paper and binding
This page considers paper, arguably the key 'book technology',
It covers -
Much of civilisation has been driven by the availability
of a durable and economical substance for recording information.
Stone, inscribed metal plates, ceramics (eg clay tablets),
slates and wax tablets were expensive or unstable. Use
of parchment - although offering a mechanism "from
sheep to shelf" - was inhibited by the cost (or merely
scarcity) of animals and the bulk of handwritten/printed
Only paper - whether made from recycled rag, softwood,
grass such as rice or even recycled bison dung - offered
an appropriate mix of
durable medium for manuscripts and printed works
processing costs (particularly with the invention of
chemical processing of wood pulp) and thus cheapness
(demonstrated by lugging a paperback or even a leatherbound
volume versus a stack of wax tablets or a stele)
with white paper for example offering a higher contrast
and thus legibility than most computer monitors and
other electronic devices
Michel Montaigne's 1588 essay 'On Coaches' questioned
Eurocentric triumphalism by noting that
wonder at the miraculous invention of artillery and
at the rare device of printing when unknown to us at
the other end of the world named China, men had perfect
use of both one thousand years before
We commend Tsuen-Hsuin Tsien's Paper & Printing,
volume 5.1 of Joseph Needham's magisterial Science
& Civilisation in China (Cambridge: Cambridge
Uni Press 1985) and Jonathan Bloom's Paper Before Print:
The History & Impact of Paper in the Islamic World
(New Haven: Yale Uni Press 2001), of which there is a
Richard Hills' Papermaking in Britain 1488-1988
(London: Athlone Press 1988) is a succinct introduction
to manufacture and markets.
The Manager of the Wolvercote Mill in 1870 commented
materials which have been found most advantageous in
making paper for the Oxford Press are canvas sails and
cotton rags in about equal proportions. The principal
impurities in the former are the tarred thread with
which the sails are sewn and particles of pitch from
the ships' decks and rigging. The bulk of the cotton
rags are generally of a lower character, and (in addition
wool and silk woven with the fabric) contain a perceptible
quantity of animal matter, the nature of which may be
imagined, when it is stated that they are the cast-off
garments of the lowest class of society ... The animal
matter is very perceptible to the smell.
Among paper industry museums are the -
of Paper Science & Technology
Museum of Papermaking
A watermark - used to identify a papermaker/publisher
and in security documents
to discourage counterfeiting - is a recognisable image
or pattern in paper. That mark appears lighter than the
surrounding paper when viewed by transmitted light or
darker when viewed by reflected light on a dark background.
The mark is created during manufacture of the paper and
is integral to the sheet: it is thus distinct from an
inked or embossed stamp. Apart from aesthetic values,
watermarking is a forensic
tool sometimes used for dating documents and verifying
claims about their origins/authenticity.
Watermarks take two forms: 'line drawn' and 'shaded' marks.
Line drawn marks, which appeared prior to the Renaissance,
involve use of a wire stamp or roller. Application of
the stamp/roller to pulp during manufacture of the paper
transfers the 'line' pattern to the wet paper: the compressed
part of the sheet or roll is thinner because of that application,
allowing greater transmission of light than uncompressed
parts of the sheet and therefore has a lighter appearance
than the surrounding paper. Shaded marks, introduced in
the 1840s, result from use of relief on a roller rather
than a a wire. They thus appear as tonal images rather
than the more simple line shapes produced by use of a
For watermarks see the Gravell
Collection at the University of Delaware, the W3 Watermark
and American Watermarks 1690-1835 (New Castle:
Oak Knoll Press 2002) by Thomas Gravell, George Miller
& Elizabeth Walsh.
Key works are Richard Wolfe's Marbled paper: Its history,
techniques, and patterns. With special reference to the
relationship of marbling to bookbinding in Europe and
the Western world (Philadelphia: Uni of Pennsylvania
Press 1990), Rosamund Loring's Decorated book papers;
being an account of their designs and fashions (Cambridge:
Harvard Uni Press 1952) and Einen Miura's The art
of marbled paper: marbled patterns and how to make them
(London: Zaehnsdorf 1989).
Online exhibitions include the Uni of Washington's digital
Mirjam Foot's 1997 Panizzi Lectures on The History
of Bookbinding as a Mirror of Society (London: British
Museum 1998) is less recondite than Jan Szirmae's The
Archaeology of Mediaeval Bookbinding (Aldershot: Ashgate
1999), an argument that binding techniques were - like
paper - a prerequisite for the print revolution.
Foot also wrote Studies in the History of Bookbinding
(Aldershot: Scolar Press 1993), co-authoring Howard Nixon's
A History of Decorated Bookbinding in Italy and
A History of Decorated Bookbinding in England (Oxford:
Clarendon Press 1992). Philippa Mack produced the more
accessible British Library Guide To Bookbinding: History
& Techniques (Toronto: Uni of Toronto Press 1998).
Other works include Eric Burdett's The Craft of Bookbinding
(London: David & Charles 1975), Lionel Darley's Introduction
to Book Binding (London: Faber 1965) and Arthur Johnson's
The Thames and Hudson Manual of Bookbinding (London:
Thames & Hudson 1978).
The Dunhuang Project includes an online history
of Chinese bookbinding.
The Boston Athenaeum site showcases
one of the more macabre binding materials, explored in
Steven Connor's The Book of Skin (London: Reaktion
the death of paper?
And the 'death of paper'? That, like the 'death of the
book', is incisively dismissed in The Myth of the Paperless
Office (Cambridge: MIT Press 2001) by Abigail Sellen
& Richard Harper.
For a sidelight on stationery in the age of email, see
Cynthia Kling's 1999 Paper Swoon article.
'Electronic Paper' is discussed here.
The challenge of deacidification or other preservation
of works on acid paper (ie most of the books printed over
the past century) is considered in a later page of this
next page (illustration)