Armed with a portfolio of samples and a brain filled with the technical history of this fundamental book ingredient, I headed back to the Folger to look at paper, and find examples to use in my own teaching.
As a curator and scholar, the most important aspects of the class for me were learning to recognize different grades of paper (is the book I’m looking at printed on expensive high-quality paper, or ordinary paper?
The Folger is fortunate to have one of the sixty Mc Bey portfolios created by the Houghton Library at Harvard University in 1981, though ours is one of the lesser sets, having only fifty sheets of paper.
Each portfolio contains a study set of up to fifty-seven different blank sheets of paper from the 16th through early 19th centuries.
Paper formed on such a uniform surface shows no pattern when held up to the light, unless a wire design intended to form a watermark has been sewn to the screen: Wove paper was particularly appreciated by artists and printmakers because there was nothing to interfere with the design lines of the art (except for the watemark, if any). The makers of the 1807 facsimile of Shakespeare’s First Folio deliberately printed it on wove paper watermarked “Shakespeare” and “J.
Whatman 1806” (and 1807), Whatman’s being the finest paper mill in Europe.On Wednesday afternoon, we sized half of each sheet in gelatin, as if preparing to make it into writing paper (as opposed to printing paper).Finally, on Friday, we burnished half of each sized sheet with a stone (agate) to make it into fine writing paper.) and to recognize different methods of manufacture (could this print really date to the 17th century if it’s on this paper? Originally, all European paper was hand-made by dipping a wooden-framed metal screen (a mold) into a vat of warm water and cellulose fibers (made from disintegrated rags), scooping up this pulp, then letting the water drain out so that the cellulose fibers matted into a thin layer against the screen.Until the late 18th century, all molds had the same basic design: a rectangle with widely-spaced vertical wooden ribs, a “chain” wire laced to the top of each rib, and closely-spaced horizontal “laid” wires tied to the chains.The verso is blank, and it is printed on antique laid paper: The prominent white spots seen when this leaf of paper is held up to the light are known as “vatman’s tears.” They’re caused by water dripping from the vatman’s arms as the paper is being made.The drops of water disturb the pulp enough to thin the paper where they land.In other words, it’s not a particularly high-quality sheet of paper.What seems to have happened is that someone used an old piece of paper—perhaps a blank endleaf removed from a book—and printed the 1807 Droeshout portrait on it (Folger ART 261181 (size S)).The sets were compiled when Houghton librarian Roger Stoddard realized that the antique paper given to the library by the widow of a paper collector could be split up into identical sets of different sheets of paper because so much of the collection consisted sixty or more sheets of the Notice that that the vertical stripes have graduated shadows, lighter down the middle, and darker at the edges.This is because a slight suction forms between the screen and the wooden ribs as the water drains out, keeping a thicker layer of pulp along the ribs.