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Materials For Records

( Originally Published 1920 )



PROBABLY the first thought that comes to mind when paper is mentioned is that it is a material used for writing or printing; in other words a means for conveying ideas and thoughts. For that reason any story of paper and papermaking must start at a period thousands of years before there was any such material, for man has always desired to pass on to others his ideas, and the records of his achievements or of important events.

One of the earliest methods was by oral transmission, in which the records were handed down from generation to generation. The Sanskrit Vedas containing religious dogmas, and the moral and legal codes of the Hindus are said to have been passed along for ages in that way. Pictures on rocks in various countries are doubtless records of actual events, but not of connected or consecutive happenings. Picture writings have the advantage over oral traditions of being permanent; and though in many cases they are very crude, at least they do not depend on memory for correct transmission. It is interesting to note that some picture writing continues to the present day; the Roman numerals I, II, III, etc., and many mathematical and astronomical signs represent ideas rather than words.

The history of writing shows that the origin of many of the signs and symbols used prior to the alphabetic characters is so completely buried in the past that it is not yet, and may never be, fully known. In general, writing developed in three stages: (1) pictographic writing; (2) ideographic or hieroglyphic writing; (3) phonetic writing with syllable signs and then with alphabetic characters. The development was thus from a picture representing a thing to a symbol representing the name of the thing, or virtually the picture of a sound.

No exact dates can be given for the development of writing, but the history of Babylonian writing runs back to the fifth millennium B.C., and one of the oldest Egyptian inscriptions was written in alphabetic characters before 4000 B.C. Picture writing on rock came long before this, of course, and four pre-Babylonian inscriptions in pictographic writing have been found which are among the very oldest known examples. Later came the inscriptions and tablets in the Semitic language and those in the peculiar Hittite hieroglyphics. For a number of reasons national development in the matter of writing has been very unequal. Thus some of the African tribes, which were in contact with Egyptian civilization for over 3000 years before Christ, have failed to develop any system of writing, even to the present time.

The materials upon which written records were made have included stone, clay, metal, wood, wax tablets, ivory, leaves, bark, papyrus, parchment, etc. The stones used appear to have varied from very hard to soft, and the depth to which the characters were cut was sometimes as much as half an inch. The nature of the stone has had a considerable influence on the preservation of historical evidence; the harder stones have naturally resisted the destructive elements better than the softer kinds. Many valuable records have been lost because the marble or limestone on which they were cut has been burned for lime. Stone has been quite generally used in many countries. The Ten Commandments were engraved on stone about 1500 B.C. and the Old Testament contains many references to the use of stone. Engravings on stone have thrown light on portions of the early Chinese civilization.

Of even more importance historically are the records found on clay tablets or bricks. The inscriptions were either impressed or incised on soft clay which was subsequently dried or baked. This method was probably in use at least 4000 years before Christ and most of our knowledge of the history of Chaldea, Babylonia and Assyria has been derived from such tablets. In 1908 there was discovered in the prehistoric debris of Crete a clay disc, covered on both sides with hieroglyphics, chiefly pictographs. These were impressed on the clay by stamps, the same stamp being used for each similar hieroglyph. Except for the use of engraved seals for impressing signatures this disc is perhaps the earliest example of printing by movable type.

The use of stone and clay tablets was followed by the simpler and more convenient metal plates of various kinds such as lead, brass, copper or bronze. Many of the laws of the Greeksócivil, criminal or ceremonialówere engraved on bronze; the discharges of soldiers were sometimes on copper, and some of the agreements made by the Jews, Spartans and Romans were on brass. The Romans also favored ivory, but its scarcity and cost pre-vented it from ever coming into general use.

The Greeks and Romans found at an early period that plain wooden boards, or those covered with wax, served excellently for writing purposes. The Romans used as correspondence paper waxed wooden tablets sealed with linen cloth, and the Gospel of St. Matthew is said to have been written in Hebrew characters on plain, unwaxed boards. In some cases the letters were actually carved in the wood.

The flat surfaces of leaves naturally attracted attention as a base for writing, and the Egyptians are said to have been the first who wrote on palm leaves. Sentences of banishment were written on olive leaves by the Syracusans. The leaves of the banana and cocoa trees were used by some of the eastern peoples; in fact the kind used was governed largely by what grew in the locality.

The bark of trees seems to have been the next material employed. The outer bark was not much used because of its rough and coarse texture, but the smooth inner bark found rather wide application. Such barks were obtained from trees like the birch, elder, elm, etc. It is interesting to note that the Latin name for book is derived from fiber ( the inner bark) and that the English name "book" comes from "boc," the Anglo-Saxon for beech, the bark of which was employed for writing.

Other early writing materials were leather from which the hair had been scraped, and parchment, which was prepared from the skins of sheep and goats by soaking in pits and then scraping. The surface and color of the skins were made more pleasing by rubbing with chalk or pumice stone. Parchment, which was made from sheep skins and goat skins, is said to have been invented by the people of Pergamus because their supply of papyrus was cut off by an Egyptian embargo. Vellum was prepared in a similar manner to parchment, but from the skins of calves. It was considerably superior to parchment and though probably the first material used for binding books it is still considered a luxury item for work of that character.

While both leaves and bark were a nearer approach to paper than the earlier stone or clay tablets, they were far outstripped by the use of the papyrus plant, which was grown extensively in Egypt, but is now extinct there, except possibly in the Upper Nile regions and in Ethiopia. Besides its use in papermaking it was employed for making many other things such as mats, cloth, cords and boats. Its cultivation was continued to the 8th or 9th century A.D., when it was abandoned because of the advancement in making paper from other materials. While mentioned last in the list of writing materials, and the nearest approach to paper of them all, it was actually in use at a very early period. The papyrus "Prisse," named from its former owner, and now in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, is said to have been written about 2500 B.C.

In preparing writing material from papyrus, the reeds were cut into thin, longitudinal strips by some sharp instrument. These strips were laid on a board, side by side, to the desired width and another layer was laid on top at right angles to the first. After moistening to develop the natural gluten of the tissues, and after hammering, and drying in the sun, the formed sheets were smoothed or polished by rubbing with a piece of ivory or a smooth shell. Papyrus was made in many different qualities, the best being from the middle and broadest strips of the plant, and the different grades had different names, a custom followed by many modern papers. The width of the sheets varied from 4 to 12 inches, and they were often pasted together end to end to make a roll, or "volumen." Some of these papyri are very long; one of the oldest is 65 feet while another from Thebes, 1600 B.C., is 77 feet long.

The use of papyrus continued to some extent even after the introduction of vellum, and it was probably the most widely used writing material of ancient times. Many papyri in an excellent state of preservation have been found in ancient Egyptian tombs; often these are transcriptions from the Book of the Dead, which corresponds closely to the Hebrew scriptures in both moral and spiritual character.

The first real step into the realm of papermaking was taken about 105 A.D. when Ts'ai Lun, who was in the service of the Chinese Emperor Ho Ti, suggested the use of silk and ink in place of the bamboo tablets and stylus then in use. He later succeeded in making paper from mulberry bark, tow, old linen, etc., and for these achievements he was created a Marquis in 114 A.D.

More recent investigations have shown that, entirely apart from the Ethiopian and Chinese development of paper-like materials, there was a third development in Mexico, where the early Mayas and Aztecs produced a very similar material from the inner bark of the fig tree. The bark was treated with water and lime to remove a latex-like sap, beaten on stones and then "felted" on a board where it was left to dry. Such paper formed an important part of the tribute paid by certain tribes to Montezuma II, who was an "emperor" at the time of the Spanish conquest about 1520.

By the beginning of the 18th century this tribute paper was used for recording religious, magical and historical affairs, and for dispensing news. So far there have been discovered only four-teen books or manuscripts on, or relating to, such paper, but from the evidence presented it seems not impossible that the Mexicans antedate the Chinese and are the real discoverers of the art of papermaking.

The Chinese guarded their knowledge of papermaking as a secret for many centuries, but it was finally learned by the Arabs somewhere between 704 and 751. The sequence of events which brought this about is somewhat obscure, but it seems to have resulted from the capture by the Arabs of Chinese prisoners during the fighting around Samarkand. Having learned the secret the Arabs carried it to their own towns and improved on the crude Chinese methods. They probably used linen in their early developments and later employed rags and any other fibers which were available, including cotton.

There are comparatively large numbers of Arabic manuscripts dating from the 9th century; one of the oldest is dated 866, and there are several others between that date and 990. Oriental paper of the middle ages is distinguished by its firm body and glossy surface, and, of course, the absence of watermarks. Such paper was not extensively used in Greece before the middle of the 13th century.

Papermaking in Europe appears to have been introduced by the Moors who had mills in Spain at Xativa, Valencia and Toledo about the middle of the 12th century. On the fall of the Moorish power the industry passed into the hands of the less skillful Christians, who made inferior papers. Italian mills were first set up in 1276 in Fabriano, and the first known watermarked paper is said to have come from a mill in Bologna about 1282, or from the Fabriano mill in 1293 or 1294. In 1340 another factory was established at Padua, and this was soon followed by others in other districts. These Italian mills made excellent papers and they sup-plied the needs of southern Germany as late as the 15th century.

The earliest German mills were in Cologne in 1320. Stromer's mill at Nurnberg was established in 1390 with the aid of Italian workmen, and other early factories were located at Ratisbon and Augsburg.

France apparently did not engage in papermaking until the fourteenth century, and the mill which is often said to have been in operation in 1189 in the Department of Herault has now been found to have been nonexistent. This error was apparently due to an incorrect translation and a mistaken date. Growth of the industry in France made good progress, once it had been started, and from France it expanded into the Netherlands. England lagged behind France and Holland, and the first English mill was that of John Tate, established early in the 16th century. The inferior quality of the English papers seems to be acknowledged by a patent granted in 1685 for "The true art and way of making English paper for writing, printing and for other uses, both as good and service-able in all respects and as white as a French or Dutch paper."

The oldest recorded document on paper is a deed of King Roger of Sicily in the year 1102. By the second half of the 14th century the use of paper for all literary purposes was well established in Western Europe and in the 15th century it gradually superseded vellum. Brown paper is mentioned as early as 1570 and was sold ill bundles. Blotting paper, a coarse, gray product, is mentioned in the year 1465 and must have been in ordinary use early in the 15th century, for a writing in 1519 says "Blottyng papyr serveth to drye weete wrytyngs, lest there be made blottis and blurris.

Even in the early days, papermaking was not entirely free from tricks, troubles and restrictions. In 1398 the French papermakers at Troyes were said to be diminishing the size of their molds so that the paper was reduced in size "about one good finger in width and breadth," and were also counterfeiting the signs of one another. The authorities therefore ordered that all papers should be of definite dimensions, that none should make better paper than the others, and that each should have a different sign with which to sign his paper.

In America the first paper mill was built in 1690 by William Rittenhouse and William Bradford, on Wissahickon Creek, which is now in Fairmount Park within the city of Philadelphia. The mill was largely to supply the needs of Bradford, who had set up a printing press in Philadelphia and wished to have an independent source of paper, which had previously all been imported. The mill was destroyed by a flood in 1701, but was rebuilt in 1702 and was in use until 1730.

The capacity of this mill was small and a day's work for three men was said to be four and a half reams of newspaper, 20 x 30, which indicates that the mill might produce annually from 1200 to 1500 reams of paper of all sorts. This seems very small, but it should be remembered that newspapers were started only after 1700, and that there was little correspondence and very few books, which were chiefly imported. While a printing press was set up in Cambridge, in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1638 its needs for paper were supplied by importation, and its output was less than one thousand books and pamphlets in the sixty-two years, 1639-1700. Prior to 1728 there were thirty-five or thirty-seven printers in the colonies and, between the years 1639 and 1728, they produced 2067 books, pamphlets and broadsides. At that date there were also six newspapers, all weeklies.

The success of the Rittenhouse mill encouraged others to go into the business and a second mill was built not far from the first in 1710 by Wm. De Wees, and a third, the Willcox mill, was established in 1729 about 20 miles from Philadelphia. Bradford also purchased a mill at Elizabethtown, N.J. in 1728, but it is not known when this mill was built, or by whom. The first paper mill in New England was established in 1728 in a mill built about 20 years before on the Milton side of the Neponset river about 7 miles from Boston. Soon after 1730 Samuel Waldo and Thomas Westbrook planned to build a mill in Falmouth, Maine, and records show that it was located on the Stroudwater river within the present boundaries of Portland.

Gradually the papermaking industry spread throughout the Colonies but there was always a scarcity of paper, partly because of the rapid expansion of business, and partly because Britain objected to the establishment of any business which would interfere with her exports. Scarcity of rags was also a serious menace to the industry for over a hundred years. The shortage of paper was so serious during the Revolution that it interfered with the handling of military orders and records, and led to relieving from military service those who were proficient in papermaking. During this period paper was so precious that torn sheets were not thrown away but were carefully mended by pasting. The growth of the industry was such that there were said to be twenty mills in Massachusetts in 1796, and the census of 1810 shows 202 mills in the Colonies making 425,521 reams of paper valued at $1,689,718.

In considering the situation up to this time it must be remembered that linen and cotton rags were almost the only source of papermaking fibers until about the middle of the 19th century, and that all paper was made by hand very much in the manner employed by the ancient Chinese except for slight modifications and improvements in methods of treating fibers and in the construction of the molds.

The very earliest methods in use in China are vague, and there are no early oriental books on the subject. The original Chinese probably prepared the fibers by soaking and maceration, and poured them into box-like molds with cloth bottoms which were immersed in water. On raising the mold the water drained through leaving the fibers on the cloth. The entire mold was then dried and the sheet stripped off. Dipping the mold into the sus-pension of fibers and water was an important improvement, but the date at which it was effected is not known. The exact methods used in the time of Gutenberg, Jensen and Caxton are no clearer than are those of the early printers themselves. The oldest print showing the interior of a mill is in 1568, but it throws no light on significant details.

From the time the Chinese developed the method of dipping the mold into the fibrous stock, until the invention of the paper machine, only slight changes were made in the methods used. The stock was placed in a dipping vat to which it was conveyed by buckets, or later by gravity flow. The mold was dipped almost vertically into the stock, turned to a horizontal position and raised evenly, allowing the stock to collect on the bottom of the mold and the water to drain through. The excess stock was allowed to flow over the back portion of the mold, which was surrounded by a removable edge or "deckle," which acted like a fence to retain the stock on the mold. After draining off as much water as possible through the bottom, the deckle was removed and the mold inverted and pressed down firmly on a cloth, or papermaker's felt. On raising the mold the sheet remained on the felt and the mold came away clean. This process was repeated until a pile of alternate sheets of paper and felts was formed to the desired number. The pile was then placed in a heavy press and more water squeezed out, after which the sheets could be removed readily from the felts and hung up to dry. Usually they were dried in "spurs" or groups of four or five sheets which prevented the wrinkling or cockling which would take place if dried singly.

In the earliest Chinese operations the sheets were dried on the cloth which formed the bottom of the mold, but after the introduction of rigid molds, pressing on felts, or "couching," as it was called, was necessary. Often the sheets were dried singly against boards or smooth masonry walls.

This very brief account of the preparation of hand-made paper is entirely inadequate, both from the historical standpoint as well as that of the interest which it arouses, and many of the details have had to be omitted. The writer knows from personal experience that it is not easy to make a good sheet, even as small as 5 x 9 inches, and the skill needed to produce paper on the 24 x 60 inch molds, which were sometimes used by the Chinese, must have been extremely great. In addition, the molds were all made by hand, and the quality of the old papers proves that this was done with great skill. Chinese molds were often made from fine strips of bamboo, but later ones were made of wires. Even as late as the early days of American papermaking this involved the drawing and weaving of the wire as well as the very exact wood working necessary to produce the light, but well balanced mold frame over which the wire was stretched. This work was so highly specialized that in 1776 Nathan Sellers, who was the only manufacturer of molds in the Colonies, was discharged from military service so that he could make the molds which were so urgently needed at that time.

The 19th century has seen more changes and progress in the paper industry than took place during all preceding time since the inception of the art in China. The main changes which have taken place are the development of the paper machine and the use of wood and other fibrous materials as substitutes for rags. Without both of these departures from the older methods the present enormous production of paper and similar products could never have been accomplished. Whether the present marvelous development is wholly beneficial is open to some argument according to one's point of view. It is frequently claimed that the civilization of a nation is measured by its per capita consumption of paper, but there are those who consider that Americans, who are the greatest wasters of paper in the world, try to use this to bolster their claim to the highest degree of civilization.

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