulp is made into paper being sometimes ten or twelve feet long and very wide, and managed by means of Pulleys.

“The Japanese prepare paper from the mulberry as follows: in the month of December the twigs are cut into lengths not exceeding thirty inches and put together in bundles. These fagots are then placed upright in a large vessel containing alkaline ley, and boiled till the bark shrinks so as to allow about a half an inch of the wood to appear free at the top. After they are thus boiled they are exposed to a cool atmosphere, and laid away for future use. When a sufficient quantity has been thus collected, it is soaked in water three or four days, when a blackish skin which covered it is scraped off. At the same time also the stronger bark which is of a full year’s growth is separated from the thinner, which covered the younger branches, and which yields the best and whitest paper. After it has been sufficiently cleansed out and separated, it must be boiled in clear ley, and if stirred frequently it soon becomes of a suitable nature.

“It is then washed, a process requiring much attention and great skill and judgment; for if it be not washed long enough, although strong and of good body, will be coarse and of little value; if washed too long it will afford a white paper, but will be spongy and unfit for writing upon. Having been washed until it becomes a soft and woolly pulp, it is spread upon a table and beat fine with a mallet. It is then put into a tub with an infusion of rice and breni root, when the whole is stirred until the ingredients are thoroughly mixed in a mass of proper consistence. The moulds on which sheets are formed are made of reeds cut into narrow strips instead of wire, and the process of dipping is like that of other countries. After being allowed to remain a short time in heaps under a slight pressure, the sheets are exposed to the sun, by which they are properly dried.

“The Arabians in the seventh century appear to have either discovered or to have learned from the Chinese or Hindoos, quite likely from the latter, the art of making paper from cotton; for it is known that a manufactory of such paper was established at Samarcand about the year 706 A. D, The Arabians seem to have carried the art to Spain, and to have there made paper from linen and hemp as well as from cotton.

“The art of manufacturing paper from cotton is supposed to have found its way into Europe in the eleventh century. The first paper of that kind was made of raw cotton; but its manufacture was by the Arabians extended to old worn-out cotton, and even to the smallest pieces it is said. But as there are cotton plants of various kinds, it was natural that they should produce papers of different qualities; and it was impossible to unite their woolly particles so firmly as to form a strong substantial paper, for want of sufficient skill and proper machinery, using as they did mortars and rude horse-mills. The Greeks, it is said, made use of cotton paper before the Latins. It came into Germany through Venice and was called Greek parchment.

“The Moors, who were the paper-makers of Spain, having been expelled by the Spaniards, the latter, acquainted with water mills, improved the manufacture so as to produce a paper from cotton nearly equal to that made of linen rags.”

A chronology of paper relating to the earliest specimens of them can also be found in Munsell’s work on that subject; several are here cited:

“A. D. 704. The Arabians are supposed to have acquired the knowledge of making paper of cotton, by their conquests in Tartary.

“A. D. 706. Casiri, a Spanish author, attributes the invention of cotton paper to Joseph Amru, in this year, at Mecca; but it is well known that the Chinese and Persians were acquainted with its manufacture before this period.

“A. D. 900. The bulls of the popes in the eighth and ninth centuries were written upon cotton paper.

“A. D. 900. Montfaucon, who on account of his diligence and the extent of his researches is great authority, wrote a dissertation to prove that charta bombycine, cotton paper, was discovered in the empire of the east toward the end of the ninth or beginning of the tenth century.

“A. D. 1007. The plenarium, or inventory, of the treasure of the church of Sandersheim, is written upon paper of cotton, bearing this date.

“A. D. 1049. The oldest manuscript in England written upon cotton paper, is in the Bodleian collection of the British Museum, having this date.

“A. D. 1050. The most ancient manuscript on cotton paper, that has been discovered in the Royal Library at Paris having a date, bears record of this year.

“A. D. 1085. The Christian successors of Moorish paper-makers at Toledo in Spain, worked the paper-mills to better advantage than their predecessors.  Instead of manufacturing paper of raw cotton, which is easily recognized by its yellowness and brittleness, they made it of rags, in moulds through which the water ran off; for this reason it was called parchment cloth.

“A. D. 1100. The Aphorisms of Hippocrates, in Arabia, the manuscript of which bears this date, has been pronounced the oldest specimen of linen paper that has come to light.

“A. D. 1100. Arabic manuscripts were at this time written on satin paper, and embellished with a quantity of ornamental work, painted in such gay and resplendent colors that the reader might behold his face reflected as if from a mirror.

“A. D. 1100. There was a diploma of Roger, king of Sicily, dated 1145, in which be says that he had renewed on parchment a charter that had been written on cotton paper in 1100.

“A. D. 1102. The king of Sicily appears to have accorded a diploma to an ancient family of paper-makers who had established a manufactory in that island, where cotton was indigenous, and this has been thought to point to the origin of cotton paper, quite erroneously.

“A. D. 1120. Peter the Venerable, abbot of Clum, who flourished about this time, declared that paper from linen rags was in use in his day.

“A. D. 1150. Edrisi, who wrote at this time, tells us that the paper made at Xativa, an ancient city of Valencia, was excellent, and was exported to countries east and west.

“A. D. 1151. An Arabian author certifies that very fine white cotton paper was manufactured in Spain, and Cacim aben Hegi assures us that the best was made at Xativa. The Spaniards being acquainted with water-mills, improved upon the Moorish method of grinding the raw cotton and rags; and by stamping the latter in the mill, they produced a better pulp than from raw cotton, by which various sorts of paper were manufactured, nearly equal to those made from linen rags.

“A. D. 1153. Petrus Mauritius (the Abbi de Cluni), who died in this year, has the following passage on paper in his Treatise against the Jews;

‘The books we read every day are made of sheep, goat, or calf skin; or of rags (ex rasauris veterum pannorum),’ supposed to allude to modern paper.

“A. D. 1178. A treaty of peace between the kings of Aragon and Castile is the oldest specimen of linen paper used in Spain with a date. It is supposed that the Moors, on their settlement in Spain, where cotton was scarce, made paper of hemp and flax. The inventor of linen-rag paper, whoever he was, is entitled to the gratitude of posterity.

“A. D. 1200. Casiri positively affirms that there are manuscripts in the Escurial palace near Madrid, upon both cotton and hemp paper, written prior to this time.”

Abdollatiph, an Arabian physician, who visited Egypt in 1200, says that the linen mummy-cloths were habitually used to make wrapping paper for the shopkeepers.

A document with the seals preserved dated A. D.  1239 and signed by Adolphus, count of Schaumburg is written on linen paper. It is preserved in the university of Rinteln, Germany, and establishes the fact that linen paper was already in use in Germany.

Specimens of flax paper and still extant are quite numerous, a very few of them having dates included in the eighth and ninth centuries.

The charta Damascena, so-called from the fact of its manufacture in the city of Damascus, was in use in the eighth century. Many Arabian MSS. on such a paper exist dating from the ninth century.

The charta bombycina (bombyx, a silk and cotton paper) was much employed during mediaeval periods.

The microscope, however, has demonstrated conclusively many things formerly in doubt and relating particularly to the matter of the character of fibre used in paper-making. One of the most important is the now established fact that there is no difference between the fibres of the old cotton and linen papers, as made from rags so named.

To ascertain the precise period and the particular nation of Europe, when and among whom the use of our common paper fabricated from linen rags first originated, was a very earnest object of research with the learned Meerman, author of a now exceedingly rare work on this subject and published in 1767.  His mode of inquiry was unique. He proposed a reward of twenty-five golden ducats, to whoever should discover what on due examination should appear to be the most ancient manuscript or public document inscribed on paper manufactured from linen rags. This proposal was distributed through all parts of Europe. His little volume contains the replies which Meerman received. The scholars who remitted the result of their investigations were unable to distinguish between what they estimated as cotton or linen rags. They did, however, establish the fact that paper made of linen rags existed before 1308, and some of them even sought to give the honor of the invention to Germany. They also asserted that the most ancient English specimen of such a paper belonged to the year 1342.

The transformation of paper made from every conceivable fibrous material into what is commonly known as “linen” or true paper was of slow growth until after the invention of printing. Following that great event it is surprising, how, in so short a period, the manufacturers of paper improved its quality and the degree of excellence which it later attained.  They imitated the old vellum so closely that it was even called vellum and is so known to this day.  This class of paper was employed both for writing and printing purposes and has never been excelled, surpassing any like productions of modern times.

A curious custom came into vogue during the early infancy of the “linen” paper industry, which is of so much interest and possesses so curious a history as to be well worth mentioning. It is the water mark as it is commonly but erroneously termed in connection with paper manufacture.

Its origin dates back to the thirteenth century, though the monuments indicating its use before the time of printing are but few in number.

The real employment of the water mark may be said to have commenced at the time when it was a custom of the first printers to omit their names from their works. Also, it is to be considered that at this period comparatively few people could either read or write and therefore pictures, designs or other marks were employed to enable them to distinguish the paper of one manufacturer from another. These marks as they became common naturally gave their names to the different sorts of paper.

The earliest known water mark on linen paper represented a picture of a tower and was of the date of 1293. The next known water mark which can be designated is a ram’s head and is found in a book of accounts belonging to an official of Bordeaux which was then subject to England. It is dated 1330.

In the fifteenth century there were no distinctions in the quality of paper used for manuscripts or for books. In the Mentz Bible of 1462 are to be found no less than three sorts of paper. Of this Bible, the water mark in some sheets is a bull’s head simply, and in others a bull’s head from whose forehead rises a long line, at the end of which is a cross. In other sheets the water mark is a bunch of grapes.

In 1498 the water mark of paper consisted of an eight pointed star within a double circle. The design of an open hand with a star at the top which was in use as early as 1530, probably gave the name to what is still called hand paper.

It appears that even so high a personage as Henry VIII of England in 1540 utilized the water mark in order to show his contempt for and animosity to Pope Paul III, with whom he had then quarreled, gave orders for the preparation of paper, the water mark of which was a hog with a miter: this he used for his private correspondence.

A little later, about the middle of the sixteenth century, the favorite paper mark was the jug or pot, from which would appear to have originated the term pot paper. Still another belonging to this period was the device of a glove.

At the beginning of the seventeenth century, the device was a fool’s cap and which has continued by name as the particular size which we now designate fool’s cap.

The water mark has continued to increase in popularity and to-day may be found in almost any kind of paper, either in the shape of designs, figures, numbers or names.

The circumstance of the water mark has at various times been the means of detecting frauds, forgeries and impositions in our courts of law and elsewhere.  The following is introduced as a whimsical example of such detections and is said to have occurred in the fifteenth century, and is related by Beloe, London, 1807:

“The monks of a certain monastery at Messina exhibited to a visitor with great triumph, a letter which they claimed had been written in ink by the Virgin Mary with her own hand, not on the ancient papyrus, but on paper made of rags. The visitor to whom it was shown observed with affected solemnity, that the letter involved also a miracle because the paper on which it was written could not have been in existence until over a thousand years after her death.”

An interesting example of the use of water marks on paper for fraudulent purposes is to be found in a pamphlet entitled “Ireland’s Confessions.” This person, a son of Samuel Ireland, who was a distinguished draughtsman and engraver, about the end of the eighteenth century fabricated a pretended Shakespeare MSS., which as a literary forgery was the most remarkable of its time. Previous to his confessions it had been accepted by the Shakespearean scholars as unquestionably the work of the immortal bard. The following is a citation from his Confessions:

“Being thus urged forward to the production of more manuscripts, it became necessary that I should posses; a sufficient quantity of old paper to enable me to proceed; in consequence of which I applied to a book-seller named Verey, in Great May’s buildings, St. Martin’s Lane, who, for the sum of five shillings, suffered me to take from all the folio and quarto volumes in his shop the fly leaves which they contained. By this means I was amply stored with that commodity—nor did I fear any mention of the circumstance by Mr. Verey, whose quiet, unsuspecting disposition, I was well convinced, would never lead him to make the transaction public; in addition to which, he was not likely even to know anything concerning the supposed Shakespearean discovery by myself, and even if he had, I do not imagine that my purchase of the old paper in question would have excited in him the smallest degree of suspicion. As I was fully aware, from the variety of water-marks, which are in existence at the present day, that they must have constantly been altered since the period of Elizabeth and being for some time wholly unacquainted with the water-marks of that age, I very carefully produced my first specimens of the writing on such sheets of old paper as had no marks whatever. Having heard it frequently stated that the appearance of such marks on the papers would have greatly tended to establish their validity, I listened attentively to every remark which was made upon the subject, and from thence I at length gleaned the intelligence that a jug was the prevalent water-mark of the reign of Elizabeth; in consequence of which I inspected all the sheets of old paper then in my possession, and having selected such as had the jug upon them, I produced the succeeding manuscripts upon these, being careful, however, to mingle with them a certain number of blank leaves, that the production on a sudden of so many water-marks might not excite suspicion in the breasts of those persons who were most conversant with the manuscripts.”

Fuller, writing in 1662, characterizes the paper of his day:

“Paper participates in some sort of the character of the country which makes it; the Venetian being neat, subtle, and court-like; the French light, slight, and slender; and the Dutch thick, corpulent, and gross, sticking up the ink with the sponginess thereof. And he complains of the ‘vast sums of money expended in our land for paper out of Italy, France, and Germany, which might be lessened were it made in our nation.’"

Ulman Strother in 1390 started his paper mill at Nuremberg in Bavaria which was the first paper mill known to have been established in Germany, and is said to have been the only one in Europe then manufacturing paper from linen rags.

Among the privy expenses of Henry VII of the year 1498 appears the following entry: “A reward given to the paper mill, 16s. 8d.” This is probably the paper mill mentioned by Wynkin de Worde, the father of English typography. It was located at Hertford, and the water mark he employed was a star within a double circle.

The manufacture of paper in England previous to the revolution of 1688 was an industry of very small proportions, most of the paper being imported from Holland.

The first paper mill established in America was by William Rittenhouse who emigrated from Holland and settled in Germantown, Pa., in 1690. At Roxborough, near Philadelphia, on a stream afterwards called Paper Mill run, which empties into the Wissahicken river, was located the site which in company with William Bradford, a printer, he chose for his mill. The paper was made from linen rags, mostly the product of flax raised in the vicinity and made first into wearing apparel.

It was Reaumer, who in 1719 first suggested the possibility of paper being made from wood. He obtained his information on this subject from examination of wasps’ nests.

Matthias Koops in 1800 published a work on “Paper” made from straw, wood and other substances.  His second edition appeared in 1801 and was composed of old paper re-made into new. Another work on the subject of “Paper from Straw, &c.,” by Piette, appeared in 1835, which said work contains more than a hundred pages, each one of which was made from a different kind of material.

Many other valuable works are obtainable which treat of rag paper manufacture and the stories they tell are instructive as well as interesting.





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