Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Paper, Parchment, and Process
A few weeks ago, I posted an article about writing implements, and to follow up on that, today I’m talking about paper—old and new. Paper has been manufactured since the middle of the eighth century, when the Arabs learned the skill from the Chinese. During the ninth century, Greeks used it, and later, in the late eleventh century, the technique was practiced in Muslim Spain. Later, paper making came to Italy and the Mediterranean, where merchants and notaries kept records of transactions. Paper making spread northward, to England, and by the middle of the sixteenth century, the industry was a prominent part of European economies, although parchment (from animal skins) was still being used.
Paper was usually made from cotton or linen rags, except in the Orient, where they often used silk. The rags were soaked and pounded to a pulp, after which they went into a vat with a solution of water and size. A wooden frame strung with wires was dipped into the mixture and agitated until the fibers fused to form a sheet of paper. This was then placed between sheets of blotting paper and pressed. It could then be trimmed or left with a rough edge. Paper frames often incorporated wire devices (in the form of designs or monograms), which left an image (watermark). Is it any wonder paper was an expensive commodity, made in such a painstaking and time-consuming process?
Early paper was quite resilient, but after books began to be produced, wood was used for making paper, adding an acidity which causes pages to turn brown and eventually to crumble away, making preservation difficult. Now that we have acid-free paper, the pages of a book frequently outlast the bindings.