“Up in the corner of this sheet, impressed permanently in its surface, was the indentation of a person’s thumb, probably that of the layer. Placing my own thumb in that same indentation was like slipping on another man’s shoe. In that gesture, I was connected in a most intimate way, with one of the original makers.” –Timothy Barrett, Paper Through Time
When studying Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen it is important to discuss the paper. Not only the paper which acts as a medium for Austen’s words, but also how important paper was to the author herself. Austen used both laid and woven paper in her personal correspondences. She would also describe in great detail the type of paper her characters used, to elude to status and gender.
At the time Austen’s work was published, the early 19th century, paper was made primarily with linen rags. However, some paper makers preferred to add cotton to the linen rag mixture in order to make the paper more firm.
Rags were separated by either material (linen or cotton) or by quality (for example, a mill in France separated their rags into: fine, medium, and coarse). Of course the better the quality of the rag the better the finished product. Mostly before the 19th century rags went through a process called retting, where the rags were allowed to ferment and rot.
Here is a picture of a retting room…where lime and other organisms from rotting materials covered the walls.
This process gave way to cooking and bleaching during the early 19th century, however, some sources say that bleaching did not reach England till the mid-19th century. Either way the processes of retting or bleaching and washing were used to break down the material of the rags to be made into pulp.
Next, the fermented paper was washed and beaten with stampers. It is said that stamped paper lasts longer because the mixture is made more smooth. The rag and water mixture was placed in troughs upon which the hammers of the stampers would come down and ‘break’ the mixture into more finite pieces. The hammers often had abrasive objects attached to them, such as nails. The material was constantly rinsed with fresh water as it allowed for lightening and cleansing of the rags.
Stamper head with nails Here is the stampers landing in the troughs.
Note: These pictures depict equipment that was used during the 1400s-1800s. Although Austen’s books were published in the early 19th century it is commented that the equipment was most likely still used into the 18th century out of tradition and costs.
A mold, consisting of a wooden frame and wires, was fitted into a deckle, another wooden frame and then dipped into the vat. Earlier frames consisted of wires that were strung one way on the wooden frame, however in 1757 James Whatman developed a woven frame, which allowed the paper to dry and lay more smooth. This in turn let the ink adhere to the page during printing. The improving of processes like this in papermaking affected the way the finish product of a book would look. The vatman would shake the mold to get the mixture to spread across the frame.
The coucher then would shake the wet sheets onto wet felt, and continue to do so layer each sheet of wet paper with a layer of felt. . The layer of felt and wet sheets was called a post. The posts were then pressed to remove excess water. Afterwards, the sheets were hung in spurs, or groupings of seven to eight sheets over cord to dry. As you can see this process is extensive and could have taken
It is important to note that any part of this process could determine the quality of the paper produced and in doing so the quality of the book the paper is used in.
For example…as previously mentioned Austen used both laid paper and woven paper.
On the left is laid paper and the right is woven paper. We can see that the one way grooves on the laid paper were due to the mold used which only had wired running one way across the wooden frame. Obviously, woven paper would be easier to write on and to read from.
“Paper through Time: Non-destructive Analysis of 14th- through 19th-Century Papers.” European Papermaking Techniques 1300-1800, T. Barrett. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Feb. 2015.
“The Whatmans and Wove Paper.” About Wove Paper. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Feb. 2015.
“BAPH.” History of Papermaking in the United Kingdom. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Feb. 2015.
“Jane Austen’s Writing: A Technical Perspective.” Jane Austen’s Writing: A Technical Perspective. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Feb. 2015.