Tag Archives: China

Any rags?

A rag collector in Paris late 1800s

In spite of Frederick’s decree, Europe’s papermakers simply got on with making paper. They added a twist to the recipe: rags. Rags means old cloth like towels, tablecloths, bedsheets, curtains, handkerchiefs, dresses, shirts, pants, socks, underwear, twine, even rope. In Europe, rag fiber meant linen or hemp. Buying old rags sprang up as a side business to support the papermaking business. Rag content in paper makes it pretty nice to draw and paint on. Here in the USA rag means cotton fiber. Rag paper is PH neutral—it contains very little or no acid so it doesn’t yellow over time. The European process was still pretty much the same one the Chinese used: you throw fibrous material into a vat of treated water and break down the fibers until you get a slurry.

The watermark found on many pages of Gutenberg’s bibles.

Most of Gutenberg’s bibles are printed on paper. He got his paper from a mill in northern Italy. The pages have a watermark—the logo of the mill is ever-so-slightly indented into the paper. You only see it when you hold the paper up to the light. How fitting is it that the watermark on the pages of the Gutenberg Bible is in the shape of an ox head? An ox head was the original shape of the first letter of our alphabet: aleph. https://johnmanders.wordpress.com/2021/01/11/canaanite-turquoise-miners-fool-around-during-lunch-break/

https://www.bl.uk/treasures/gutenberg/paper.html
https://www.papiermuseum.ch/manufaktur/#Papierproduktion
https://www.artistshelpingchildren.org/kidscraftsactivitiesblog/2012/02/how-to-make-paper-from-rags/
https://www.ehow.com/how_6132991_make-rag-paper.html
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j9Pvk-mzEUs
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rag-and-bone_man
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ragpicker
Here’s Betty and rag man Bimbo (this cartoon is pre-Hayes-Code—parents, shield the kids’ eyes when Betty reveals her undergarments):
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BcGCGhjHFuU
Here’s a good article about paper:
https://vintagepaper.co/blogs/news/rag-paper-what-is-it
https://www.themorgan.org/collections/works/gutenberg/invention-of-printing
Here’s how a watermark is made: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QQwTblKyU8g

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Paper or parchment?

Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II—’the Wonder of the World’ as his pals liked to call him

The invention of papermaking slowly—like a thousand years slowly—made its way to the Middle East and then Europe. In Spain and Italy, mills began cranking out paper in the 1100s. This paper was for writing on (of course, right? Printing wasn’t a thing yet).

Paper was considered not as good as parchment. There’s a sacred aspect to parchment. Parchment had been the preferred writing surface for religious and legal documents since the days when it replaced papyrus. Still, paper was less expensive than parchment, so customers started making the switch to paper.

The land-owning barons and earls who sold livestock to make parchment saw the new paper industry cutting in on their profits, so they sandbagged the demand for paper. In 1221 the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II decreed that paper documents were invalid—which meant contracts written on paper weren’t legally binding. Lawyers, judges and government officials had to use the more expensive parchment just to keep their documents valid. It’s a sad fact that big business will always enlist cronies in government to squash their competition. Always.

http://www.holyromanempireassociation.com/holy-roman-emperor-frederick-ii.html
https://beyondforeignness.org/8966
https://www.historyanswers.co.uk/kings-queens/emperor-frankenstein-the-truth-behind-frederick-ii-of-sicilys-sadistic-science-experiments/

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Deckle and mold

The Chinese papermakers made wooden frames and stretched a mesh/screen across them—they were 2-piece flat strainers called a deckle and mold. Think of two screen windows—one has a screen in it, the other is an empty frame. They dipped the deckle and mold into the slurry and pulled them up horizontally. The water drained through the mesh. They removed the mold to leave a square of slurry on top of the mesh, which got transferred onto a piece of felt. Multiple pieces of felt and slurry were stacked together as a post and pressed to dry flat. When the whole post was finally dry, the slurry was paper that they could pull off the felt.



The Chinese papermakers improved on the recipe by adding bleach to brighten the paper’s appearance and finishing the paper’s surface with sizing (starch at first, then in the 1400s they switched to animal glue) to make it smoother.

https://www.learnchinesehistory.com/history-chinese-paper/
https://www.dkfindout.com/us/history/ancient-china/chinese-paper-making/
Hey, look! Georgia Tech has a Museum of Papermaking:
https://paper.gatech.edu/invention-paper-0
Watch a deckle and mold being made: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i_A9D1IPRqw
I’ve long wondered where bleach came from. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tKJCWJ-ibfI
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sizing

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PAPER!

Great galloping Agamemnon, we forgot paper! Why didn’t you guys say something?

Those monks hand-wrote their bibles on parchment or vellum, remember? Parchment isn’t cheap. It was Gutenberg’s mission to make bibles affordable, so most of them he printed on paper (just a few he printed on vellum) because paper was way less expensive.

Bamboo

Paper was another one of those Chinese inventions that came to the West along the Silk Road. They started making it around ad 100 (a guy named Ts’ai Lun is credited with paper’s invention). China’s first paper was made from bamboo, which is a reed—like papyrus in Egypt. Just like the Egyptians, they soaked the bamboo after splitting it into strips, then criss-crossed the softened strips into a sheet, pressed and dried it.



This kind of paper is not so good for printing. A printing surface needs to be perfectly smooth, and papyrus-style has ridges from the reed’s strips. To make high-quality paper—the good stuff—takes more work. Chinese papermakers figured out that you can soak the bamboo and other fibrous plants like flax in a vat of water and alkalei to break down their fibers more quickly. Alkalei is an acid you get from wood ash. They also beat the soaking bamboo (maybe like churning butter?) until the whole mess disintegrated into a slurry of plant fibers and water.

https://www.thespruce.com/meaning-of-lucky-bamboo-1902901

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Thanks, Phoenicians!

By the 1400s movable type had made its way west along the Silk Road. Like the compass, movable type wasn’t a big deal in China. But when Johannes Gutenberg got ahold of it, movable type changed Western Civ. Why? The Phoenicians, that’s why.

Those Phoenicians left us a gift: a tight, efficient little alphabet of only 26 letters to represent every sound in any language. Our alphabet is ideal for movable type. You only need 26 upper-case and 26 lower-case (capitals and small) letters, numbers 0-9 and punctuation marks to print an entire book.

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The Chinese invent movable type

If you’re printing something with words, like a poster or an announcement or 95 Theses, every letter of every word needs to be carved out of your wood or linoleum block. Carving blocks for pages of an entire book is a king-sized headache.

Way over in China in the ad 1000s, printers got tired of having to carve every stinkin’ character on a block. One printer, Bi Sheng, thought: “Why not make individual characters ahead of time that you can mix and match to make paragraphs and pages?” That’s what he did. He made teeny little blocks with only one character. They were interchangeable. You arrange them together in a frame for printing. This idea is called movable type.

Bi Sheng’s characters were made out of fired clay so they were kind of fragile—they chipped easily. In the 1200s another Chinese printer, Wang Zhen, introduced characters carved out of wood which were less likely to chip. Around the same time Korean printers were using characters cast in bronze or iron.

Believe it or not, movable type didn’t make books in Asia any cheaper. It was actually less expensive to carve an entire page of characters from one block. The reason could be this: the Chinese written language has over 3,500 characters. It was maybe too time-consuming to organize thousands of characters into an efficient sorting & printing system. By the time you finally locate the characters you need from a supply of 3,500, the guy with the chisels has a page carved and ready to print. So movable type didn’t take off in Asia back in those days. There’s at least one Chinese printer today that still uses cold type, though (see the links below).*

* The type was stored on big lazy-Susan-style discs that rotated so they could get to all the characters (kind of funny: food used to be served in Chinese restaurants this way). Chinese printers used a rhyme to remember where all the characters were. I’m not a Chinese speaker so I don’t know what the rhyme is, but it’s the same kind of rhyme you use to remember which months have 30 days—a mnemonic.

http://afe.easia.columbia.edu/songdynasty-module/tech-printing.html
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0LvhjgW9zh0
Dig the sneer quotes around the word ‘invented’—like they finally brought that wily rascal Gutenberg to justice:
https://www.loc.gov/exhibits/world/world-record.html
http://idsgn.org/posts/the-end-of-movable-type-in-china/
https://ich.unesco.org/en/USL/wooden-movable-type-printing-of-china-00322
http://www.silk-road.com/artl/movableprt.shtml

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Next time Nonna makes big sauce, thank Columbus

The thing about Christopher Columbus: he was the European navigator who discovered the New World, but it’s not clear that he knew he discovered the New World. At least, it must have been nearly impossible to recognize how big North and South America are. It looks like he may not have gotten as far north as Florida.

Christopher Columbus made four trips to the New World. His voyages were the beginning of what we call the Age of Exploration. European traders started asking, “What if the New World has even more or better stuff than China?” The New World had never-seen-before fruit and vegetables like tomatoes, potatoes, pineapples, peppers, pumpkins—and a new kind of poultry, the turkey. Chocolate and tobacco came from the New World. Europe wanted these new products as much as they’d wanted Chinese silk and spice. Remember that Columbus was sponsored by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. Spain became a major world power through her new source of trade. The Ottoman Empire no longer held all the cards.

http://thecolumbuseffect.blogspot.com/p/short-term-effects.html
https://www.ducksters.com/biography/explorers/christopher_columbus.php

The Chinese invent the compass

A thin piece of magnetized iron in the shape of a fish (or a shallow boat) floats in water and points north.

The magnetic compass was invented in China sometime between the 2nd century bc and ad 1st century. They used it to make sure streets and houses aligned with the Earth in a harmonious way—what is called feng shui. The Chinese later figured out they could use a compass for finding their way on the ocean (ad 1040-44).

This carefully-balanced magnetized iron spoon points north with its handle.