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The Tradition And History of Paper Making

( Originally Published 1920 )

IT would be difficult to single out among the diversified objects of human investigation," wrote John Murray in his remarks on " Modern Paper " (published in 1829), "a question more curious or interesting than the medium which bears the symbols that register the circumstances and events of past ages. . . . It is through such wonderful media that we are introduced into the multitudinous throng of a world's tenantry, and from their inscription learn what they thought, and said and did. . . . In deciphering these transcriptions of ideas and memorials of humanity we virtually converse with minds long since numbered with those who people the world of spirits; and even the mummy from his cerements in his sycamore coffin, recovered from the vaults of eternal pyramids, talks with us by virtue of the roll of papyrus which he holds in his hand."

From this substance of Egyptian origin is derived the name of its modern successor—paper. Paper, which in convenience and varied utility is as much in advance of its forerunner as papyrus was in advance of brick, stone, lead, copper, brass, leaves, bark, wood and skins, the successive media for the transcription of human thought.

The exact date of the origin of paper-making has probably yet to be discovered, though the researches of Dr. Aurel Stein and others have traced its antiquity back into the second century, B. C. (see Encyclopaedia Britannica).

According to R. W. Sindall ("The Manufacture of Paper," 1908), the earliest reference to the manufacture of paper is to be found in the Chinese Encyclopaedia, wherein it s stated that Ts'ai-Lun, a native of Kuei-yang, entered the service of the Emperor Ho-Ti in A. D. 75, and, devoting his leisure hours to study, suggested the use of silk and ink as a substitute for the bamboo tablet and stylus. Subsequently he succeeded in making paper from bark, tow, old linen and fish-nets (A. D. 105).

The art thus originated and nurtured by the Chinese remained to be transmitted to Europe by the Arabs after their conquest of Samarkand in A. D. 751.

The first centers of the industry founded in the eleventh century were in Spain, at Toledo, Valencia and Xativa. From Spain the craftsmen migrated to Sicily, Italy, France and the Netherlands.

A mill was established at Hainault, France, as early as 1190.

The oldest-known document on cotton paper is a deed of King Roger of Sicily, dated 1102. It is probable that the famous mills of Fabriano sprang from Sicilian sources; their establishment was followed in 1360 by a mill in Padua, and later in Treviso, Bologna, Palma, Milan and Venice, while the first paper-mill of Germany was that of Ulman Stromer at Mainz in 1320.

A most interesting account of this period of paper-making is given as follows by Harold Bayley in his volume, "A New Light on the Renaissance:"

"In the Dark Ages there existed in the south of France a premature civilization far in advance of that of the rest of Europe. Among the arts and industries that flourished in Provence and the surrounding districts, paper-making was one of the foremost. Not only was this district the cradle of European paper-making, but for many centuries it remained the center of this industry.

"The freedom and prosperity of Provence attracted large numbers of persecuted Jews and heretics, who took refuge there, and by their industry and intellect augmented the power and influence of the country. So deeply, indeed, did heresy enter into the politics of Provence, that in 1209 the Church of Rome considered it necessary to launch a crusade against the infected district.

"During a period of twenty years the heretical inhabitants were either extirpated or driven into perpetual exile. Those who escaped carried with them a passionate affection for their destroyed fatherland, and an undying hatred against the tyranny of the Church of Rome.

"It will be shown that from the appearance of the first water-mark in 1282 these mysterious marks are, speaking broadly, the traditional emblems of Provence.

"From the fact that fundamentally the same designs were employed all over Europe, we can deduce the inference that Provencal refugees carried their art throughout Europe, just in the same way as at a later period and under somewhat similar circumstances Huguenots carried new industries into strange countries. It will also be shown that the same code which unlocks many of the obscurities of paper-marks elucidates the problems of printers' marks, and evidence will be brought forward that paper-makers and printers were originally in close touch with each other, held similar views, and were associated in identical aims."

Gradually the secrets of the craft pursued their northward trail into the Netherlands. Saardam, in the Duchy of Holland, became in the eighteenth century an important center, employing, it is said, one thousand persons.

In England, which for many years imported all its paper, the first mill was erected about 1498, as is attested by an entry for that year in the privy-purse expenses of King Henry VII. Further corroboration is also to be found in the following quaint verse from Wynken de Worde's edition of "De Proprietatibus Rerum

And John Tate the younger Joye mote he broke, Which late hathe in England doo make this paper thynne That now in our Englyshe this book is written inne.

England, however, achieved no reputation for fine papers until the establishment of the famous James Whatman, in 1760.

In the meantime, the trade had taken root in our own country when, in 1690, William Rittenhouse started the first American mill on the Wissahickon river at Roxborough, near Philadelphia, and thirty years later New England's first mill was established by David Hinchman at Milton, Massachusetts.

The migratory characteristics of the trade were made possible by the simplicity of the machinery which was required in these times. Pictures of early mills depict a mortar and pestle in which to macerate the rags to pulp, a small vat for the paper stuff, a mold on which the paper was formed, and a screw press with which to squeeze out the water from the new-formed sheets.

Mechanical improvements came with painful slowness, and no doubt each small advance was a jealously guarded secret.

The mortar and pestle were succeeded by a machine mechanically imitating the handwork of beating the rags to pulp. This was called a stamper. The old mortar remained, but the beating was done by iron-shod hammers, which were raised and released by cams on a shaft turned by water-power. Note the stamper in the foreground of the picture of Ancient Paper-making on page II.

The Dutch improved upon this device by the invention of the Holland beating engine about 1770, which in its essentials is practically the same thing to-day on a much larger scale.

Until the year 1798 there had been no further advance in mechanical inventions for paper-making, but let us pause a moment for a consideration of the paper itself.

The early raw material consisted solely' of cotton and linen rags, and there was very little variety of output. Until 1750 all the paper was made on molds, the seats of which were made by fine parallel wires supported by heavier wires, which ran at right angles to them. Consequently all the paper was what is called "laid." In 1750, at the instance of the famous Printer Baskerville, a mold was made with a woven-wire seat, and the first "wove" paper was used in his famous Edition of Virgil.

The characteristics of the earlier paper are well summed up by Mr. De Vinne in an article on woodcut printing which appeared in Volume XIX, No. 6, of Scribner's Magazine, a reading of which impresses one with the limitations of ancient paper-making as contrasted with the complexity of modern paper-making, and all the study which its variations impose upon the modern printer who seeks proficiency.

"Much of the paper made in the sixteenth century," he says, "was unsuitable for woodcuts. By far the larger portion was made of linen stock, hard and rough as to surface, laid, or showing the marks of the wires upon which the pulp had been crushed, or ragged edges, unsized and very sensitive to dampness, uneven in thickness, usually thin in the center and thick at the edges. . . .

"The paper selected was, in most cases, too rough and hard to be forcibly impressed against the delicate lines of fine woodcuts. It was the usage everywhere to soften the paper by a careful dampening.

"When the paper was sized it was more weakened by this dampening, which really lightened the labor of the pressman. But unsized paper was only about half the price of sized, and the inducement to use it was great. The unsized paper was dampened with difficulty, it greedily sucked up water, and when fully wet became flabby and unmanageable. Under searching pressure of the woolen blanket which was always put between the paper to be printed and the printing surface, this flabby paper was forced around the finer lines of the cut, making them much thicker than was intended."

Let those whose shallowness leads them to regard modern paper-making as an abortion of a once noble art take thought!

The transition from the old ways of paper-making to modern processes was sudden. The century which gave them to us stands out in radiance against the dark ages of heavy toil at the vat and press.

First came the mechanic whose genius caused tons to be produced in the time that pounds were made of yore. Next came the chemist who developed unthought-of raw materials to supply the ever growing demands of "papivorous" civilization, until it has been said with so much truth that ours is the paper age.

In 1798 an obscure French workman, Louis Robert, of Essonne, announced that he "had discovered a way to make, with one man, and without fire, by means of machines, sheets of paper of a very large size, even twelve feet wide and fifty feet long."

Times were hard on the continent, yet the Government of France, recognizing the importance of the invention, awarded Robert eight thousand francs and a patent for fifteen years. Furthermore, permission was given to carry over the small working model to England, with the hope of interesting British capital.

A successful attempt to make paper on Robert's machine having been made in the mill of Francois Didot, in France, Leger Didot purchased the patent and, accompanied by an Englishman of the appropriate name of John Gamble, proceeded to England and employed Mr. Bryan Donkin to construct a machine.

Being in need of funds, they interested two wealthy London stationers, Messrs. Henry and Sealy Fourdrinier, in their proposition, and in 1804 the first successful machine was started at Frogmore. Much credit is due Mr. Donkin, by whose ingenuity the mechanical difficulites were mastered, but the Fourdriniers, for whom the machine was named, are no less entitled to the honor, as their persistent faith in the machine finally led them into bankruptcy.

After having expended sixty thousand pounds and being reduced to penury, they finally petitioned Parliament for compensation for their losses. Their labors were fortunately appreciated, and a sum of seven thousand pounds was voted them.

Surely all these early pioneers deserve a place in the hall of fame beside that of Gutenberg.

In 1812 the type of machine known as "cylinder" was invented by John Dickinson, whose name is still associated with paper-making, and so different is the machine in principle that Dickinson's name should also be placed along-side of Robert's as a benefactor to mankind. Neither of these machines had any means for drying paper, consequently their production was decidedly limited. This lack was supplied by the invention of driers by T. B. Crompton in 1821, who later took out a patent for slitter-knives. Suction boxes were contributed by the ingenuity of M. Canson, a Frenchman, in 1826. John Wilks, an Englishman, produced the first dandy roll in 1830, while Thomas Barratt conceived the idea of making water-marks by means of this roll.

And so, one after another, various useful additions came into existence, until we have the modern paper-machine, which differs mainly in width, length and productive power from the machines of the thirties.

In the meantime, researches for new paper-making materials had been in progress. As early as 1719, Reamur, observing how wasps made their nests from wood, threw out the hint to paper-makers, but for over a century there was no important result.

In 1727, Dr. Brueckmann, a German naturalist, published a work on stones, four copies of which are said to have been printed on paper made with asbestos.

In 1751 M. Guettard in France published his experiments and showed samples of paper made from bark, leaves and wood; while in 1765 Jacob Christian Schaffers, of Ratisbon, published a volume, a copy of which exists in the Smithsonian Library, upon the different sorts of paper he could make without rags.

Matthias Koops in 1801 printed some account of his patents for utilizing waste papers, straw and wood. This volume, printed on straw paper, with one signature on paper claimed to be made of wood, is well worth reading, and is to be found both in the Boston Public Library and in the Harvard College Library, and quite likely elsewhere.

These experiments are only interesting as forerunners. In their own time they came to naught. Not until 1840 was ground wood-pulp invented by Keller.

The production of cellulose from straw and esparto by the soda process was discovered by Routledge, an English-man, in 1860, while the first patents for making wood soda pulp were those of Watt and Burgess in 1854.

To an American belongs the credit for the important invention of the sulphite process, Benjamin C. Tilghmann, of Manayunk, Pennsylvania, having taken out the first patents in 1866.

Although excellent fiber was obtained, the engineering difficulties proved so serious that experiments were temporarily abandoned in the United States. But the process was afterward put upon a successful commercial basis by Fry and Ekman, at Berzwik, Sweden, in 1870. Americans soon took up the problem with renewed energy, and the late Charles S. Wheelwright, of Providence, Rhode Island, after a visit to Sweden in 1882 on which he obtained the rights to the Ekman patents, introduced the process at the plant of the Richmond Paper Company, in Providence, and while a commercial success was not realized, it was an important step in the development of the industry, and not many years passed be-fore the United States gained a leading position in the production of wood-pulps.*

Thus in less than ninety years, from Robert's invention of 1798 to the early eighties, the world witnessed a complete revolution of the paper industry, which had struggled along in the same old rut for some two thousand years.

Today the United States leads the world in the production of paper. According to the census of 1909, we produced 4,216,708 tons, valued at $232,741,049, an amount which exceeds in tonnage the combined production of England, Germany, France, Austria and Italy.

Well may we be proud of this great industry, which after all is largely the reflection of a nation's intelligence and culture, and commercial activity.

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