Historical Book Arts Collection


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Damage and Repair



Archimedous tou Syrakousiou
Archimedous tou Syrakousiou

Dard Hunter, the expert on the history of papermaking, puts the date of the invention of paper at A. D. 105, although he says this date is rather arbitrary since undoubtedly experiments went on for some time before success was achieved by Ts'ai Lun, the person credited with the event. The identity of the actual fiber Ts'ai Lun first used is unknown. Speculation is that he experimented with cloth, tree bark, hemp waste and fish nets. Ultimately Asian paper made by hand focused on the use of the inner bark of certain trees including the paper mulberry, gampi and mitsumata. Papermaking was in full swing by A. D. 610. Fine paper is still made by hand from these materials.

European paper probably began in Spain about 1150, possibly using some equipment from China. Here paper fiber came from old garments, discarded as rags, pulverized into a mass called "stuff". The paper fiber is mixed with water and then the sheet is formed using a mould or porous surface, generally woven wire or bamboo that holds the paper fiber but allows the water to drain through. Usually there is a frame around the mould, sometimes called a deckle that restrains the paper fiber from leaking outward from the mould. The density of the paper fiber is less where the larger chain lines and the smaller laid lines appear on the mould. The finished piece of paper will show the shadow of these lines because the paper is slightly thinner there. Looking at the paper used in the 42-Line Gutenberg Bible we find about 28 laid lines to an inch, a fairly tight weave.

Papermakers wanted to identify their paper so they began to use watermarks-bits of wire bent into often elaborate shapes that were sewn to the mould. Again the paper is thinner where the watermark appears and it is visible with light shining through the paper.

Because the process of making paper by hand required no chemicals or detrimental processes, handmade rag paper lasts hundreds, possibly thousands of years. Our perception that paper is fragile and short-lived is based on poorly made machine made paper of the 19th and 20th Centuries.

Prior to the 19th Century all Western paper was handmade from rags. The color of paper is determined by the base color of the rags and ranges from light bone/beige to dark grey. Bleached white paper is a relatively modern invention and one which causes the paper to deteriorate much faster. The samples seen on these pages are photographed as close to the original color as possible. Except in some cases of poor storage in the past, most of the paper is probably very similar to the day it was made.

The papermaking process is relatively simple but difficult to explain without the props of equipment or images. We recommend Papermaking; The History and Technique of an Ancient Craft by Dard Hunter as a good starting point for the student of hand made paper.

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