Paper Studies

What use is a knowledge of paper and of the paper-making process to an analytical bibliographer? To my mind an excellent synthesis of the essential nature of paper study and of how to go about it was provided well over a century ago by no less a person than Charles Moisé Briquet: “Toute feuille de papier filigrané porte en elle-même son acte de naissance, le difficile est de le déchiffrer. Rappelons qu’une telle feuille a reçu en effet l’empreinte de la forme sur laquelle elle a été faite; c’est donc un objet moulé, comme une médaille ou une monnaie, dont tous les exemplaires sont semblables entre eux. Or, une forme à papier est promptement mise hors de service; sa durée moyenne ne dépasse pas deux ans. Lorsqu’elle est usée, elle est remplacée par une autre, qui n’est jamais absolument identique à la précécente; elle en diffère par la vergeure, par le nombre et l’écartement des pontuseaux, par les contours ou les dimensions du filigrane ou par la position qu’occupe ce dernier sur la forme. Pour pouvoir préciser la date de fabrication d’une feuille de papier, il ne suffit donc pas qu’elle porte un filigrane analogue à celui d’un papier d’une date connue; il faut que le deux filigranes soient identiques, placés au même endroit de la forme, il faut que le format, la vergeure et les pontuseaux des papiers comparés soient les mêmes. Il convient encore de rappeler que, dans la fabrication du papier, on se sert toujours simultanément de deux formes et que, bien qu’exactement contemporaines, ces deux formes offrent toujours quelque dissemblance” (‘De la valeur des filigranes de papier come moyen de déterminer l’âge et la provenante de documents non datés’, Bulletin de l’histoire de la Société d’Histoire et d’Archéologie de Genève, tome I, livre 2, 1892, pp. 192-202, repr. in Briquet’s Opuscula. The Complete Works of Dr. C.M. Briquet without “Les Filigranes” (Hilversum, The Paper Publications Society, 1955, pp. 235-240: 235-236)). It should never be forgotten that most bibliographical evidence furnished about paper does not come from the long-lost original moulds nor in truth from the sheets made from those same moulds; it derives instead from what has been written and printed on those sheets, which have furthermore been folded, bound and cut to make books. Repertories of watermarks and bibliographical analyses rest on the necessary, albeit unspoken, assumption that there is correlation between the date and place in which a sheet was made and those in which it was used, but it is never a safe assumption. In terms of the use of paper in the printing shop, two essential problems have to be considered: how to recognise sheets of paper made by the same mould or, more correctly, the same pair of moulds, and how to interpret the stratification of different lots of paper appearing in an edition or in a series of editions from the same shop.

In the Principles Bowers dedicates no space whatsoever to the description of paper and the prejudice that little or nothing is to be obtained from the analysis of watermarks and other identifying signs of the basic raw material of books has been commonplace among bibliographers of the Elizabethan and Jacobean book. Such an attitude was not unreasonable, however, if we consider that the dramatic texts of the era were often printed on mixed lots of poor quality imported French paper. As a consequence, evidence from the physical support, except where needed to identify cancels or quiring or other operations related directly to the printing of the edition, was difficult to read, complicated to gather and ambiguous in meaning. The net result was that pioneering analytical bibliographers did not bother themselves about what it could tell them.

The person who, in the eyes of Anglo-American scholarship, is widely regarded as having single-handedly changed the bibliographical attitude to paper evidence was Allan Stevenson (1903-70; see Paul Needham, ‘Allan H. Stevenson and the Bibliographical Uses of Paper’, Studies in Bibliography, vol. 47, 1994, pp. 23-64, which includes a check-list of Stevenson’s scholarly output). Essential reading for any neophyte is the famous article in which Stevenson declares the ‘twinhood’ of watermarks, which derives from the fact that two moulds are employed in alternation at the vat, otherwise the vatman and the coucher would each be standing idle 50% of the time; see ‘Watermarks are Twins’, Studies in Bibliography, vol. 4 (1951-52), pp. 57-92, together with the synthesis of Stevenson’s method and its bibliographical significance in his ‘Paper as Bibliographical Evidence’, The Library, s. 5, vol. 17 (1962), pp. 197-212. His undoubted masterpiece, also for the detective-story style of the narration, is The Problem of the Missale Speciale (London, The Bibliographical Society, 1967), though his essential findings had been anticipated in a series of independent discoveries by the German scholars, Theo Gerardy and Gerhard Piccard. In it he showed through paper evidence that the so-called Missale Speciale for the Diocese of Constance, which on the basis of its typography had been believed to be contemporary to or even earlier than the Gutenberg Bible, could not have been produced earlier than 1473. Extensive photographic documentation showed how the watermarks employed in the paper of the Missale had aged through use at the vat, so that the different states not only established the unique identity of each twin pair of watermarks, but also allowed the bibliographer to establish more subtle forms of chronology. Stevenson’s other considerable achievement was to edit the ‘Jubilee edition’ of Briquet’s Filigranes, adding a valuable historical introduction, integrations and corrections to the text, as well as further sets of indexes (see Dictionnaire historique des marques du papier dès leur apparition vers 1282 jusqu’en 1600. A facsimile of the 1907 edition with supplementary material contributed by a number of scholars, edited by Allan Stevenson, Amsterdam, the Paper Publications Society, 1968, 4 voll.). More recently Conor Fahy has drawn attention to the writings on paper evidence by the Italian incunable scholar, Roberto Ridolfi, whose Le filigrane dei paleotipi: saggio metodologico (Firenze, Tipografia giuntina, 1957), though conceived primarily as an instrument for the study of Florentine Fifteenth-Century printing, anticipates several of Stevenson’s basic axioms; see ‘Roberto Ridolfi e lo studio bibliologico della carta’, La Bibliofilìa, vol. 97 (1995), pp. 35-57, and ‘Roberto Ridolfi, Italian Bibliographical Scholar’, Studies in Bibliography, vol. 51, 1998, pp. 26-47. Contributions by Paul Needham complete the need-to-know bibliography, some of them unfortunately published in conference acts or journals that are not easy to find, but which are well worth the trouble required to obtain them; see ‘Res papirea: Sizes and Formats of the Late Medieval Book’ in Rationalisierung der Buchherstellung im Mittelalter und in der frühen Neuzeit, ed. Peter Rück (Marburg an der Lahn, Institut für Historische Hilfswissenschaft, 1994), pp. 123-145; ‘Aldus Manutius’ Paper Stocks: The Evidence of Two Uncut Books’, Princeton Library Chronicle, vol. 55 (1994), pp. 287-307, also issued in The Same Purposeful Instinct: Essays in Honour of William H. Scheide, ed. William P. Stoneman (Princeton, Princeton University Library, 1994, pp. 135-155); ‘Concepts of Paper Study’, in Puzzles in Paper: Concepts in Historical Watermarks, ed. Daniel W. Mosser, Michael Saffle & Ernest W. Sullivan II (New Castle, Delaware, Oak Knoll Press; London, The British Library, 2000, pp. 1-36).

Another significant obstacle in understanding and employing paper evidence is that, though the basic problem is simple, the range of fields to which such studies are is applicable comprises most of the history of Western civilisation, together with a spin-off nuisance factor in the circumstance that many important pieces of research appear in out-of-the way journals or in monographs that are unfindable on the commercial market. Building up a working library can therefore be a daunting and time-consuming task. Quite aside from its traditional employment in the study of manuscripts and printed books, I know of important evidence provided by paper in work on Sanudo’s Diaries, Pisanello and Michelangelo drawings, Durer and Rembrandt prints, Turner sketchbooks, Mozart scores, Zola autographs, D.H. Lawrence letters, and as forensic evidence in the detection of Wise’s falsehoods. It is therefore a problem that scholars with a professional interest in paper evidence do not have a common forum or shared periodicals in which to exchange information, though the growth in recent years of a body such as the International Association of Paper Historians is contributing to improve this situation [ ].

For the beginner, texts describing how paper is made should be read before anything else. As well as the extremely succinct but effective summaries both of work at the vat and of the process of mechanisation in Gaskell, New Introduction to Bibliography, pp. 57-77, 214-230, good general introductions in English can be found in R.H. Clapperton, Paper: An Historical Account of its Making from the Earliest Times down to the Present Day (Oxford, Shakespeare Head Press, 1934, repr. 1955), and in Dard Hunter, Papermaking. The History and Technique of an Ancient Craft (New York, Knopf, 1943, rev. 1947, and reprints); on the figure of the latter author (1883-1966), see Cathleen A. Baker, By his Own Labour: The Biography of Dard Hunter (New Castle; Oak Knoll Press, 2000), as well as the various internet sites dedicated to his collection of artefacts. Another excellent historical introduction by a French librarian, though curiously only available in Italian,  is that by Anne Basanoff, Itinerario della carta dell’Oriente all’Occidente e sua diffusione in Europa (Milano, Cartiera Ventura, 1965, and reprints). A well organised and thorough, though at times somewhat dispassionate, overview of paper studies is now available in Peter F. Tschudin, Grundzüge der Papiergeschichte (Stuttgart, Anton Hiersemann, 2002),  while a summary of work relating to bibliographical usages can be found in John Bidwell, ‘The Study of Paper as Evidence, Artefact, and Commodity’, in The Book Encompassed: Studies in Twentieth-Century Bibliography, edited by Peter Davison, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1992, pp. 69-82.

The best early account of the machinery of papermaking and of work at the vat is undoubtedly that by Joseph Jêrome le Français de Lalande, L’Art de faire le papier, published as part of the Descriptions des Arts et Métiers of the Académie Royale des Sciences (Paris, chez Desaint & Saillant, 1761). Disconcertingly, as with Fertel’s manual of printing, no modern critical French text exists, though the Italian translation published at Parma in 1762 with the title Osservazioni intorno all’arte di fabbricare la carta had a modern edition in 1962 with useful notes by A. F. Gasparinetti (under whose name it should be sought, since the titlepage omits all mention of the original author, Lalande). I am also aware of two private press versions in English: the first, translated by Richard MacIntyre Atkinson, published at Kilmury by the Ashling Press in 1976, while the second is the re-edition of a version which originally appeared in article form in the Universal Magazine in 1762, edited in 1978 by Colin Cohen and Geoffrey Wakeman (Loughborough, Plough Press). Equally precious is the detailed account in the entry ‘Papetterie’ nowadays attributed to Louis-Jacques Goussier in the Encyclopédie (1765 and Receuil 1767; for the attribution see Kafker, The Encyclopedists as Individuals cit.  § 2, pp. 154-178), available in the photographic reprint edited by Giles Barber (Bookmaking in Diderot’s ‘Encyclopédie’, Farnborough, Gregg International, 1973) and, though limited to the Receuil de planches, as part of the volume entitled Imprimerie, Reliure, by the Bibliothèque de l’image in 2001. When the original entry was reworked by Nicolas Desmarets for the Encyclopédie methodique published towards the end of the century, considerable additions were made, which should be noted by anyone studying these entries for their contents.

The central issue in effective paper analysis is that of recognising and describing watermarks. Scholars such as Tschudin have insisted that the whole mould (or module or forme) has to be identified, but in practical terms this is no different to the old joke about the Oxford don nude sunbathing (i.e. that he is to be recognised by his face and not by his private parts). Though in the observation of a sheet one should always take note of its probable size and of particular features (in French Sixteenth-Century paper an important element is the presence or lack of tranchefiles), the part we are going to recognise most easily is always going to be the watermark, or better the pair of watermarks.

The couple of moulds used together at the vat was like a pair of shoes, so that both mould-makers and vatmen took trouble to ensure that the same two were always correctly matched up. From the Middle Ages it seems to have been standard practice to place the watermark in the left half of one mould and in the right half of the other, though, from the Eighteenth century onwards the previously empty half was often filled in with a subsidiary or countermark containing the name of the mill or the paper-maker. This device of placing the main mark alternately on the right or on the left obviously facilitated the task of the vatman in recognising a pair of moulds and their attendant deckle in the racks. In larger mills there could be several sets of almost identical moulds with the same watermark, so that more sophisticated forms of identification were required: in sheets of Italian late Eighteenth-century paper made near Lucca I have found numbers, identifying pairs of formes, placed as additional unobtrusive watermarks at the base of one of the central chain-lines.

The first step in distinguishing between twin moulds is to learn how to tell the felt side from the mould side of the sheet (see Allan H. Stevenson, ‘Chain-indentations in Paper as Evidence’, Studies in Bibliography, vol. 6 (1954), pp. 181-195). As well as conveniently identifying watermarks by whether they are positioned in the left/right-hand side of the mould, it also ensures that comparisons between sheets are always effected from the same side. If the sheets of paper have been used only for manuscript or archive purposes, the task is usually straightforward and at times it is possible to distinguish by touch alone (i.e. the indentation in the mould side will feel rougher, while the felt side is inevitably smoother); if, on the other hand, they are in a printed book and, worse, in a printed book that has been washed and rebound, it can prove well nigh impossible. In difficult cases, examination in a darkened room with a beam of raking light can solve the problem. It should also be noted that in some cases – for instance, words, letters of the alphabet, human or animal figures, in which the watermark has a clearly defined direction – the relationship of the symbol to the edge of the sheet can also be a useful way of distinguishing pairs of marks.  Another potentially helpful feature is the cornermark, often a couple of letters denoting a mill or perhaps a single vat, placed in a corner of the otherwise empty half of the mould opposite the watermark. It appears to have been common in northern Italian Sixteenth-Century paper destined for the Venetian printing presses, but from the Eighteenth century appears also in French and other papers. Its position makes it easy to see its relation with the edge of the sheet: for instance, in what Conor Fahy calls paper n. 8 in a supply used by the Aldine shop in 1527-28, the countermark is made up by the letters Z M separated by a three-leaf clover; according to whether the Z or the M is nearest the edge the two moulds are identified, without having to struggle to recognise the anchors which form the main watermarks; see ‘La carta nelle edizioni aldine del 1527 e del 1528’, La Bibliofilìa, vol. 103 (2001), pp. 263-289.

Otherwise, lacking simple solutions, bibliographers just have to get to know the shapes of particular watermarks so well as to be able to recognise and count them in their sleep. But, if this last prospect seems too daunting and accountancy seems more rewarding as a profession, when working with known printing shops or within a certain edition, it is sometimes superfluous to identify individual watermarks when the question concerns distinct supplies of paper to the same press. For instance, in the shop of Francesco Calvo in Milan from 1539 to 1542, the several lots of paper are clearly separated chronologically and, in terms of their watermarks, are very unlike, so that it was not necessary to go to the extreme of recognising pairs of moulds, which, given the medium/small formats involved and the large number of copies examined, would have been a virtually impossible task; see Neil Harris, Bibliografia dell’«Orlando innamorato» (Modena, Panini, 1988-91, I, p. 143, II, pp. 113-115, 225-234).

Briquet's single-handed assembly of 16,112 designs and the accurate references to where they were seen and the date of the document concerned is the starting point for any research on paper. His method of reproduction was based on tracings, which are not accurate enough, except in the case of some conspicuous defect, to ensure that we are dealing with the same watermark. In a certain sense his work was conceived and executed as a repertory of designs of watermarks, so that its primary purpose was to establish the earliest date at which a certain shape first appeared. The fact that he toured Europe, accompanied by his wife, also makes it the most universal in its coverage, since there are relatively few major archives that he did not touch. On the other hand he did not attempt to distinguish between twin marks, though he was well aware of the problem, and it is never possible to be sure which side of the sheet is providing the tracing. This same difficulty limits the effectiveness of the likewise sizeable repertories by scholars such as W.A. Churchill (1935), Edward Heawood (1950), and, most recently, Gerhard Piccard. As well as the proposal of an International Standard for the Registration of Watermarks by the IPH, several scholars have suggested ways for supplying descriptions of watermarks on the basis of measurements, most convincingly G. Thomas Tanselle, ‘The Bibliographical Description of Paper’, Studies in Bibliography, vol. 24 (1971), pp. 27-67, reprinted in Idem, Selected Studies in Bibliography (Charlottesville 1979, pp. 203-243), and there is no doubt that in specific contexts such systems can usefully identify pairs of marks.

Photographs of watermarks are of course handicapped by sewing in bindings and by printing ink, though it should be noted that Briquet’s 1907 introduction provides some good pioneering images taken with a light behind the sheet of paper. Russian scientists fifty years ago first employed β-radiographs as a way of obtaining excellent images of watermarks: the passage of the radioactive particles, which develop a photographic plate on the other side of the sheet, through the paper is affected only by the thickness of the latter and not by printing ink (the technique was first illustrated in the West a few years later; see J.S.G. Simmons, ‘The Leningrad Method of Watermark Reproduction’, The Book Collector, vol. 10, 1961, pp. 329-332). Β-radiography has since been applied successfully in a number of projects: for instance in the study of Sixteenth-Century maps printed with copper plates in the Newberry Library and of Renaissance artists’ drawings in the Louvre; see David Woodward, Catalogue of Watermarks in Italian Printed Maps ca 1540-1600 (Firenze, Olschki, 1996); Ariane de La Chapelle, ‘La bêtaradiographie et l’étude des papiers: beaucoup plus qu’une belle image’, Gazette du livre médiéval, n. 34 (1999), pp. 13-24 (including useful bibliographical indications). On the other hand, though the radioactive salts that make up the source are not powerful enough to be dangerous, obtaining the photos requires skilled laboratory assistance and thus a considerable financial burden which can only be contemplated at an institutional level. More recent techniques, such as the Dylux prints pioneered by Thomas Gravell, in which the image of the watermark is reproduced on light-sensitive paper, all have the disadvantage that a certain amount of laboratory know-how is required, although in this case there is nothing that a skilled amateur could not perform: see Paul Needham, ‘The Study of Paper from an Archival Point of View’, in IPH Yearbook 7: Papers of the 19th International Congress of Paper Historians, Durham and Hertford, 4-10 September 1988 (1988, pp. 122-135); Rolf Dessauer, ‘DYLUX, Thomas L. Gravell, and Watermarks of Stamps and Papers’, in Puzzles in Paper: Concepts in Historical Watermarks cit., pp. 183-186.

New solutions, improved both in quality and in cost, are provided by scanning methods originally developed to read palimpsest manuscripts, where layers of ink written at different times are removed electronically on the computer screen. A forerunner in the field is the firm Fotoscientifica based in Parma (Italy), which has produced an explanatory leaflet La marca d’acqua (available also in English: write to Fotoscientifica, Via Paradigna 76, 43100 Parma). Examples of the extraordinary images obtained from the unbound Verona copy of Ariosto can be seen in Conor Fahy, ‘La carta dell’esemplare veronese del “Furioso” 1532’, La Bibliofilìa, vol. 100 (1998), pp. 283-300 [the centennial issue of the journal, in which this article appears, was also issued under the title Anatomie bibliologiche: saggi di storia del libro per il centenario de “La Bibliofilìa”, a cura di Luigi Balsamo e Pierangelo Bellettini, Firenze, Olschki, 1999]. An account of the method also appears in the acts of the Roanoke conference of 1996; see Daniela Moschini, ‘La Marca d’Acqua: A System for the Digital Recording of Watermarks’, in Puzzles in Paper: Concepts in Historical Watermarks cit., pp. 187-192. Digital versions also allow for the construction of archives and for forms of comparison impossible in other mediums, so that there is no doubt that this is where the future of watermark studies lies.

Some final remarks are reserved for historical and other studies that mark ongoing trends. I apologise if they seem Italian orientated, but they reflect what I have on my bookshelf and have found useful:

- Essays in Paper Analysis, ed. Stephen Spector (Washington, Folger Shakespeare Library; Cranbury, N.J., Associated University Presses, 1987). Useful round-up of work done in the post Stevenson era.

- Renzo Sabbatini, Di bianco lin candida prole. La manifattura della carta in età moderna e il caso toscano (Milano, FrancoAngeli, 1990). Substantial study on the history of paper-making in Tuscany.

- Produzione e commercio della carta e del libro secc. XIII-XVIII. Atti della “Ventitreesima Settimana di Studi” 15-20 aprile 1991, a cura di Simonetta Cavaciocchi (Firenze, Le Monnier, 1992). Polyglot set of conference acts with a lot of information and no proper index.

- J. N. Balston, The Elder James Whatman, England’s Greatest Paper Maker (1992-1998). This is a remarkable work describing in detail the biography of James Whatman and the invention, in collaboration with the printer John Baskerville, of wove paper, first used in the latter’s edition of Virgil in 1757 (the third volume of the work is entitled The Whatmans and Wove (Velin) Paper: Its Invention and Development in the West). [link to ]. The three volumes are not available commercially but have to be requested directly from the distributor: Whatman plc. (address: Mrs. Anita Brunger, Public Relations Executive, Whatman House, St. Leonard’s Road 20, Maidstone, Kent ME16 0LS, England).

- Paolo Cevini, Edifici da carta genovesi secoli XVI-XIX (Genova, Sagep, 1995). Fascinating study by a historian of architecture of the impact of papermaking activities on the buildings of the Voltri area to the West of Genoa. (A word of warning: this book is very difficult to order and the publisher should be contacted directly.)

- Produzione e uso delle carte filigranate in Europa (secoli XIII-XX), a cura di Giancarlo Castagnari (Fabriano, Pia Università dei Cartai, 1996). Acts of a conference held at Fabriano in 1993, containing seventeen papers, mainly with reference to the Italian situation. (The publications of the Pia Università dei Cartai can be almost impossible to obtain through normal bookselling channels. The best way is to order them through the Cartoleria Lotti, Corso Repubblica, 60044 Fabriano).

- Puzzles in Paper: Concepts in Historical Watermarks, ed. Daniel W. Mosser, Michael Saffle & Ernest W. Sullivan II (New Castle, Delaware, Oak Knoll Press; London, The British Library, 2000). Besides the already mentioned article by Needham, this collection provides an extremely helpful overview of the state of paper studies in different fields, though musicology is the most prominent, as well as helpful studies of the different scientific methods employed to reproduce watermarks. Altogether highly recommended.

- Ezio Ornato [and others], La carta occidentale nel tardo medioevo (Roma, Istituto Centrale per la Patologia del Libro, 2001). This considerable summa brings together a great deal of previous research on paper produced up to the end of the Fifteenth century and opens several new directions. But the two large tomes are of daunting mole and complex argumentation: decidedly not a book for a railway journey!

- Giancarlo Castagnari, L’uomo il foglio il segno: studi di storia della carta (Fabriano, Pia Università dei Cartai, 2001). Brings together the essays by the former mayor of Fabriano and director of the Museo della Carta e della Filigrana in the same city. Useful from a documentary point of view, especially for material relating to Europe’s most important paper-making centre in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, but often repetitive and at times erratic

- Conor Fahy, ‘Esemplari su carta reale di edizioni aldine, 1494-1550’, La Bibliofilìa, vol. 106 (2004), pp. 135-172. The subject is recondite, but the article is well informed and contains numerous spin-offs, for instance observations about the placing of points on the tympan.

Recent decades have also seen the creation of paper museums that increasingly mark a focus of studies on paper history in a region. In particular the Museo della Carta e della Filigrana at Fabriano has produced a large number of informative pamphlets and conference acts relating to the history of medieval paper in Italy [link to ]. A smaller reality, but still of considerable interest for its historical importance, is that of the Museo della Carta in Amalfi [link to ]. I have not been able to visit it in person, but I am told that the Basle Paper Mill (Basler Papiermühle) containing the Swiss Paper Museum and the Museum for Writing and Printing is very impressive [link to ]. All these museums are interactive and allow visitors to try their hand at making paper at the vat, usually with amusing results, at least for the people watching you.