A Brief History Of Paper.

Neathery de Safita
(Neathery Batsell Fuller)
July 2002

What Is Paper?
True paper is characterized as thin sheets made from fiber that has been macerated until each individual filament is a separate unit. Medieval paper was made of diluted cotton, linen fiber. (Hunter 1943, 117) The fibers are then intermixed with water and by the use of a sieve-like screen, the fibers are lifted from the water leaving a sheet of matted fiber on the screen. The thin layer of intertwined fiber is paper.
(Hunter 1943, 5)
Many people include think of papyrus and rice paper as paper. They are not. Papyrus is not made from macerated fiber so, it is not true paper. Papyrus is made from a grasslike aquatic plant in the sedge family called Cyperus papyrus. It has woody, bluntly triangular stems that are cut or sliced end to end with metal knife. Then these thin "boards" are pasted together much like laminated wood. (http://education.yahoo.com/search/be?lb=t&p=url%3Ap/papyrus )
Rice paper is not paper. It is made from strips of the cut spirally from the pith of the rice paper tree, a small Asiatic tree or shrub, Tetrapanax papyriferum, that is widely cultivated in China and Japan. The pith is cut into a thin layer of ivory-like texture by means of a sharp knife. (American Paper and Pulp Association, 1965, 17). Parchment and vellum are also not paper. They are made from the skins of animals (Hunter 1943,6)

Where It Began.
Paper as we know it, was invented in China, AD 105, by the Chinese Eunuch Ts'ai Lun. It was, thin, feted, formed, flat made in porous molds from macerated vegetable fiber. (Hunter 1943,4) Before the 3rd century AD, the first paper was made of disintegrating cloth- bark of trees and vegetation such as mulberry, hemp, china grass (Hunter 1943,56)Paper was used in China from AD 868, for engraving religious pictures and reached its height of in 1634 with the wooden block prints made popular by Sung Ying-hsing.
The technology of making paper moved from China to Japan and then to Korea in AD 610 where it was commonly made from mulberry bark and Gampi. Later it was made from bamboo and rice straw. (Hunter 1943,59)
Marco Polo gave one of the first descriptions of Chinese papermaking in his 'Milione'. He mentions that the Chinese emperors jealously guard the secrets of papermaking and that fine paper is manufactured from vegetable fiber: rice or tea straw, bamboo canes and hemp rag cloth.
Chinese paper made from bark and the fibers of rags and hemp may have traveled on caravans following the Gobi Desert, the Desert of Takla Makan and the Tarim Valley and finally arrived in Samarkan. But papermaking was a closely guarded secret and it was not actually made there until after 751 AD. In 751 the Chinese lost a battle in Turkistan on the banks of the Tharaz River. It was recorded that among the Chinese prisoners were skilled papermakers. The craftsmen began making paper in Samarkan. (Hunter 1943,60)
Samarkan was a good place to make paper because it had an abundant supply of hemp and flax and pure water. (Hunter 1943,61)
It has been conjectured that the first paper mill was established in Baghdad (http://www.al-bab.com/arab/literature/lit.htm)
Papermaking then spread to Damascus and to Egypt and Morocco. It took 500 years to find its way to Europe. (Hunter 1943, 115)By the end of the 10th century, paper had replaced parchment and papyrus in the Arab world. ( http://www.al-bab.com/arab/literature/lit.htm)
The is a comparatively large number of early Arabic manuscripts. on paper dating from the 9th century. The material of the Arab paper was apparently substantially linen. It seems that the Arabs, and the skilled Persian workmen whom they employed, at once resorted to flax, which grows abundantly in Khorasan, as their principal material, afterwards also making use of rags, supplemented, as the demand grew, with any vegetable fibre that would serve; cotton, if used at all, was used very sparingly. Paper of Oriental manufacture in the Middle Ages can be distinguished by its stout substance and glossy surface, and was devoid of water-marks. (Stutermeister 1954, 11)Paper In Europe
The first mention of rag-paper occurs in the tract of Peter, abbot of Cluny (A.D. 1122 - 1150), adversus ludaeos, cap. 5. (http://www.manufactura.cz/paper.htm)s
Several manuscripts survive that were written in European, countries on Oriental paper or paper made in the Oriental fashion. The oldest recorded document on paper was a deed of King Roger of Sicily, of the year 1102; and there are others of Sicilian kings in the 12th century. A notarial register on paper, at Geneva, dates, from 1154. The oldest known imperial deed on the same material is a charter of Frederick II to the nuns of Goess in Styria, of the year 1228, now at Vienna. In 1231, Frederick II forbade further use of paper for public documents; which were in future to be inscribed on vellum. In Venice the Liber plegiorum, the entries in which begin with the year 1223, is made of rough paper; as are the registers of the Council of Ten, beginning in 1325; and the register of the emperor Henry VII. (1308--1313) preserved in Turin. In the British Museum there is an older example in a manuscript. (Arundel 268) which contains some astronomical treatises written on an excellent paper in an Italian hand from the first half of the 13th century. In the public Record Office there is a letter on paper from Raymond, son of Raymond, Duke of Narbonne and count of Toulouse, to Henry III of England, written during the years 1216-1222. The letters addressed from Castile to Edward I., in1279 and following years (Pauli in Bericht, Berl. Akad., I854), are instances of Spanish made paper. (Stutermeister 1954, 11)
There is a record of paper being used by the Empress Irene in Greece at the end of the 13th century, but with one doubtful exception, there are no extant Greek manuscripts on paper before the middle of the 13th century. http://www.manufactura.cz/paper.htmPapermaking Comes To Europe
The Muslim conquest of Spain brought papermaking into Europe. The English word "ream" (meaning 500 sheets) is derived through Spanish and French from the Arabic word rizmah that translates as "a bundle". ( http://www.al-bab.com/arab/literature/lit.htm)
Both Spain and Italy claim to be the first to manufacture paper in Europe. (Hunter 1943, 115) One of the first paper mills in Europe was in Xativa (now Jativa or St. Felipe de Javita in the ancient city of Valencia and it can be dated to AD 1151. (Hunter 1943, 153) Some scholars claim that the Arabs built the Xativa mill in approximately AD 1009. Papermaking continued under Moorish rule until 1244 when the moors were expelled. Paper making then began to gradually spread across Christian Europe. (http://www.mead.com/ml/docs/facts/history.html)
The first wire mold for making paper is identified in Spain dating to 1150. Bamboo molds were common in China, but it was not readily available in Europe.
The bamboo allowed the mold to be flexible, but the European rigid wire mold, was better suited to the formation of rag fiber. Europeans also invented the Fence or Deckle, which keeps the paper within bonds (Hunter 1943, 115).
The earliest paper was called 'cloth parchment', but it often contained wood and straw in addition to cloth. All these raw materials were beaten to a fine pulp and mixed with water. Sheets of paper were then pressed out, dried and hardened.

The demand for paper was slight in the 1st Century Europe (Hunter 1943, 153) . Paper cost more than vellum, it was more fragile than parchment and it was associated with Jews and Arabs who were not trusted. (Hunter 1943, 61) In fact, The Church in Western Europe initially banned the use of paper calling it a 'pagan art' believing that animal parchment was the only thing 'holy' enough to carry the Sacred Word. (http://members.aol.com/Ppreble2/history2.html)
It was only with the advent of printing in the middle of the 15th Century that the demand became greater. (Hunter 1943, 153)The first representation of the printing process is the 1568 wood print Der Papierer by Jost Amman in the Little Book of trades . (Hunter 1943, 5)

Papiermühle mit Wasserradantrieb by Jost Amman: Stände und Handwerker, Frankfurt a.M. 1568

Paper Making in Italy

In Italy the first great center of the paper-making industry was Fabriano in the marquisate of Ancona. Mills were established in 1276, and rose to importance with the decline of the manufacture in Spain. (http://www.manufactura.cz/paper.htm)The first official document recording the presence of paper manufacturing in Fabriano dates to 1283, and is the deed of a public notary recording the purchase of a house by a "carthaio" or paper maker, with another six paper makers called as witnesses. This document clearly points to the existence of a number of paper factories, and implies a well developed commercial activity.
Fabriano was the first manufacturing center to harness water power to drive the fibrillation (pulping) process, previously a labor intensive manual activity. (http://www.museodellacarta.com/ing/chiavelli.html)

In 1340 a factory was established at and Treviso ; and other factories were quickly established in the territories of Florence, Bologna, Parma, Milan, Venice. The factories of northern Italy supplied southern Germany with paper as late as the 15th century. The earliest German factories are said to have been set up between Cologne and Mainz, and in Mainz itself about 1320. Ulman Stromer established a mill in 1390 at Nuremberg, with the aid of Italian workmen. Ratisbon and Augsburg were other sites of early manufacture. Western Germany, the Netherlands and England, are said to have obtained paper at first from France and Burgundy then through the markets of Bruges, Antwerp and Cologne.
The first paper-mills in France were established in 1189, in the district of Hérault. By the second half of the 14th Century, the use of paper for all literary purposes had become established in all of Western Europe. In the course of the 15th century vellum was gradually superseded by paper. Some later manuscripts would use a mixture of vellum and paper. usually a vellum sheet would form the outer, or the outer and inner, leaves of a quire while the rest were paper.
(Stutermeister 1954, 11)Paper Making In Italy
Papermaking in Italy is dominated by the historic and powerful feudal family, Fabriano. The Council Statute of 1436 prohibited anyone within a radius of 50 miles from Fabriano buildings from manufacturing paper or teaching paper making secrets to those not residing within the Council territory, pending a fine of 50 ducats.
A later prohibition has even stiffer penalties. Transgressors were considered "rebels" and thereby banned from the city with consequent capital confiscation. The extent of the power of the local tribunal's protection of the Fabriano papermakers is highlighted in a 1445 document. Council priors, concerned that if maestro Piero di Stefano, the only artisan who practiced the "modular" art in the Marche province died his craft would die with him. The Council demanded the old maestro to teach the craft to his son or any apprentice in his workshop and not to construct or repair screens used outside the district of Fabriano or he would be penalized with a fine of 100 ducats.
Modular craftsman specialized in making the wooden screens – known as "modularo" . The screen or module – is made-up of a wooden framework, on which a dense wire mesh is placed and also a movable wooden frame or deckle. It must be constructed so that it will support the weight of the paste and the water without deforming the paper. (http://www.museodellacarta.com/ing/chiavelli.html)Paper Making In England
There is evidence that at the beginning of the14th century paper was used for registers and accounts. The British Museum has a register (Add. 31, 223 ), of the hustings court of Lyme Regis, the entries in which begin in the year 1309. The paper, of a rough manufacture, is similar to the kind that was used in Spain. The Records of Merton College, Oxford, show that paper was purchased "pro registro" in 1310.
Evidence for the history of paper-making in England is extremely scanty. The first maker whose name is known is John Tate, who is said to have set up a mill in Hertford early in the 16th century. (http://www.manufactura.cz/paper.htm)
Britain's first commercially successful paper-mill was established on the River Darent in Dartford as early as 1588. This paper-mill was set up by John Spilman ( Spielman), a German entrepreneur who became 'Goldsmyth of our Jewelles' to Elizabeth I and James I. He manipulated the favor and patronage of successive monarchs to ensure that he had a virtual monopoly of the paper industry. (http://www.dartfordarchive.org.uk/technology/paper.shtml)
In 1588 Spilman was granted a Crown lease of two mills in the Manor of Bignores at Dartford (probably close to what is now Powder Mill Lane), situated on the fast flowing River Darent. The mills appear to have been owned by Spilman earlier as he had already undertaken expensive repairs and alterations costing an estimated £1,500. It is not clear whether John Spilman himself knew anything about the techniques of paper-making, but he was able to finance the employment of skilled German paper-makers at Dartford. The newly constituted paper-mill of Dartford was the first mill in England to produce good quality white paper on a commercially viable basis. It was a sight to behold, one of the town's earliest tourist attractions!
Spilman's Dartford mill was the subject of 352 lines of poetry written in 1588 by Thomas Churchyard and dedicated to Sir Walter Raleigh. The acutely long-winded doggerel includes the first description of paper-making ever to appear in print. The mill seems to have been a prominent and impressive riverside feature:
This is so fine with workmanship set foorth
So surely built, and planted in the ground
That it doth seeme a house of some estate…
To which brave mill do thousands still repayre
So see what things are wrought, by cunning skill,'
Churchyard's poem gives some indication of the paper making process employed at Dartford : A Paper-mill
That now neere Dartford standeth well
Where Spilman may himself and household dwell
The Mill itself is sure right rare to see
The framing is so quaint and finely done
Built of wood and hollowed trunks of trees
The Hammers thump and make so loud a noise
As fuller doth that beats his woollen cloth
In open show, then Sundry secret toyes
Make rotten rags to yield a thickened froth
There it is stamped and washed as white as snow
Then flung on frame and hanged to dry, I trow
Thus paper straight it is to write upon
As it were rubbed and smoothed with slicking stoneThe Dartford-based mill was granted extensive monopoly powers that were often the subject of dispute. A patent dated February 1589 granted Spilman the monopoly of buying or dealing in linen rags, old fishing nets and leather shreds '… fitt for making all sorts of white paper. Nobody else was permitted to build a paper-mill without Spilman's consent. All persons were forbidden to make any paper in any mills'…alreadye made erected or used for broune paper mills' save with the license and assent of Spilman.
In July 1597 Spilman was granted a new patent for 14 years which confirmed his monopoly and granted him and his deputies power to search any premises where they suspected rags or paper were being hidden. Spilman's water-tight monopoly was designed to stop other mills attempting to make highly-prized white paper.
It is clear that there was some diversification of product at a later date, for in 1617 Spilman was making a new and pleasing kind of playing card.
John Spilman was knighted by James I at Dartford. The knighthood was probably granted as much for his activities as court goldsmith and jeweler as for his contribution towards the evolution and development of England's paper industry.
Sir John died in 1626 and is commemorated in Holy Trinity Church with a tomb, which incorporates colored effigies of himself and his first wife Elizabeth Mengel, daughter of a Nuremberg merchant. She died in 1607 at the age of 55. He had several children by his second wife Katherine who survived until about 1644. On the left hand side of the Spilman tomb is a commemorative tablet erected by the Legal Society of Paper-Makers, who in 1858 paid £58 towards the tomb's restoration.
Some 37 paper mills existed in England between 1588 and 1650, most were involved with the production of inferior quality brown paper. The trend towards the production of white paper came later after Spilman's monopoly was broken. (http://www.dartfordarchive.org.uk/technology/paper.shtml)How Is Paper Manufactured?
Papermaking required a long and often expensive apprenticeship. Workers were frequently sworn to secrecy because no craftsman wished to share knowledge with competitors. Thirteenth century, paper was produced almost entirely from linen and cotton rags pulped in water (http://lsm.crt.state.la.us/map7.htm).
The pulped fibers were thoroughly mixed in a deep vat, the n the vatman would dip a wire mesh tray into the mixture and a sufficient amount lifted out to yield the required thickness of paper. A wooden frame called a deckle fitted over the tray to form a raised edge and prevented the watery pulp from escaping. Pulp flowing between the frame and the deckle produced an irregular feathery edge around the paper hence the term "deckle-edged" paper. (http://lsm.crt.state.la.us/map7.htm) Most paper makers had 2 molds and one deckle (Hunter 1943, 225).
As soon as possible the newly formed sheet of paper was removed from the tray and placed between two pieces of felt. The paper-and-felt "sandwiches" were then pressed to remove surplus water and the paper hung to dry. (http://lsm.crt.state.la.us/map7.htm)It was typical in Europe that one a vat man would form the sheets, and a coucher would lay them down (Hunter 1943, 225).


Women graded and sorted cotton and linen rags according to quality.

Reproduced from Denis Diderot's Encyclopedie
Gift of Friends of the Cabildo


Sorted rags were broken down by hand-stamping the fibers.

Reproduced from Denis Diderot's Encyclopedie
Gift of Friends of the Cabildo

Stamping mechanism used to reduce rag materials into usable fibers for papermaking

Reproduced from Denis Diderot's Encyclopedie
Gift of Friends of the Cabildo




A vat man prepares to dip a paper mold into pulped fiber while the workman to the right drains excess water from a dipped frame. Heavy presses used to remove the remaining water from the paper are in the background.

Reproduced from Denis Diderot's Encyclopedie
Gift of Friends of the Cabildo


Women and a male apprentice at work in the drying loft. After pressing, the paper sheets were hung to dry on ropes woven from cow or horse hair.

Reproduced from Denis Diderot's Encyclopedie
Gift of Friends of the Cabildo

What Colors Did Paper Come In?
What About Adding Things To Paper?

White paper was the most desired of medieval papers. The poorer grades were made of old and discarded materials and yielded a light coffee color to light Grey.
Bleaching was not known unto the early 19th century (Hunter 1943, 225) so papermakers had to depend on using only fine fibers for the pulp. The best fabric to be used in period for paper was the linen of the whitest kind. The cotton and linen of the period were woven by hand and were free of chemicals and bleaching. (Hunter 1943, 154) Most English paper is a coarse and gray color until the late 17th century. In France a bluing was added to try to correct the muddy color. Paper making in the winter was difficult because the water was hard to clarify, so it was muddy.
The finest paper was free of inclusions. What plagues the modern handmaker of paper plagued the medieval papermaker.
Keeping the paper free of inclusions and specks has always been a challenge to the papermaker(Hunter 1943, 227). The hairs of vat man or coucher are often trapped in the paper during the couching process.
Other inclusions such as insects and leaves become trapped in the freshly molded paper. The Robert C. Williams American Museum of Papermaking located at the Institute of Paper Science and Technology in Atlanta, Georgia has a 15th century piece of paper with a mosquito embedded in the paper. (Hunter 1943, 226)
'Papermarker's tears' are blemishes caused by water being dripped on the freshly formed moist paper which causes a thin spot. (Hunter 1943, 225)
Blotting paper is first mentioned in the year 1465. It was a coarse, gray, unsized paper, fragments of which have been found among the leaves of 15th-century accounts, where it had been left after being used for blotting. Blotting is mentioned in W. Horman's Vulgaria, 1519 (p. 8o b) :
Blottyng papyr serveth to drye weete wryttynge, lest there be made blottis or blurris
Brown paper appears in 1570-1571, and was sold in bundles at 2s. to 2s. 4d. (http://www.manufactura.cz/paper.htm)


What Is A Watermark?
Watermarks are marks made from wires soldered to the surface of the wire mesh of the paper mould. The soldered mark is elevated above the surface and during paper making causes thinning of the layer of pulp, whereby the paper becomes transparent against the light. A water mark (le filigrán, wasserzeichen) then becomes visible in the structure of the paper. (http://www.manufactura.cz/paper.htm) The twisted forms were held in place by thread like wires stitched back and forth binding the marks to the "laid and chain" wires. On old paper, the sewing lines can be easily detected since the wires used for securing the design and the design were made from the same gauge of wire. (Hunter 1943, 264).

Watermarks first appear 1282 (Bayley 1902, 1) and by the
end of the 1200's the craftsmen active in Fabriano were in the habit of countersigning their production with watermarks. (http://www.museodellacarta.com/ing/cartamano.html)
The creation of the mark on the wire netting was sometimes entrusted to goldsmiths, in Cheb for instance in 1540, who were more skilled in drawing and forming the wires then the mould maker. (http://www.manufactura.cz/paper.htm) The simplicity of watermarks in the13th century is striking, partly due to the clumsy wire. The earliest designs were crosses, ovals, areolas, knots, triangles, 3 hills, pommee crosses (Greek crosses with balls at the ends of the crossbars) (Hunter 1943, 268) . By the 14-15th century, the wire was thinner so the designs became more detailed (Hunter 1943, 265).

The designs had multiplied into thousands of motifs representing every phase of nature and human endeavor. By the time that printing from moveable types is developed in 1450, the tradition of watermarking paper is already two centuries old (Hunter 1943, 261)
The term water mark is fairly modern. The first use in English is beginning of 18th Century. In German the word Wasserzeichen was used in the first part of 19th century, Filigrane in French and Papiermerken in Dutch
(Hunter 1943, 263).

Few watermarks bear dates and then the dates cannot be trusted since molds were used for many years (Hunter 1943, 264), and there is evidence that unscrupulous manufactures also faked the watermarks of prominent papermakers (Hunter 1943, 265).The whole question of why papermakers used watermarks is interesting. Several theories have been proposed.
Identification Marks- like Trademarks of today.
This seems unlikely since there were so many more watermarks than papermakers. (Hunter 1943, 220-240)
Some 15th century works contain a dozen or more different watermark in the same book. It is unlikely that these represent different mills. However, the lawyer Bartola de Sassoferrato De insignis et armis dating between 1340 and 1350, mentions that a paper maker can be prohibited from using the mark of a different producer, and also mentions the falsification of marks. (http://www.manufactura.cz/paper.htm)

1221 - one of the oldest known water marks with the name of the paper-maker (Briquet, Les Filigranes)


5410 - the oldest known water mark on Italian paper - Bologna about 1282 (Briquet)


1001 - the paper-mill in Benes╝ov nad Plouc╝nicí about 1569

2. To indicates size. This is silly since size was not an important issue to early paper makers. In the up to the 15-16 the Centuries paper did not differ in size, because of the limited demand for sheets of diverse dimensions. It was only after the widespread adoption of the variable letter printing press that paper began to be have a need for varying sizes.
(Hunter 1943, 225)3. Secret Symbols
Curiously, scholars who write about the Holy Grail, such as Margaret Starbird have turned to a 19th century Scottish scholar, Harold Bayley who theorized that watermarks were secret signs of pre-Reformation Protestant mystic or gnostic groups sects known in France as Albigeois and Vaudois and as Cathari or Patarini in Italy. (Bayley 1902, 5) Embossing Designs On Paper
Although there is no documented evidence that embossing (the art of producing raised portions or patterns on the surface of metal, leather, textile fabrics, cardboard, paper and similar substances) was done on paper, it is known that parchment was embossed in the 15th Century by Spanish monks, nuns and novices for bookbinding and decorating holy tracts.
( http://www.parchment-craft.co.za/susan/sueparhis.htm)

American Paper and Pulp Association.
1965. The Dictionary of Paper, including pulp, paperboard, paper properties and related papermaking terms. 3rd ed. New York.

Bayley, Harold
1909 (1966) The Lost Language of Symbolism, Citadel Press.

Hunter, Dard
1943 (1970) Papermaking. The History and Technique of and Ancient Craft. Dover publications, New York
Starbird, Margaret
1993 The Woman With the Alabaster Jar : Mary Magdalen and the Holy Grail , Bear & Co
Stutermeister, Edwin
1954 The Story of Papermaking. R.R. Bowker Company, New York.

Web Refernces