Some Known and Some Approximate Dates:
|3000 (at least)
||Egyptians cultivate Papyrus and produce scrolls
||In use until the 11th c. AD
||Use of Animal Skins, Parchment, Vellum
||Pergamon was a big parchment center and lent its name. Animal skins probably used much, much earlier.
|105 (possibly 100 to 200 years earlier)
||Chinese Invent Paper (bamboo, mulberry, and hemp)
||Paper and papermaking know-how travel the Silk Routes
||Paper made in Japan
||Samarkand becomes paper making center. Paper made from mulberry plants
||Paper made in Baghdad (made from hemp ropes)
||Paper made in Egypt and apparently recycled linen wraps of mummies
||Moors introduce paper to Spain
|1200 – 1300
||Paper Made in Italy (linen and hemp rags)
||Introduce watermarks and animal skin size
||Hollander Machine Invented in Holland
||Speeds up paper making process. Cotton easily beaten with hollander.
||Wove Paper invented by James Whatman in England
||Mesh wire cloth produces a paper without visible laid and chain lines.
||Groundwood Pulp Process patented in Germany
||Great expansion of wood paper mills
One of my favorite passages in Eric Hebborn’s memoir “Drawn to Trouble: Confessions of a Master Forger” is where he fills a hole in one of his faked drawings by chewing on a piece of paper, breaking up the fiber, and then pushes the pulp into the hole and flattens it. This is paper making at its simplest.
Fiber, water, and netting to catch the fiber are the three essentials of paper. Wool felt to absorb water, a flattening press, and gelatinous glue to size the paper are important refinements.
At Fabriano, in the region of the Marche, paper has been produced since at least the 13th century, and there is a wonderful museum called the “Museo della Carta e della Filigrana” or Paper and Watermark Museum. It is operated by the City of Fabriano and Cartiere Miliani, Fabriano’s huge mill which produces a range of papers, from high quality art papers to photocopy paper, and also is one of the five European mills that produces paper for the euro. The earliest piece of paper at the museum is a 1293 paper with a watermark of the Arabic figure 8, written horizontally.
1293 Paper Fragment, Horizontal Figure 8, Fabriano City Archive, on loan to Paper Museum
The earliest European paper was made from rags, rags made from linen or hemp cloth. Linen is an ideal fiber since it is at its strongest when wet. Cotton was not used until the 18th century, when machines capable of processing cotton were introduced and supplies of cotton from warmer countries, including America, became more plentiful. (Cotton had been grown in Sicily, as was papyrus, but Sicily’s temperatures were not reliably warm.) Paper from trees was introduced in 1870. The availability of plant materials and rags has driven the history of paper. From the didactic film shown at the museum, we know that when the plague was raging, there would be shortages of rags and paper, because the clothes and bedclothes of the sick and dead would be burned, rather than sold.
The museum has exhibits, machines, and master paper makers demonstrating the making of paper. Rags were carefully sorted, washed, bleached, and then cut into small pieces. There are large wooden machines, once powered by water action, but now electrically, that pound the rag bits into pulp.
18th cent. Paper Making Machine, Fabriano, Photo by Lucas Miller
The most fascinating part of the visit comes from seeing the master paper maker scoop up the pulpy broth and with expert movements control and catch just the right amount of fiber for a sheet of paper. The tour guide said that it takes about six years for a person to learn this skill. The mold is a frame with chain wires and laid wires and it is never very large, never longer than a man’s arm, since that would make it very difficult to maneuver. (When artists needed large paper, as for preparatory cartoons, they would fasten pieces of paper together with glue.) Over time chain and laid wires and also watermark wires bend and degrade. This movement of the wires makes it difficult to study watermarks. Here is an early piece of paper at the Fabriano museum showing how wires can move.
1311 CRESSCE M Paper, Fabriano City Archive, on loan to Museum, Photo by Lucas Miller
After being molded, the paper is allowed to dry between wool felt slabs and then there are places for it to be hung to dry. Sometimes the sheets would be left in the fields to dry. It would then be sized by dipping the paper into a glue made from animal skins and allowed to dry again. The paper would then be pressed and finally burnished before it was sold.
Lascaux Cave, Det. Hall of the Bulls, France, c. 16,000 BC
Lascaux’s Caves with their earth colored images of cattle and stags; white-ground lekythoi with their spare and elegant mourning figures; the bronze mirrors of all over the ancient world, incised with contour or outline drawings are all beautiful examples of drawing, but not what we now commonly think of as drawings. When we think of drawings, we usually think of works on paper.
Inscription Painter. Attic 470-460 BC. Madrid Archeological Museum Inv. 19497. Photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen
The history of drawing and writing are closely linked. The very earliest writing is image based, drawn images give way to symbols and symbols to letters. The materials used in writing and in drawing are also mostly the same. Papyrus, parchment, paper, pen, brush, ink, paint are shared by writing and drawing.
The word paper comes from the word papyrus. Papyrus plants are aquatic and were cultivated along the Nile for their use as a support for writing (scrolls and later codices), as well as for building materials, sailcloth, fuel etc. The plant’s stem is made up of fibrous white interior which is easily cut into strips. Strips are fastened together by overlapping and pounding the damp pieces of papyrus to form sheets and then long scrolls. The more expensively produced scrolls would have had the papyrus buffed to a smooth finish, would have had carved wood and bone rollers, might have been illustrated, and maybe housed in protective boxes. Reading a scroll must be very much like scrolling on a computer. A couple of differences are that with scrolls one reads sideways, rather than longitudinally, and no “find” command. The Villa dei Papiri at Herculaneum, named because of the large library of papyrus scrolls found there, contained some 1,785 scrolls and is the only ancient library to remain intact (Vesuvius’ eruption in 79 AD insured that the scrolls were preserved, though carbonized). The Villa dei Papiri belonged to Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus, Julius Caesar’s father-in-law. The ancient world’s largest library was at Alexandria and had some 700,000 papyri.