Imagine what life would be like without paper – no rubbish-strewn streets for one thing. From plans for buildings and ocean liners to folding money, paper has played a vital role in shaping almost every aspect of the world we know today. Interestingly, all of it makes for a fascinating collection – particularly if space – and folding money – are tight.
Peter Burford*, the Director of Administration & Communications at Apsley Paper Trail in Hemel Hempstead told me that paper was first invented in China around 105 AD, but the technology of papermaking did not reach Western Europe for another 900 years and it was a further 450 years before it reached England.
Although the word paper is derived from the thin sheets of papyrus reed used over 5,000 years ago in Egypt, true paper is made by soaking and softening vegetable fibres until they become individual filaments. Removing the water leaves single sheets of ‘naturally’ intertwined fibres.
Although archaeological evidence suggests that a form of fused silk and paper substance was in use in China around 100 BC, the first record of true papermaking is in a report to the Emperor Ho Ti about the work of a Chinese court official named Ts’ai Lun in 105 AD.
His brilliance earned him the title of patron of papermaking throughout China.
It was not until the 3rd century that the secret art of papermaking began to creep out of China, first to Vietnam and then Tibet.
It was introduced into Korea in the 4th century and spread to Japan by the 6th century where, during the 8th century, the Empress Shotoku undertook a massive project to print a million prayers on individual sheets of paper, each mounted in its own pagoda.
Thereafter, the art of papermaking spread slowly westward throughout Asia to Nepal and then to India.
In 751 the technology of papermaking began its long journey into Europe via the Islamic world when Arab warriors, at war with the Tang Dynasty, captured a Chinese caravan that included several papermakers.
With their expertise, Samarkand soon became a great centre for paper production.
Gradually papermakers made their way further west through the Moslem world to Baghdad, Damascus and Cairo.
Finally, when the Moors from North Africa invaded Spain and Portugal, they took the technology with them to Europe in the 11th century.
The first record of a paper mill in Europe is found in 1056, established by the Moors at Xativa in Spain.
After the Christian armies finally dispelled the Moors from Spain in 1224, papermaking began to spread slowly throughout Christian Europe, first to Italy by 1250.
The first North American paper mill was established in Philadelphia over more than years later, in 1690, that
Even when paper began to be made across Europe, its widespread use was hampered by politics.
Partly due to its perceived Moslem origin and partly because of the influence of the wealth landowners with financial interests in sheep and cattle, a Papal Decree of 1221 declared that all official documents produced on paper were invalid.
The preferred medium was parchment – smoothed and scraped animal skins but it was very expensive and available only in limited quantities. It has been estimated that a copy of the Bible, hand-written on parchment required the skins of 300 sheep.
When Johann Gutenburg perfected movable type and printed his famous Bible in 1456, he not only spread the word of Christianity, but also sparked the first revolution in mass communication.
The birth of the modern paper and printing industry is commonly marked from this date, although it was another 250 years before western ingenuity turned the promise into a reality.
The first recorded paper mill in the United Kingdom was Sele Mill near Hertford owned by John Tate. Founded around 1488, the mill was visited by King Richard VII some 10 years later and a report of the visit was printed by Wynken de Worde.
Sheets bearing John Tate’s watermark have been found in books printed in 1494.
Other early mills included one at Dartford, owned by Sir John Speilman, who was granted special privileges for the collection of rags by Queen Elizabeth and one built in Buckinghamshire before the end of the 16th century.
During the first half of the 17th century, further mills were established near Edinburgh, at Cannock Chase in Staffordshire, and several in Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Surrey.
In December 1724, Henri de Portal was awarded the contract for producing the Bank of England watermarked bank-note paper at Bere Mill in Hampshire and by 1800, there were 430 paper mills in England and Wales, although fewer than 50 were established in Scotland, producing paper by hand.
With the country at war with Napoleon’s France, there was a shortage of labour for making paper and, in the new spirit of the age, mechanisation was the obvious answer to both the shortage and the increasing demand.
The solution came from France, where in 1799 Nicholas Louis Robert, an accountant at a paper mill in Essonnes had invented and patented, a hand-operated machine for making paper in lengths of up to 12 feet.
Unable to get finance to develop his invention, he sold the rights to his patent to his employer Leger Didot who in turn approached his brother-in-law, John Gamble, the latter being in Paris at the time organising the exchange of prisoners.
Gamble secured an English patent in October 1801 and persuaded Henry and Sealy Fourdrinier, partners in the City stationery firm of Bloxham and Fourdrinier, to back him in return for a one third interest in the patent rights.
The first Robert machine was installed at Frogmore Mill in Apsley, Hertfordshire, in 1803
In 1806 the Fourdriniers claimed that the cost of making a hundredweight of paper by machine was 3 shillings and 9 pence (19p) compared to 16 shillings (80p) by hand.
With nine workers operating it, their machine could produce in one 12 hour day the same amount of paper that it would take 41 workers by hand
By 1850 UK paper production is estimated to have reached 100,000 tons and the pattern for the mechanised production of paper had been set.
*The Paper Trail project is a unique activity-based industrial exploration centre built around an historic, fully working paper mill. It offers public access into the heart of a real working environment and is complemented by an active business and industrial enterprise hub. For further information, contact Peter Burford on 01442 234600.
- Of all new-found collectibles, paper ephemera is perhaps the cheapest, the most common and the most underrated. And you name it, someone somewhere collects it.
- Oddest things we’ve seen were illustrations from the lids of Cuban and Havana cigar boxes and the bands that go around the cigars being sold alongside a selection of tissue wrapping papers from various brands of pipe tobacco. Any one of them could be had for a couple of pounds.
- Some ephemera has been collected for years, even centuries: Christmas cards, stamps, currency, books, manuscripts, posters, maps, early photographs, matchboxes … the list is a long one.
- But what about these little exploited areas for future collections such as orange wrappers and packing case labels; takeaway sugar packets; giveaways from children’s comics; knitting and sewing patterns; protest badges; fanzines; calendars; bill and letterheads; business cards; polling station billboards … another long list.
- Paper money, a long-established collecting area, remains a firm favourite. with devotees. Dealers InterCol who trade online at www.intercol.co.uk, has a China Ming Dynasty banknote dating from the 14th century dated between 1368 and 1399 and printed on the bark of the mulberry tree. It is priced at £950, while an uncirculated 10 bob note (that’s 50 pence to younger readers) is priced at £4.
- Elsewhere, there are numerous notes from around the world in the 50 pence to £5 bracket that would appeal to younger collectors of more limited means.
Pictures show, top:
As we start the celebrations of the bicentenary of the Battle of Trafalgar, ask yourself where political cartoonist Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827) would have been without the paper to carry his salute to “Admiral Nelson recreating with his brave tars after the glorious Battle of the Nile”? The print is worth £4,000-6,000
Below, left to right:
There’s money in banknotes. One of only six Portsmouth branch Bank of England £5 notes known to exist. This one sold last year for £21,150
A Chinese banknote. The first banknote in the world appeared during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) and this example bears a inscription which threatens death to any forger. It has a value of 1,000 kwan
No paper – no children’s comics, such as this one featuring Pip, Squeak and Wilfred in the Daily Mirror in 1922