A Brief but Necessary Premise

And yet here – he activated the Guide again – was his own entry on how you would set about having a good time in Bournemouth, Dorset, England, which he had always prided himself on as being one of the most baroque pieces of invention he had ever delivered.

Douglas Adams, So Long and Thanks for All the Fish [Part 4 of the trilogy: The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy], 1984


A word of explanation about this oeuvre (I use the word advisedly; chef d’oeuvre would be immodest) might be in order, or even helpful, since anyone familiar with the website of the Institut d’Histoire du Livre knows (well, should know, or if they don’t know, they should nevertheless be nodding their heads as if they knew all too well) that in Analytical Bibliography. The Alternative Prospectus, written to accompany the course on analytical (or material or physical) bibliography, first published by the IHL in 2002, with revisions in 2004, 2005, and 2006, Chapter 4, entitled ‘Paper studies’ contains some five pages expounding much the same subject. This same Chapter 4 has been cited in websites and other bibliographical resources (such as the 2010 Oxford Companion to the Book and in the Wikipedia entry on ‘Bibliography’) as a source of information, which is dreamily flattering.

What – one might ask – is the relationship between that oeuvre and this oeuvre, which was written for the first edition of the course on ‘Paper and Watermarks as Bibliographical Evidence’ imparted at Lyon in 2009 and, after due revision was put on the site of the Institut d’Histoire du Livre in 2010? (Since, after 2010, the course on paper was in abeyance, for reasons beyond my, or anyone else’s, control, the text was not updated or revised in the short term, though I continued to gather material. This new version – mostly written in airports and railway stations, and over long, rainy weekends, but none the worse for all that – departs from an extensive revision begun in 2014, intended for a new edition of the course in June 2015 and intended to be put on the website immediately afterwards. “Intended” being the operative word. Perseverance, however, is my middle name and so in early, well, mid-to-late 2016, actually early 2017, it is here “published” as a Second edition. It maintains most of the structure of the previous version, albeit with some shifts to equilibrate chapter sizes, but adds a substantial quantity of new data, for the most part deriving from my own explorations of Medieval paper archives and printed artefacts, mainly Italian, of the Fifteenth and Sixteenth centuries.)

But let’s get back to the question. A good question; an honest question.

Apart from the blindingly obvious, but purely inconsequential, distinction that it is over twenty-five times longer, the answer, as far as it is possible to give an answer, is little or nothing, besides the incidental circumstance that both have been written by the same individual, deal with much the same subject matter, refer to the same bibliographical material, and are aimed primarily at the same students and scholars aiming to have a gorgeous gastronomic experience in Lyon (make sure you try the andouillette with the mustard sauce!).

I do confess, because I am a very truthful person, that my first intention was to cheat a little by taking the original Chapter 4 and amplifying it, just a trifle. This produced however a disastrous writer’s block (even academics get those), which was only overcome by starting from scratch. The present is therefore a fuller and entirely different work, though not everything in the previous text reappears and some judgements have altered (this does not mean that the previous text is outmoded or mistaken; in some ways it is a better piece of work and has the virtue of being twenty-five times shorter; on the other hand the outlook is dominated by the printing press, whereas here the question of paper, in all its purity and simplicity, is paramount). In somewhat less than a decade therefore, as it completes its fourth or fifth or sixth cyclical revision, faster than Marvell’s “vegetable love”, it has grown to be vast.

Whether it is the least bit useful is not for me to decide.

One other thing you need to know. This work is not a guide, nor an explanation, nor an introduction to how paper is made at the vat or on a paper-making (Fourdrinier) machine, though the relevant processes and movements are explained in detail in the Lyon course (whenever that gets held again); it is instead a synopsis of the historical, bibliographical and critical discussion.

Writings about paper are a labyrinth, in which minotaurs of contrasting opinion frequently prowl, so this piece should be considered as an Ariadne’s thread.

It divides into eight chapters, with some sub-headings, as follows.

  1. Introduction (or a Shot across the Bows).

This is to explain what the other chapters are about.

  1. A History of Handmade Paper. The Basic Problem.

This gives a potted summary of the principal dates and events in paper history, although we do not actually know whether any of these dates are right; in fact most of them are probably wrong. The subheadings are:

  • The Essential Early Chronology, or One Day, Somewhere, Long Ago, in China
  • A Digression about the Forme: Floating or Dipping
  • Paper Reaches the West
  • Six Inventions that Lasted Six Centuries
  •  Dates, Mistakes, and Further Progress Renaissance to Eighteenth-century
  1.  Accounts of Papermaking.

This is to say that if you have not read Lalande you have not lived.

  1. The Shape of Paper.

This tells you how to recognise paper sizes and formats; if you are looking for information about origami on the other hand, it is the wrong place to be. The subheadings

  • Sheet-size and the Bologna Stone
  • The Fifteenth-century, and Afterwards
  • Unfolding Formats
  1. Dillying and Dallying with Watermarks.

This is self-explanatory and, like Marie Lloyd to whom it pays tribute, has subtly erotic overtones. The subheadings are:

  • Watermarks: The Earliest Dates
  • Watermarks. Names and Shapes, Ups and Downs, Lefts and Rights
  • Countermarks, Cornermarks, and Other Extras
  • Describing Watermarks
  • Reproducing Watermarks
  • Nomenclatures and Classifications of Watermarks
  1. Briquet and Switzerland’s Contribution to World History.

This is to explain why Charles-Moïse Briquet is the greatest man in the history of Switzerland (after William Tell and Roger Federer of course). The subheadings are:

  • Charles-Moïse Briquet. A Personal History
  • A Tramway called Udine
  • Using Briquet for the Better
  • Briquet’s Followers and Imitators
  1. Time-frames, Case Books, and the Value of Paper as Evidence.

This attempts to show that physical information derived from paper does have some practical use. The subheadings are:

  • The “Runs and Remnants” Principle
  • Just for the Record: Some Case Studies
  1. Bibliographical Annotations and Orientations.

This provides an unreliable and eccentric synopsis of writings about paper. Whereas as in Analytical Bibliography. The Alternative Prospectus, all the bibliographical indications were sort of mixed in with the text, albeit with a sort of dictionarial summing up in the final chapter entitled ‘Devices and Desires’ (this signifies that I am an enthusiastic reader of P.D. James and I think it is a wonderful novel), here all the bibliographical references are brought together in the final chapter, which therefore can be read as a completely separate unit. Or, alternatively, the previous seven chapters can be read in parallel with the bibliographical syntheses in the final chapter, which I agree is not always convenient, but it avoids encumbering the text.

A word of explanation about criteria. Books and articles are cited in conventional fashion and the only virtue of the citation is consistency. With older publications references are inserted to repertories such as the Incunabula Short Title Catalogue (ISTC), the English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC), the Italian census of Sixteenth-century books (Edit16), the analogous German censuses for the Sixteenth and Seventeenth centuries (VD16, VD17), since not all paper scholars seem aware of these resources, where to find them, or how to apply them. The existence of digital copies of the same publications is also referred to in an asystematic fashion, since the situation is in constant flux and expansion, while more recent books of the not-exactly-in-your-local-library variety are also indicated when I have spotted that a copy is available on line. Websites pose an analogous problem: they are cited where they appear useful and have substance, with the presumption that they are best found by googling rather than by giving an address.

The order followed corresponds, roughly but not faithfully, to the lay-out of the whole, but to help readers find their way the paragraphs are numbered and cross-references to the same have been provided in square brackets in the previous seven chapters, as follows:

[0] Bibliography

[1] General Introduction

[2] China and Far Eastern Paper

[3] Medieval and Modern Arab Paper

[4] Medieval Western Paper

[5] Renaissance to Eighteenth-century Descriptions and Images of Papermaking, and Manuals of a Later Era

[6] Histories of Papermaking Districts or of Single Mills

[7] Sheet-sizes and the Text of the Bologna Stone

[8] Tables of Sheet-sizes

[9] Knowing Formats

[10] Papermaking Moulds, Watermark Patterns, and Twin Watermarks

[11] Countermarks

[12] Names and Dates in Watermarks

[13] Tranchefiles

[14] Telling Mould Side/Felt Side Apart

[15] Wove Paper

[16] Mechanical Paper

[17] Papermaking Terminology

[18] Watermarks, Briquet, and Other Repertories

[19] Claims and Controversies about the Earliest Known Watermark

[20] Seeing Watermarks

[21] Naming and Describing Watermarks

[22] Describing Unwatermarked Paper

[23] Reproducing Watermarks

[24] Artists, Artists’ Papers, and Copperplate Printing

[25] Music and Musicology

[26] Maps and Cartography

[27] Codicological and Manuscript Studies

[28] Blockbooks, Incunabula, and the One-pull Press

[29] The “Runs and Remnants” Principle

[30] Analytical Bibliography and Case Studies (Somewhat Autoreferential)

[31] Dedicated Collections of Paper, Watermarks, and Tracings of Watermarks

[32] Other Sorts of Paper and Other Uses of Paper

[33] Paper History and Paper Museums

[34] Learned Societies and Associations

[35] The World-wide Web (if you can find it)

[36] Films, Videos, and Youtube.

The sheer scale of this final section, like a tail that wags its dog, shows the impossibility of making any bibliographical sense of the history of paper-making scholarship.

This work has been deliberately scribbled as a webtext. So, each and every unit is more self-contained than might be the case with a traditional monograph, the arguments are handled in a tight, snappy fashion, and the writing is as pithy and punchy as I can make it. The price of this approach is a certain repetitiveness, based on the assumption that no one is going to read the thing in its entirety and therefore each individual item has to be complete and self-standing. The other principal characteristic is that like Chesterton’s “rolling English road”, rather than an original architectural grand scheme, it has expanded through a series of infinite patches and changes and alterations, and, from the first version in 2009, has tripled in size, as well as becoming a record of my personal journey through the literature of paper-making. In the process, I have sought to keep the contradictions and the idiocies to a minimum, but I am also certain that plenty remain. My Reader, in Jane Eyre fashion, is someone perfectly at ease with English, but also able to cope with Latin, and smatterings of French, German, and Italian.

In other words I might just have written it for myself.*

*Thanks for comments, observations, and help of all kinds, including the revision of my translations, are due to Timothy Barrett, Peter Bower, Martin Davies, Isabella Garlatti, Shanti Graheli, Paule Hochuli, Franco Mariani, Paul Needham, Corinna Norrick, Ezio Ornato, Barbara Roth, Francesca Tamburlini, Alexandre Vanautgaerden, and to the infinite libraries and archives where I have picked up documents and held them against the light to see a watermark. For information about the actual situation of β-radiography, and analogous techniques, I thank James Allan of the Bodleian Library, Manuel Schreiner of the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, Steven Tabor of the Huntington Library, and Marieke van Delft of the Koninklije Bibliotheek. I am further grateful to the Biblioteca Civica “Vincenzo Joppi” in Udine, to the Bibliothèque de Genève, and to the Museo Civico Medievale in Bologna, for allowing me to reproduce images of material in their collections. The biggest debts contracted are, however, to Alan Marshall, who decided that the IHL needed a paper course and constrained me to do it, to Sheza Moledina, who brought me back to Lyon and thus compelled me to write a new version, and to the misguided individuals, some of them with a considerable expertise of their own, who brought dialogue and challenges to the course itself, as well as obliging me to think about what I was saying.