Paper has a rich, colourful history which has spanned the world's geography and its cultures. To trace its development offers us insight into humanity's relentless imagination, creativity and sometimes folly.
Thanks to the wonderful creation of paper many descriptions of our world have been stored so that we may share and learn from them.
Paper has been used for many purposes, not just literature, but for war plans, the creation of the dollar bill, and of course, to give the ability to people at home of producing their own writing in physical form for hundreds of years. Whether you're printing off advice from lovemoney.com or simply writing a love letter, paper is vital to the organisation of modern business and economy, and for entertainment purposes such as magazines and newspapers.
We have prepared the following history of paper, along with a description of how paper is made, what it is used for and some words that are useful to know when talking about paper.
We hope that this is an informative, useful and enjoyable document which inspires you, in the same way that we have been, about paper. We welcome your comments and contributions. Please contact us at anytime.
When we think of the origins of paper, our minds might wander back over 5000 years ago to the Nile river valley in Egypt. It was there that a marsh grass called Cyperous Papyrus flourished. The Egyptians cut thin strips from the plant's stem and softened them in the muddy waters of the Nile. These strips were then layered in right angles to form a kind of mat. The mat was then pounded into a thin sheet and left in the sun to dry. The resulting sheets were ideal for writing on. Since they were also lightweight and portable they became the writing medium of choice of Egyptians, Greeks and Romans for record keeping, spiritual texts and works of art.
It is from papyrus that the word paper comes from. Although papyrus sheets were similar to paper in terms of function, being laminated sheets they were technically more like a mat and therefore not the same as the papers of today. Similar processes were developed in other lands - in Central America during the 2nd Century AD the Mayans fashioned a similar product for bookmaking. In the Pacific Islands, a paper was made by beating a fine bark over specially shaped logs to make clothes and ritual objects. However, none of these sheets would qualify as true paper today.
Paper as we know it today comes from another source - China. Excavations of tombs of the former Han Dynasty (207BC-9AD) have revealed silk cloth bearing the texts of Lao Tzu - the father of Taoism (born in 604BC). In 105 AD, Han Emperor Ho-Ti's chief eunuch T'sai Lun experimented with a wide variety of materials and refined the process of macerating the fibre of plants until each filament was completely separate.
The individual fibres were mixed with water in a large vat. Next, a screen was submerged in the vat and lifted up through the water,catching the fibers on its surface. When dried, this thin layer of intertwined fiber became what today we call paper. T'sai Lun's thin, yet flexible and strong paper with its fine, smooth surface was known as T'sai Ko-Shi , meaning: "Distinguished T'sai's Paper" and he became revered as the patron saint of papermaking.
It wasn't until the 3rd century that the secret art of papermaking began to creep out of China, first to Vietnam and then Tibet. It was introduced in Korea in the 4th century and spread to Japan in 6th.
There, during the 8th century, the Empress Shotuka undertook a massive project consisting of printing a million prayers - dharani - on individual sheets of paper, with each mounted in its own pagoda. With such a profound inception, it is not surprising that the fine art of papermaking has continued in Japan to this day, garnering deep appreciation and ever increasing sophistication.
Papermaking spread slowly throughout Asia to Nepal and later to India. It made its true push westward in 751AD when the Tang Dynasty was at war with the Islamic world. During a battle on the banks of the Tarus river, Islamic warriors captured a Chinese caravan which happened to include several papermakers. They spirited them away to Samarkand, which soon became a great centre for paper production.
Gradually papermakers made their way further west through the Muslim world - to Baghdad, Damascus and Cairo. Finally, when the Moors from North Africa invaded Spain and Portugal they brought the technology with them and so it was that papermaking entered Europe in the 12th century.
In Europe, the use of papyrus had dropped out in the 9th century. The preferred medium for the artists and literati of the time was the smooth and lustrous parchment. However, parchment - made from animal skin - was extremely expensive. In fact, it has been estimated that a single bible hand written on parchment required the skins of 300 sheep. The notion of paper being used as a practical everyday item did not occur until the 15th Century. When Johann Gutenburg perfected movable type and printed his famous bible in 1456, he not only spread the word of Christianity, but also sparked a revolution in mass communication. The birth of the modern paper and printing industry is commonly marked from this date.
Printing technology rapidly developed and created an ever increasing demand for paper. The early European papers were made from recycled cotton and linen - and a huge trade quickly developed around the trading of old rags. It is said that the black plague entered England from Europe on these old rags. Yet soon this source became insufficient and some curious attempts were made to source new materials - the most macabre of which was the recycling of Egyptian mummies to create wrapping paper! Others experimented with fibres such as straw, cabbage, wasp nests and finally wood, resulted in inexpensive - and replaceable - materials for paper making. Today, the long soft fibres of softwoods such as spruce have become the most suitable source of pulp for mass production.
The demand for paper also created the need for greater efficiency in production. In the late 18th century the labours of Nicholas Luis Robert resulted in the creation of a machine that could produce a seamless length of paper on a endless wire mesh with squeeze rollers at one end. Perfected and marketed by the Fourdrinier brothers, the new machine made papers soon replaced traditional single sheets made by hand.
In Europe and America, the mass-production of paper became a thriving industry supplying huge volumes of paper for the production of newspapers, books, magazines, paper bags, toilet paper, money and a huge variety of other purposes - including clothing, chimney's and even coffins! Today, the increasing volume of paper consumption has become a complex environmental matter - and the need for new materials increasingly urgent. While recycling has done some good, much paper is still wasted.
Owing to the ceaseless imagination of humanity, the words you are reading at this moment are digitally arranged and sent across the world via a new technology - signaling a new revolution in mass communication. As these new technologies develop where does the future of papermaking lay? At HQ PaperMaker we believe it lies in the past, when paper was valued for its innate sensual qualities - an appreciation which deeply respects the materials used, the skill of the artisan and the unique quality of the finished product.
In the west, as industrial paper production boomed the art of hand paper-making has been driven nearly to extinction - being practiced only by a few fine artists and crafts people. However, in small areas throughout Asia, the tradition has lived on.
Incidentally, the traditional Asian paper which is often referred to as "rice paper" is not made from rice fibres at all. More commonly it is made from the versatile mulberry tree - varieties of which are also used for feeding silkworms and in medicine. In contrast to the cold precision and standardisation which industrial production demands, the soft, subtle textures and natural feeling of handmade paper is said to echo the warm heart of the papermaker who makes each sheet with devotion.
In Thailand there are records of papermaking going back seven hundred years. Traditional uses of paper have been for Buddhist texts, temple writings and ritual purposes. It used to be that paper was made from the inner bark of the Khoi tree Streblus Asper (L.) Lour. Earlier in the 20th century paper production from Khoi began to die out because of a shortage of Khoi trees. It was not until the Japanese occupied the kingdom during the second world war that paper making again flourished in Thailand. For centuries the Japanese had been making paper called "Kozo" from the inner bark of the mulberry tree Broussonetia Papyrifera (L.) Vent.
In Thailand the mulberry tree - known as "sa" - grew in abundance and the Japanese demand for maps, banknotes and other documents caused sa paper production to flourish. The mulberry tree is still abundant in Thailand - growing wild all over the Northern forest and lowland areas - and Thai artisans continue to produce handmade paper using the same technique that they have done for centuries. Yet, as international demand for these products is increasing, new speciality papers are being developed which incorporate colour dyes, flower petals and other materials into their design.
HQ Group were among the first people in Thailand to produce sa papers incorporating petals and leaves nearly ten years ago and our original paper sheet designs using bougainvillea petals and tamarind leaves, for example, are still hugely popular internationally.
Although there are many subtleties which affect the quality of a paper, papermaking in essence is a simple process. Whether using recycled materials or fresh organic matter, the process starts by shredding the material into small strips and soaking them overnight to loosen the fibres. Next, the fibres are boiled for 2-6 hours, being turned every so often. When finished, the fibres are washed with fresh water to remove impurities and then small particles or specks are removed by hand.
The fibres are beaten in a blender or by hand to a creamy pulp. At this stage, dyes can be added to create coloured papers. The pulp is poured into a large tub and the fibres are suspended in the water. The artisan dips a framed screen into the water and with great skill, lifts it to the surface catching the fibres onto the screen. The screens can either be left in the sun to dry, or be transferred to boards, pressed, smoothed and then dried.
Papers made in this tradition are durable, flexible and extremely versatile. They can be used by anyone for gift-wrapping, writing, drawing and painting. They are also used by craft-makers to produce books and binding, stationery and greeting cards, boxes, picture frames and so on. Paper also has many applications in architecture and interior design, such as wallpaper, screens, blinds and lampshades. By using techniques such as moulding and papier-mache one can make almost anything - vases, trays, jewellery, furniture and utilitarian products such as cartons and packaging. In fact, paper is such a versatile medium, its uses are only limited to the imagination... So Dream On!
Would you like to learn a few helpful words for talking about paper?