By Winn Apple | Published September, 2012
But today, we have not come together to discuss this delightful amber colored elixir. Our fascinating topic for the day is paper!
Like many important inventions the Chinese contributed to our highly functioning modern society, paper can be counted among them. But, paper did have its predecessors.
Papyrus, made from the stem of its namesake, and parchment, made from animal skin were both used as early as 3000BC by Egyptians. Neither was ideal. Papyrus easily cracked and could not be rolled making it difficult to transport, but it was far less expensive than parchment.
China developed its share of awkward record keeping and correspondence mediums. Bamboo which was cut into strips and sewn into sheets was ordinarily used. These bamboo sheets were heavy, awkward with a poor surface for writing. Silk was occasionally substituted, but it was quite costly.
It wasn’t until roughly 105 AD that the process for making paper was devised, though clearly improved upon over time. A Chinese Imperial Court Official by the name Cai Lun created a sheet of paper using mulberry, old rags and fishnet along with hemp and bast fibers.
So now we have arrived at something bearing close resemblance to what we envision when we think of paper – fibers which have been altered through maceration or disintegration and then formed into sheets. Well one can only imagine that it took a fare amount of elbow grease to produce a single sheet. As one would expect, this process was refined by clever minds. Machinery was designed to help manufacture our new fangled paper in larger quantities.
Paper-making was now shifting from an art to a major industry. Water-powered pulp mills for preparing pulp showed up around the 8th century and human or animal powered trip hammers soon replaced the mortar and pestle.
Let’s skip forward in time, somewhere around the year 1776. The year the Declaration of Independence was born. At this time, paper was still being hand crafted in sheets, using molds. It wasn’t necessary to produce in higher volume than this, though the craftsmen could crank out quite a few in a single days work.
At this time hemp was a prominent crop and land owners were advised to use a portion of their land to grow it. It had a vast number of uses, including the base for paper. The original draft of the Declaration is rumored to have been scribed on a piece of hemp paper. It doesn’t sound so farfetched given that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were both proponents and devoted a large portion of their own land to cultivating it. But for the most part, recycled rags were still the number one ingredient for paper.
It wasn’t until the mid 1800’s that wood pulp became the official choice for paper-making. Up until this point, it had looked as though hemp was the front runner, having more versatility and vast applications. But low and behold, the tree took the lead.
Zipping on up to current day, who knows what will become of paper. There seems to be no shortage of mediums to choose from and just possibly the manufacturing of paper made from hemp, or other fiber will become commonplace. Until then, the best we can do to protect our stately trees is recycle, conserve and select alternatives when available. Affordable synthetic and alternative fibers papers are readily available through quality printers, as well as numerous papers crafted from post-consumer waste. Bacchus Press offers both.
When you’re ready to print, look to Bacchus Press.
If you enjoyed this article, get email updates (it’s free)
About the Author
In addition to crafting content and blogs, Winn Apple writes short stories and novellas for middle-grade readers. You can find her short stories along with a portfolio on her site, MysticJunkyard.com or on her soon to release website, snugbuggle.com – the best darn place to find short stories for kids.