I once saw a futuristic movie about a little girl who finds a book, “a real book,” she gasps, “made out of paper.” In the future world of this movie, all books had been confiscated from homes and libraries and were converted into electronic files. The books could still be read, but not held. To me, this was more of a horror movie than science fiction! Part of my love of books comes from feeling the paper and hearing the rustle of the pages as they are turned. With the increasing use of the Internet and talks of a “paperless society,” perhaps paper will someday become a thing of the past. So for now, I will appreciate every piece of paper that I can get my hands on, and hope that it won’t simply become a page, er, file in history.
According to history books, the earliest paper used in books produced in the United States was handmade and imported from Europe, mainly England. Although the first American paper mill was built around 1690 in Germantown, Pennsylvania, most of the paper used in the U.S. was still imported from Europe until the American Revolution. A year after the Stamp Act of 1765 was passed, wire papermaking molds were first made, and paper-making in this country finally got its “official” start.
The handmade paper used in the 17th and 18th centuries can be distinguished from paper that was made later by holding the paper up to a light and looking for “chain-lines” which are left from the wires in the paper mold. With this method, fewer fibers accumulate directly on the wire, so the paper is slightly thinner and more transparent to light. This pattern is usually very apparent and appears as lines that run about an inch apart, with several horizontal short lines connecting the long wire lines. Some modern paper has artificially-applied chain lines, and is usually referred to as “laid” paper, which is the name given to handmade chain-line paper.
The handmade chain-line paper was made of cotton and/or linen rags, which were soaked in liquid until the fibers broke down into bits. Paper was formed by hand by dipping a paper mold into the fiber suspension, and then lifting and shaking off the excess water. The paper sheet was then partially dried before being removed from the mold. Modern handmade paper (used in fine printing of small editions by private presses, as well as in artist’s books) is basically made by the same process. Wood pulp paper (made with a sulfite process that causes high acid residue in the paper) wasn’t widely used in the U.S. until after the American Civil War