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Bible Encyclopedias

1911 Encyclopedia Britannica


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(Fr. papier, from Lat. papyrus), the general name for the substance commonly used for writing upon, or for wrapping things in. The origin and early history of paper as a writing material are involved in much obscurity. The art of making it from fibrous matter appears to have been practised by the Chinese at a very distant period. Different writers have traced it back to the 2nd century B.C. But, however remote its age may have been in eastern Asia, paper first became available for the rest of the world in the middle of the 8th century. In 751 the Arabs, who had occupied Samarkand early in the century, were attacked there by Chinese. The invasion was repelled by the Arab governor, who in the pursuit, it is related, captured certain prisoners who were skilled in paper-making and who imparted their knowledge to their new masters. Hence began the Arabian manufacture, which rapidly spread to all parts of the Arab dominions. The extent to which it was adopted for literary purposes is proved by the comparatively large number of early Arabic MSS. on paper which have been preserved dating from the 9th century.' There has existed a not inconsiderable difficulty in regard to the material of which the Arab paper was composed. In Europe it has been referred to by old writers as charta bombycina, gossypina, cuttunea, xylina, damascena and serica. The last title seems to have been derived from its glossy and silken appearance; the title damascena merely points to its great central emporium, Damascus. But the other terms indicate an idea, which has been persistent, that the paper manufactured by the Arabs was composed of the wool from the cotton-plant, reduced to a pulp according to the method attributed to the Chinese; and it had been generally accepted that the distinction between Oriental paper and European paper lay in the fact that the former was a cotton-paper and the latter a rag-paper. But this theory has been disturbed by recent investigations, which have shown that the material of the Arab paper was itself substantially linen. It seems that the Arabs, and the skilled Persian workmen whom they employed, at once resorted to flax, which grows abundantly in Khorasan, as their principal material, afterwards also making use of rags, supplemented, as the demand grew, with any vegetable fibre that would serve; and that cotton, if used at all, was used very sparingly. Still there remain the old titles charta bombycina, &c., to be explained; and an ingenious solution has been offered that the term charta bombycina, or Xaprrls (30, i(bKIvos, is an erroneous reading of charta bambycina, or xaprns (3a i/3bKtvos, paper manufactured at the Syrian town of Bambyce or 13aµ131Kn, the Arab Mambidsch (Karabacek in Mittheilungen aus der Sammlung der Papyrus Erzherzog Rainer, ii. - iii. 87, iv. 117). Without accepting this as an altogether sufficient explanation of so widely used a term as the medieval charta bombycina, and passing from the question of material to other differences, paper of Oriental manufacture in the middle ages was usually distinguished by its stout substance and glossy surface, and was devoid of water-marks, the employment of which became universal in the European factories. Besides the titles referred to above, paper also received the names of charta and papyrus, transferred to it from the Egyptian writing material manufactured from the papyrus plant (see Papyrus) .

It was probably first brought into Greece through trade with Asia, and thence transmitted to neighbouring countries. Theophilus presbyter, writing in the 12th century (Schedula diversarum artium, i. 23), refers to it under the name of Greek parchment, pergamena graeca. There is a record of the use of 1 A few of the earliest dated examples may be instanced. The Gharibu `l-Haidth, a treatise on the rare and curious words in the sayings of Mahomet and his companions, written in the year 866, is probably one of the oldest paper MSS. in existence (Pal. Soc. Orient. Ser. p1.6). It is preserved in the University Library of Leiden. A treatise by an Arabian physician on the nourishment of the different members of the body, of the year 960, is the oldest dated Arabic MS. on paper in the British Museum (Or. MS. 2600; Pal. Soc., pl. 96). The Bodleian Library possesses a MS. of the Didwnu `l-Adab, a grammatical work of A.D. 974, of particular interest as having been written at Samarkand on paper presumably made at that seat of the first Arab manufacture (Pal. Soc. pl. 60). Other early examples are two MSS. at Paris, of the years 969 (Fonds arabe, suppl., 952) and 980 (Fonds arabe, 55); a volume of poems written at Baghdad,'A.D. 990, now at Leipzig, and the Gospel of St Luke, A.D. 993, in the Vatican Library (Pal. Soc., pls. 7, 21). In the great collection of Syriac MSS., which were obtained from the Nitrian desert in Egypt and are now in the British Museum, there are many volumes written on paper of the 10th century. The two oldest dated examples, however, are not earlier than A.D. 1075 and 1084.

paper by the empress Irene at the end of the iith or beginning of the 12th century, in her rules for the nuns of Constantinople. It does not appear, however, to have been very extensively used in Greece before the middle of the 13th century, for, with one doubtful exception, there are no extant Greek MSS. on paper which bear date prior to that period.

The manufacture of paper in Europe was first established by the Moors in Spain in the middle of the 12th century, the headquarters of the industry being Xativa, Valencia and Toledo. But on the fall of the Moorish power the manufacture, passing into the hands of the less skilled Christians, declined in the quality of its production. In Italy also the art of paper-making was no doubt established through the Arab occupation of Sicily. But the paper which was made both there and in Spain, was in the first instance of the Oriental quality. In the laws of Alphonso of 1263 it is referred to as cloth parchment, a term which well describes its stout substance. The first mention of rag-paper occurs in the tract of Peter, abbot of Cluny (A.D. 1122-1150), adversus Judaeos, cap. 5, where, among the various kinds of books, he refers to such as are written on material made "ex rasuris veterum pannorum." A few words may here be said respecting MSS. written in European countries on Oriental paper or paper made in the Oriental fashion. Several which have been quoted as early instances have proved, on further examination, to be nothing but vellum. The ancient fragments of the Gospel of St Mark, preserved at Venice, which were stated by Maffei to be of paper, by Montfaucon of papyrus, and by the Benedictines of bark, are in fact written on skin. The oldest recorded document on paper was a deed of King Roger of Sicily, of the year 1102; and there are others of Sicilian kings, of the 12th century. A Visigothic paper MS. of the 12th century from Silos near Burgos is now in the Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris. A notarial register on paper, at Geneva, dates from 1154. The oldest known imperial deed on the same material is a charter of Frederick II. to the nuns of Goess in Styria, of the year 1228, now at Vienna. In 1231, however, the same emperor forbade further use of paper for public documents, which were in future to be inscribed on vellum. Transcripts of imperial acts of Frederick II. about A.D. 1241 are at Naples. In Venice the Liber plegiorum, the entries in which begin with the year 1223, is made of rough paper; and similarly the registers of the Council of Ten, beginning in 1325, and the register of the emperor Henry VII. (1308-1313) preserved at Turin, are also written on a like substance. In the British Museum there is an older example in a MS. (Arundel 268) which contains some astronomical treatises written on an excellent paper in an Italian hand of the first half of the 13th century. The autograph MS. of Albert de Beham, 1238-1255, at Munich, is on paper. In the Public Record Office there is a letter on paper from Raymond, son of Raymond, duke of Narbonne and count of Toulouse, to Henry III. of England, written within the years 1216-1222. The letters addressed from Castile to Edward I., in 1279 and following years (Pauli in Bericht, Berl. Akad., 1854), are instances of Spanish-made paper; and other specimens in existence prove that in this latter country a rough kind of charta bombycina was manufactured to a comparatively late date.

In Italy the first place which appears to have become a great centre of the paper-making industry was Fabriano in the marquisate of Ancona, where mills were first set up in 1276, and which rose into importance on the decline of the manufacture in Spain. The earliest known water-marks in paper from this factory are of the years 1293 and 1294. The jurist Bartolo, in his treatise De insigniis et armis, refers to the excellent paper made there in the middle of the 14th century, an encomium which will be supported by those who have had occasion to examine the extant MSS. on Italian paper of that period. In 1340 a factory was established at Padua; another arose later at Treviso; and others followed in the territories of Florence, Bologna, Parma, Milan, Venice and other districts. From the factories of northern Italy the wants of southern Germany were supplied as late as the 15th century. As an instance the case of Gorlitz has been cited, which drew its paper from Milan and Venice for the half century between 1376 and 1426. But in Germany also factories were rapidly founded. The earliest are said to have been set up between Cologne and Mainz, and in Mainz itself about 1320. At Nuremberg Ulman Stromer established a mill in 1390, with the aid of Italian workmen. Other places of early manufacture were Ratisbon and Augsburg. Western Germany, as well as the Netherlands and England, is said to have obtained paper at first from France and Burgundy through the markets of Bruges, Antwerp and Cologne. France owed the establishment of her first paper-mills to Spain, whence we are told the art of paper-making was introduced, as early as the year 1189, into the district of Herault. At a later period, in 1406, among the accounts of the church of Troyes, paper-mills appear as mains d toile. The development of the trade in France must have been very rapid. And with the progress of manufacture in France that of the Netherlands also grew.

In the second half of the 14th century the use of paper for all literary purposes had become well established in all western Europe; and in the course of the 15th century it gradually superseded vellum. In MSS. of this latter period it is not unusual to find a mixture of vellum and paper, a vellum sheet forming the outer, or the outer and inner, leaves of a quire while the rest are of paper.

With regard to the early use of paper in England, there is evidence that at the beginning of the 14th century it was a not uncommon material, particularly for registers and accounts. Under the year 1310, the records of Merton College, Oxford, show that paper was purchased "pro registro," which Professor Rogers (Hist. Agricul. and Prices, i. 644) is of opinion was probably paper of the same character as that of the Bordeaux customs register in the Public Record Office, which date from the first year of Edward II. The college register referred to, which was pxobably used for entering the books that the fellows borrowed from the library, has perished. There is, however, in the British Museum a paper MS. (Add. 31,223), written in England, of even earlier date than the one recorded in the Merton archives. This is a register of the hustings court of Lyme Regis, the entries in which begin in the year 1309. The paper, of a rough manufacture, is similar to the kind which was used in Spain. It may have been imported direct from that country or from Bordeaux; and a seaport town on the south coast of England is exactly the place where such early relics might be looked for. Professor Rogers also mentions an early specimen of paper in the archives of Merton College, on which is written a bill of the year 1332; and some leaves of water-marked paper of 1333 exist in the Harleian collection: Only a few years later in date is the first of the registers of the King's Hall at Cambridge, a series of which, on paper, is preserved in the library of Trinity College. Of the middle of the 14th century also are many municipal books and records. The knowledge, however, which we have of the history of paper-making in England is extremely scanty. The first maker whose name is known is John Tate, who is said to have set up a mill in Hertford early in the 16th century; and Sir John Spilman, Queen Elizabeth's jeweller, erected a paper-mill at Dartford, and in 1589 obtained a licence for ten years to make all sorts of white writing-paper and to gather, for the purpose, all manner of linen rags, scrolls or scraps of parchment, old fishing nets, &c. (Dunkin, Hist. of Dartford, 305; Harl. MS. 2296, f. 124 b). But it `is incredible that no paper was made in the country before the time of the Tudors. The comparatively cheap rates at which it was sold in the 15th century in inland towns seem to afford ground for assuming that there was at that time a native industry in this commodity.

As far as the prices have been observed at which different kinds of paper were sold in England, it has been found that in 1 3551 356 the price of a quire of small folio paper was 5d., both in Oxford and London. In the 15th century the average price seems to have ranged from 3d. to 4d. for the quire, and from 3s. 4d. to 4s. for the ream. At the beginning of the 16th century the price: fell to 2d. or 3d. the quire, and to 3s. or 3s. 6d. the ream; but in the second half of the century, owing to the debasement of the coinage, it rose, in common with all other commodities, to nearly 4d. the quire, and to rather more than 5s. the ream-. The relatively higher price of the ream in this last period, as compared with that of the quire, seems to imply a more extensive use of the material which enabled the trader to dispose of broken bulk more quickly than formerly, and so to sell by the quire at a comparatively cheap rate.

Brown paper appears in entries of 1570-1571, and was sold in bundles at 2S. to 2s. 4d. Blotting paper is apparently of even earlier date, being mentioned under the year 1465. It was a coarse, grey, unsized paper, fragments of which have been found among the leaves of 15th-century accounts, where it had been left after being used for blotting. Early in the ,6th century blotting-paper must have been in ordinary use, for it is referred to in W. Horman's Vulgaria, 1519 (p. 80 b): " Blottyng papyr serveth to drye weete wryttynge, lest there be made blottis or blurris"; and early in the next century "charta bibula" is mentioned in the Pinacotheca (i. 175) of Nicius Erythraeus. It is remarkable that, in spite of the comparatively early date of this invention, sand continued generally in use, and even at the present day continues in several countries in fairly common use as an ink absorbent.

A study of the various water-marks has yielded some results in tracing the different channels in which the paper trade of different countries flowed. Experience also of the different kinds of paper and a knowledge of the water-marks (the earliest of which is of about the year 1282) aid the student in fixing nearly exact periods of undated documents. European paper of the 1 4th century may generally be recognized by its firm texture, its stoutness, and the large size of its wires. The water-marks are usually simple in design; and, being the result of the impress of thick wires, they are therefore strongly marked. In the course of the 15th century the texture gradually becomes finer and the water-marks more elaborate. While the old subjects of the latter are still continued in use, they are more neatly outlined, and, particularly in Italian paper, they are frequently enclosed in circles. The practice of inserting the full name of the maker in the water-mark came into fashion early in the 16th century. But it is interesting to know that for a very brief period in the 14th century, from about 1307 to 1320, the practice actually obtained at Fabriano, but was then abandoned in favour of simple initial letters, which had already been used even in the 13th century. The date of manufacture appears first in the water-marks of paper made in 1545. The variety of subjects of water-marks is most extensive. Animals, birds, fishes, heads, flowers, domestic and warlike implements, armorial bearings, &c., are found from the earliest times. Some of these, such as armorial bearings, and national, provincial or personal cognizances, as the imperial crown, the crossed keys or the cardinal's hat, can be attributed to particular countries or districts; and the wide dissemination of the paper bearing these marks in different countries serves to prove how large and international was the paper trade in the 14th and 15th centuries.


G. Meerman et doctorum virorum ad eum epistolae atque observationes de chartae vulgaris seu lineae origine (the Hague, 1767); J. G. Schwandner, Charta linea (Vienna, 1788); G. F. Wehrs, Vom Papier (Halle, 1789); J. G. J. Breitkopf, Ursprung der Spielkarten and Einfiihrung des Leinenpapieres (Leipzig, 1784-1801); M. Koops, Historical Account, &c. (London, 1801); Sotzmann, "Uber die altere Papierfabrikation," in Serapeum (Leipzig, 1846); C. M. Briquet, "Recherches sur les premiers papiers, du x e au xive siècle," in Mem. antiquaires de France, xlvi. (Paris, 1886), and Le Papier arabe au moyen age (Bern, 1888); C. Paoli, "Carta di cotone e carta di lino," in Archivio storico italiano, ser. 4, tom. xv. (1885); J. Karabacek, Mittheilungen aus der Sammlung der Papyrus Erzherzog Rainer, ii.-iii. 87 (1887), iv. 117 (1897); Midoux and Matton, Etude sur les Filigranes (Paris, 1868); C. M. Briquet, Les Filigranes: Dictionnaire historique des marques du papier des leur apparition vers 1282 jusqu'en 1600 (Paris, 1907), with a bibliography of works on water-marks; W. Wattenbach, Das Schriftwesen im Mittelalter (Leipzig, 1896); J. E. T. Rogers, History of Agriculture and Prices in England (Oxford, 1866-1882). (E. M. T.)

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Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Paper'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. 1910.