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On The Bad Composition Of Paper

( Originally Published Late 1800's )

Allow me to call the attention of your readers to the present state of that wretched compound called paper. Every printer will corroborate my testimony ;* and I am only astonished that the interesting question has been so long neglected and forgotten. It is a duty, however, of the most imperative description—our beautiful Religion, our Literature, our Science, all are threatened.

Every person in the habit of writing letters on "Bath wove post" must have been sensible of what I complain. Specimens there are, that, being folded up, crack at the edges and fall asunder; others, that being heated at the fire, disintegrate and tumble to pieces.

I have seen letters of a recent date already become a carte blanche. One letter, which I forwarded by post, fell to pieces by the way, and I have noticed more than once a description of writing-paper, that, being bent, snapped like a bit of watch-spring. I have in my possession a large copy of the Bible printed at Oxford, 1816 (never used), and issued by the British and Foreign Bible Society, crumbling literally into dust. I transmitted specimens of this volume to the Lord Bishop of Gloucester and to Mr. Wilberforce. No doubt it must be difficult to legislate on such a subject ; but something must be done, and that early. I have watched for some years the progress of the evil, and have no hesitation in saying that if the same ratio of progression is maintained, a century more will not witness the volumes printed within the last twenty years. MS. Records are in the same fatal condition.

Our typography does credit to this "our dear, our native land," and the paper is apparently good. The ink, however, betrays the fatal secret; there is the canker-worm; the ink of our most brilliant specimens of modern typography, as those of Ballantine, Bulmer, etc., has already become brown. I now see clearly that " black letter " books are so called by a just and proper emphasis ; for those of modern times are " brown letter " volumes.

The causes of destruction are twofold : the material, and the mode of bleaching the rags.

The use of cotton rags was very happily superseded by those of linen, yet I fear some manufacturers are not very scrupulous in the selection.

The application of quicklime to the rags, once prevalent in France, but very properly subsequently interdicted, was a serious evil, for it actually decomposed the material. Are we entirely guiltless? Such a process must needs disorganise the fibre.

The Chinese dip their paper in alum water ; it is thereby rendered brittle. Alum is clearly indicated, even to the taste, in the copy of the sacred volume already referred to.

I take it, however, that the chief causes of destruction consist in the employment of sulphate of lime, etc., in the pulp, and bleaching the rags previously, or the paper subsequently, with oxymuriatic acid gas (chlorine).

The tissue of paper will be more or less firm and permanent according to the substance from which the pulp is obtained. I am disposed to think that nettles ( Urtica urens) would be an excellent substitute for linen rags, if linen cannot be obtained in sufficient quantity. In the north of Italy they manufacture a beautiful cloth from the parenchematous fibre of the nettle.

Various have been the substitutes for, and materials of, paper. The medulla of the Cyperus papyrus (not the epidermis of that plant, as has been erroneously supposed) ; the bark of trees, as of the paper mulberry, white cotton, silk, etc., have afforded materials for the pulp. The " paper reeds " are adverted to in Holy Writ ; and it has often occurred to me that the wasp ( Vespa vulgaris) first gave the important hint of our present paper tissue to man.

I have specimens of paper made from amianthus (incombustible paper), leather (not parchment, etc.), wood, straw, silk, etc.

Having examined the paper taken from the copy of the Bible, 1816, and already mentioned as in a state of ruin, by chemical re-agents, I presume leave to subjoin the results.

To the tongue it presents a highly astringent and aluminous taste. On a heated metallic disc the leaf evolves a volatile acid, evincing white vapours with ammonia.

The paper is brittle as tinder, and of a yellowish tint. The ink is brown.

Litmus paper was reddened in a solution of the leaves in distilled water.

Hydriodate of potassa became greenish-yellow from free sulphuric acid, or rather from the excess of that acid, obtaining in the super-sulphate of alumina (alum).

Oxalate of ammonia gave the usual indications of lime.

Nitrate of silver exhibited the presence of muriatic acid, no doubt resulting from the chlorine employed in whitening the rags or paper.

Nitrate of baryta proved the presence of sulphuric acid, or of a sulphate.

The inference from these tests follows :

Free muriatic acid (from the chlorine).

Sulphate of lime.

Supersulphate of alumina.

This analysis has been submitted to the University of Oxford, through the medium of a friend.

Yours, etc. J. MURRAY.

The observations of Mr. Murray, p. 21, on the bad qualities of paper, are much strengthened by the following remarks by Professor Brand, from the "Annals of Philosophy" for July, 1823 :

" In order to increase the weight of printing papers, some manufacturers are in the habit of mixing sulphate of lime or gypsum with the rags to a great extent. I have been informed by authority upon which I place great reliance, that some paper contains more than one-fourth of its weight of gypsum; and I lately examined a sample, which had the appearance of a good paper, that contained about twelve per cent.

" The mode of detecting this fraud is extremely simple : burn 100 grains, or any given weight of the paper in a platina or earthen crucible, and continue the heat until the residuum becomes white, which it will readily do if the paper is mixed with gypsum. It is certainly true that all paper contains a small quantity of incombustible matter, derived from accidental impurities, but it does not amount to more than about one per cent. ; the weight, then, will indicate the extent of the fraud.

" With respect to the imperfection of paper, I allude to the slovenly mode in which the bleaching, by means of chlorine or oxy-muriatic acid, is effected. This, after its operation, is frequently left in such quantity in the paper that it may be readily detected by the smell. Some time since, a button-maker in Birmingham, who had manufactured the buttons in the usual way, was surprised to find that, after being a short time kept, they were so tarnished as to be unsaleable : on searching for the cause, he found that it was derived from the action of the chlorine, which had been left in the paper to such an extent as to act upon the metallic buttons."

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