Enfilade

New Resource for the History of Paper

Posted in resources, teaching resources by Editor on January 20, 2012

Though especially concerned with issues of book production, this research and the resulting website have implications for all early modern print culture. Aimed at a wide range of audiences — “from the complete novice to the paper-conservation scientist” — the site might be especially helpful for teaching purposes..CH

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From a UICB press release (17 January 2012) . . .

Tim Barrett of the University of Iowa Center for the Book Launches Paper History Website

Research by a University of Iowa led team reveals new information about why paper made hundreds of years ago often holds up better over time than more modern paper. Led by Timothy Barrett, director of papermaking facilities at the UI Center for the Book, the team analyzed 1,578 historical papers made between the 14th and the 19th centuries. Barrett and his colleagues devised methods to determine their chemical composition without requiring a sample to be destroyed in the process, which had limited past research. The results of this three-year project show that the oldest papers were often in the best condition, in part, Barrett says, due to high levels of gelatin and calcium.

“This is news to many of us in the fields of papermaking history and rare book and art conservation,” says Barrett. “The research results will impact the manufacture of modern paper intended for archival applications, and the care and conservation of historical works on paper.”

Barrett says one possible explanation for the higher quality of the paper in the older samples is that papermakers at the time were attempting to compete with parchment, a tough enduring material normally made from animal skins. In doing so, they made their papers thick and white and dipped the finished sheets into a dilute warm gelatin solution to toughen it. . . .

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From the project website, Paper through Time . . .

This website is designed for use by a wide range of visitors, from the complete novice to the paper-conservation scientist. Newcomers to the site may want to begin with the PROJECT OVERVIEW & AUTHORS and CONCLUSIONS sections for a quick sense of our research and what we learned. Those unfamiliar with papermaking history and technique may wish to start with European Papermaking Techniques 1300-1800 (under BACKGROUND) for an introduction to the craft. Visitors with a strong interest in papermaking history, materials and processes, paper permanence, paper science, and paper conservation are advised to begin at the top of the menu to the left and click on each tab, reading as interest and time permit. The site will be updated regularly. Suggestions for changes are welcome via email messages . . .

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