Paper History

Papyrus is a crude form of paper which is made with the stalks of the papyrus plant, a reed native to the Mediterranean region.

Papyrus was developed by the Ancient Egyptians, who allowed the technique to spread to other regions of the Mediterranean, setting the stage for the development of other flexible writing materials like vellum, and eventually modern paper.

Thanks to Egypt's unique climate, it is possible to find ancient papyri which can be used to learn more about Egyptian culture. Prior to the development of paper, written records were kept on clay, wax, or stone tablets.

These tablets would have been cumbersome to use and transport, and they also took up a great deal of space.

When papyrus was developed, the Egyptians revolutionized recordkeeping and the accessibility of the written word, making it possible to keep extensive records on a wide variety of topics.
Being able to examine these records has been a great opportunity for archaeologists, who have used papyri to learn about Egyptian art, commerce, religious beliefs, and other aspects of Egyptian culture.

To make papyrus, the stalks of the reeds are macerated in water and then beaten to split the reeds.
After being beaten, the reeds are overlaid over each other in two layers which run at right angles to each other, and then pressed and dried.
As the papyrus dries, the layers pull together, creating a fairly strong, durable paper which was traditionally polished with stones to make the surface easier to write on.
The process can take weeks.

Tradition tells us that 'real' paper was invented by the Chinese in 105 AD during the Han Dynasty and spread slowly to the west via Samarkand and Baghdad.
Papermaking and manufacturing in Europe started in the 10th cenrury in the Iberian Peninsula, today's Portugal and Spain and Sicily, by the Muslims living there at the time, and slowly spread to Italy and South France, reaching Germany by 1400.

In medieval Europe, the hitherto handcraft of papermaking was mechanized by the use of waterpower, the first water papermill in the Iberian Pensinsula having been built in the Portuguese city of Leiria in 1411.

The blue and white tile is on the wall there.

The rapid expansion of European paper production was enhanced by the invention of the printing press and the beginning of the Printing Revolution in the 15th century.

The world's earliest known printed book (using woodblock printing), the Diamond Sutra of 868 AD, shows the widespread availability and practicality of paper in China.

This is a 16 ft long scroll!

The story begins in 105 AD, when Cai Lun, an official attached to the Imperial Chinese court during the Han Dynasty (202 BC-220 AD), created a sheet of paper using mulberry bast and other fibres along with fishnets, old rags, and hemp waste, though the earliest piece of paper found, at Fangmatan in Gansu province inscribed with a map, dates from 179-41 BC.
During the Shang (1600–1050 BC) and Zhou (1050 BC – 256 AD) dynasties of ancient China, documents were ordinarily written on bone or bamboo (on tablets or on bamboo strips sewn and rolled together into scrolls), making them very heavy and awkward and hard to transport.

The light material of silk, called chih, was sometimes used, but was normally too expensive to consider.
The Han Dynasty Chinese court official Cai Lun, as I have said, is widely credited with inventing the modern method of papermaking (inspired from the 'nests' of wasps and bees) from rags and other plant fibres in 105 AD.

The wasp nest is made from chewed wood.
When nests are being established in the spring the queen wasp will start to gather old dead wood from untreated fence panels or sheds, even garden furniture.
As the nest progresses and worker wasps have hatched, they take over nest material collection duties.

The workers take this material back to the nest and hand it over to young wasp larvae which turn this chewed wood into a paste which the adult workers then use to continue expanding the nest.
The paste which is used to construct the nest contains a certain amount of wax which helps with waterproofing.

It therefore would appear that "Cai Lun's contribution was to improve this skill systematically and scientifically, fixing a recipe for papermaking".

Traditionally, then, Cai Lun initiated the idea of making paper from the bark of trees, remnants of hemp, rags of cloth and fishing nets.
He submitted the process to the emperor in the first year of Yuan-Hsing and received praise for his ability.
From this time, paper has been in use everywhere and is universally called the paper of Marquis Tshai.
The manufacture may have originated from the practice of pounding and stirring rags in water, after which the matted fibres were collected on a mat.
Mulberry bark was particularly valued, and high quality paper was developed in the late Han period, which used tree bark.

In the Eastern Jin period paper began to be made on a fine bamboo screen-mould, treated with insecticidal dye for permanence. After printing became popular in the Song dynasty the demand grew more.
Paper was often used as a levy, with one prefecture sending some 1.5m sheets of paper to the capital as tribute up to the year 1101.
The first use of paper without writing has been excavated in China dating to the reign of Emperor Wu of Han from the 2nd century BC, used for purposes of wrapping or padding protection for delicate bronze mirrors.

It was also used for safety, such as the padding of poisonous 'medicine' as mentioned in the official history of the period.
Although paper used for writing became widespread by the 3rd century, paper continued to be used for wrapping (and other) purposes.

Toilet paper was used in China by at least the 6th century CE.
In 589 AD, the Chinese scholar-official Yan Zhitui (531-591 AD) wrote: "Paper on which there are quotations or commentaries from Five Classics or the names of sages, I dare not use for toilet purposes".
An Arab traveller to China once wrote of the curious Chinese tradition of toilet paper in AD 851, writing: "...they [the Chinese] do not wash themselves with water when they have done their necessities; but they only wipe themselves with paper".
During the Tang Dynasty (618–907 AD) paper was even folded and sewn into square bags to preserve the flavour of tea.
It is not clear how the tea was then served, but certainly these could have been the first teabags!

These are actually teabags from 1903, when for the first time in our modern era tea was sewn into muslin or silk bags and sold by a teamerchant, and customers, unsure of what to do, dunked the bags into their cups.
During the Tang period, it was written that tea was served from baskets with multi-colored paper cups and paper napkins of different size and shape.
During the Chinese Song Dynasty (960–1279 AD) not only did the government produce the world's first known paper-printed money, or banknote, but paper money bestowed as gifts to deserving government officials was wrapped in special paper envelopes.

Paper spread slowly outside of China; other East Asian cultures, even after seeing paper, could not make it themselves. Instruction in the manufacturing process was required, and the Chinese were reluctant to share their secrets.
The paper was thin and translucent, not like modern western paper, and thus only written on one side.
The technology transferred to Japan from China by Buddhist priests, around 610, where fibres (called bast) from the mulberry tree were used.

In America, archaeological evidence indicates that a similar bark-paper writing material was used by the Mayans no later than the 5th century A.D..
Called amatl, it was in widespread use among Mesoamerican cultures until the Spanish conquest.
The parchment is created by boiling and pounding the inner bark of trees, until the material becomes suitable for art and writing.

An amatl book

These materials made from pounded reeds and bark were technically not true paper, which is made from pulp, rags, and fibres of plants and cellulose.

After the defeat of the Chinese in the Battle of Talas in 751 (present day Kyrgyzstan), the invention spread to the Middle East.
The legend goes, the secret of papermaking was obtained from two Chinese prisoners from the Battle of Talas, which led to the first paper mill in the Islamic world being founded in Samarkand.

The laborious process of paper making was refined and machinery was designed for bulk manufacturing of paper.
The use of water-powered pulp mills for preparing the pulp material used in papermaking, dates back to Samarkand in the 8th century, though this should not be confused with paper mills.
The Muslims also introduced the use of trip hammers (human- or animal-powered) in the production of paper, replacing the traditional Chinese mortar and pestle method.

The Chinese traditional method.

By the 9th century, Arabs were using paper regularly, although for important works like copies of the revered Qur'an vellum was still preferred.
Advances in book production and bookbinding were introduced.
The Arabs made books lighter—sewn with silk and bound with leather-covered paste boards; they had a flap that wrapped the book up when not in use.

As paper was less reactive to humidity, the heavy boards were not needed.
By the 12th century in Marrakech in Morocco a street was named "Kutubiyyin" or book sellers; it contained more than 100 bookshops.

Berber bookshop in Marrakech today.
The earliest recorded use of paper for packaging dates back to 1035, when a Persian traveller visiting markets in Cairo noted that vegetables, spices and hardware were wrapped in paper for the customers after they were sold.

Since the First Crusade in 1096, paper manufacturing in Damascus had been interrupted by wars, splitting production into two centres.
Egypt continued with the thicker paper, while Iran became the centre for the thinner papers.
Papermaking was spread across the Islamic world, from where it travelled further west into Europe.

Paper manufacture was introduced to India in the 13th century by Arab merchants, where it almost wholly replaced traditional writing materials.
Paper is recorded as being manufactured in Italy in 1276, with watermarks being used in Fabriano by 1300 and factories established at Treviso and other northern towns by 1340.
In Italy also paper moulds consisting of metal wires and in connection with that also watermarks were first introduced.

Due to their noise and smell, papermills were required by medieval law to be erected outside of the city perimeter.

The first known mill in England was set up by John Tate in 1490 near Stevenage in Hertfordshire, but the first commercially successful paper mill in Britain did not occur before 1588 when John Spilman set up a mill near Dartford in Kent and was initially reliant on German papermaking expertise.

John Spilman's tomb in Holy Trinity Church, Dartford.

The rapid expansion of European paper production was enhanced by the invention of the printing press and the beginning of the Printing Revolution in the 15th century.
The history of printing would make a very interesting article!
A paper mill is a water-powered mill that pounds the pulp by the use of trip-hammers.
The mechanization of the pounding process was an important improvement in paper manufacture over the manual pounding with hand pestles.

While the use of human and animal powered mills were known to Chinese and Muslim papermakers, evidence for water-powered paper mills is elusive in both of them.
The general absence of the use of water-power in Muslim papermaking is suggested by the habit of Muslim authors to call a production centre not a "mill", but a "paper manufactory."

From mediaeval times, water-powered mills were set up all over Europe.

This is a 13th century mill at Amalfi which still shows the original wooden 'machinery.'

The earliest certain evidence of a water-powered paper mill dates to 1282 in the Spanish Kingdom of Aragon.
A decree by the Christian king Peter III addresses the establishment of a royal "molendinum", a proper hydraulic mill, in the paper manufacturing centre of Xàtiva.
The crown innovation appears to have been resented by the local Muslim papermakering community; the document guarantees the Muslim subjects the right to continue their way of traditional papermaking by beating the pulp manually and grants them the right to be exempted from work in the new mill.

The first paper mill north of the Alps was established in Nuremberg by Ulman Stromer in 1390; it is later depicted in the lavishly illustrated Nuremberg Chronicle.

The mill is in the bottom right-hand corner.

From the mid-14th century onwards, European paper milling underwent a rapid improvement of many work processes.
Before the industrialisation of the paper production the most common fibre source was recycled fibres from used textiles, called rags.
The rags were from hemp, linen and cotton.
A process for removing printing inks from recycled paper was invented by a german, Justus Claproth in 1774.
Today this method is called deinking.
It was not until the introduction of wood pulp in 1843 that paper production was no longer dependent on recycled materials.
It was the use of wood pulp that was finally to bring us white, smooth, easily manufactured paper.


Although cheaper than vellum, paper remained expensive, at least in book-sized quantities, through the centuries, until the advent of steam-driven paper making machines in the 19th century, which could make paper with fibres from wood pulp.
However, experiments with wood showed no real results until almost halfway through the nineteenth century.
By 1800, Matthias Koops (in London, England) further investigated the idea of using wood to make paper, and in 1801 he wrote and published a historical account of the substances which have been used to describe events, and to convey ideas, from the earliest date, to the invention of paper.
His book was printed on paper made from wood shavings (and simply adhered together).
No pages were fabricated using the pulping method (from either rags or wood).
He received financial support from the royal family to make his printing machines and acquire the materials and infrastructure need to start his printing business.
But his enterprise was short lived.
Only a few years following his first and only printed book (the one he wrote and printed), he went bankrupt.
The book was very well done (strong and had a fine appearance), but it was very costly.
Another method had to be found.


Then in the 1830s and 1840s, two men on two different continents took up the challenge, but from a totally new perspective.
Both Charles Fenerty and Friedrich Gottlob Keller began experiments with wood but using the same technique used in paper making; instead of pulping rags, they thought about pulping WOOD.
And at about the same time, by mid-1844, they announced their findings.
They invented a machine which extracted the fibres from wood (exactly as with rags) and made paper from it.
Charles Fenerty also bleached the pulp so that the paper was white.
This started a new era for paper making.
By the end of the 19th-century almost all printers in the western world were using wood in lieu of rags to make paper.

Together with the invention of the practical fountain pen and the mass produced pencil of the same period, and in conjunction with the advent of the steam driven rotary printing press, wood based paper caused a major transformation of the 19th century economy and society in industrialized countries.
With the introduction of cheaper paper, schoolbooks, fiction, non-fiction, and newspapers became gradually available by 1900.

Cheap wood based paper also meant that keeping personal diaries or writing letters became possible and so, by 1850, the clerk, or writer, lost some of his high status.
The original wood-based paper was acidic due to the use of alum, and was therefore more prone to disintegrate over time. Documents written on more expensive rag paper were more stable.
Mass-market paperback books still use these cheaper mechanical papers, but book publishers can now use acid-free paper for hardback and trade paperback books.

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