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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article


( Originally Published 1940 )

The use of wood pulp in the making of paper had not been developed in Colonial times. Rags were the staple of the papermaker. Hand-made rag papers of widely varying quality were extensively produced in the colonies. Paper for the very best book printing was imported from England, where a more refined product was available.

The essential process of papermaking entails the reducing of the rag content to a pulp. The pulp is then pressed and molded in a variety of fine-meshed wire molds from which it derives its particular texture and pattern of "weave."

We have already spoken of the Bradford-Rittenhouse papermaking venture in Philadelphia. In 1696 John Holme, in a long, rambling poem called True Relation of the Flourishing State of Pennsylvania, notes Bradford's enterprise and also his enforced departure from Philadelphia.

Here dwelt a printer and I find That he can both print books and bind; He wants not paper, ink, nor skill He's owner of a paper mill. The paper mill is here hard by And makes good paper frequently, But the printer, as I here tell, Is gone unto New York to dwell. No doubt but he will lay up bags If he can get good store of rags. Kind friend, when thy old shift is rent Let it to th' paper mill be sent.

This foreshadows the period of political tension between the colonies and the mother country, at which time a great scarcity of paper set in. Imports were curtailed and England was none too fond of the frequently seditious American press. A premium was set upon rags of every sort and a persistent campaign was launched for their conservation and collection. Generous sums were paid for old rags. The journals and general publications of the period abound in advertisements appealing for rags and offering inducements to their collection. The ads are most interesting and range in style from the matter-of-fact to the bombastic, the pleading, and the witty. A characteristic appeal was expressed in a poem, wittily chaffing the ladies about their many possible contributions to papermaking. It concludes with the lines:

Nice Delia's Smock, which, neat and whole, No man durst finger for his Soul; Turn'd to Gazette, now all the Town, May take it up, or smooth it down. Whilst De1ia may with it dispence, And no Affront to Innocence.

We find that Franklin, characteristically, was a notably successful rag-gatherer.

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