This is a remarkable and scholarly work devoted to exploring in great detail the advent of wove paper in the second half of the eighteenth century, brought about in large measure by the expertise of the elder James Whatman. Until that time paper in the West was made on moulds carrying parallel wires held in place by periodic twisted wires, giving virtually all paper the characteristic laid paper look through. Today, unless we deliberately introduce such an appearance for purposes of special effect, all paper is expected to have a relatively uniform formation, free from periodic markings – although problems can still arise with such markings if, for example, the machine clothing is not up to standard. We all take this very much for granted, but the situation was very different in the mid-eighteenth century. One of the virtues of this book is that it seeks to put us in the shoes, as it were, of those pioneers who addressed the problem of making wove paper. As with other major advances in technology, the ability to produce satisfactory wove paper depended on the contemporary introduction of suitable manufacturing apparatus. In this case, the key factors were the production of high quality brass wire and converting it into high quality fine mesh screens for making the moulds. Then, the moulds themselves needed to be redesigned in order to support a flat screen effectively and to make paper which would not show shadow marks from underpinning ribs. The author covers all this in fascinating detail. A serious problem which is a recurring theme in an investigation of this kind is the use of uncertain terminology, an interesting example highlighted in this book is the use of the word "loom" for a machine designed to facilitate the manufacture, not of wove, but of laid mould covers.
The book, which has some 380 A4 size pages, begins with an introduction which gives a useful description of the papermaking process of the time, with details of mould construction, and lists the papers which were examined in detail. The author has chosen to chosen to number the pages of this introduction with Roman numerals. Chapter I proper then deals with "The paper: The Examination of Books and other Documents" (125 pages). Chapter II is entitled "The Wire-Cloth" (50 pages) and Chapter III "Motivation and Innovation" (18 pages). As might be expected, some effort and concentration are needed to assimilate properly the detailed contents of the first two chapters. However, this effort is well rewarded when the reader turns to Chapter III, which brings together much of what has gone before in a clear and fascinating way. An aspect this reviewer found of particular interest was the relationship at the time between printer and papermaker, and the erroneous assumption made by some people that the printer had much to do with improving the quality of the paper he used.
There follow six appendices, which vary greatly in length and in their direct relevance to the main subject of the book. However, this does not detract from their interest and usefulness. The first is entitled "In Defence of Alum" (20 pages), and is an absorbing account of the use of alum in early papermaking. Once again, terminology is shown to be a problem, since "alum" can describe a number of different materials. Although the modern alum-rosin internal sizing (alum here meaning aluminium sulphate) is acknowledged to be a major cause of embrittlement on ageing, due to the accessibility of the cellulose to acidic hydrogen ions, it is certain that much early paper remains in very good condition, despite the use of alum (perhaps, but not always, mixed salts) with the gelatine size then used. The appendix deals very well with this apparent anomaly, making the point that the older system is very different in its detailed chemistry from the modern internal sizing. The next three appendices, all short, expand on various aspects of the main theme of wove paper, but the next, Appendix V, entitled "The Genesis of Modern Drawing Paper" (58 pages) is a fascinating and major account of the influence which art and artists had on the development and use of wove paper. The author acknowledges that this is a special interest of his, and that is quite clear – in fact, one could almost say that here we have a book within a book, one which would be a valuable help, for instance, to those studying the history of art on paper.
The main text and appendices of the book are supplemented by extensive cross-references, footnotes, a comprehensive bibliography and an excellent index. There are a number of helpful illustrations, including good transmitted light photographs of many different types of laid and wove paper, clear diagrams illustrating, for example, the construction of moulds, and reproductions in colour of works of art on paper. As might be expected, the standard of production of the book is very high, although – a minor point – the space left between a word and a question mark seemed unusual and could jar on the eye.
It is difficult, faced with such a wealth and variety of detailed argument and information, to make general comments – and any such are bound to be influenced by personal views. One significant underlying theme is the basic interdependence which underlies the whole of history, whether it is concerned with science, technology or the arts. An example is the unexpected influence of the Reformation on two key areas dealt with in this book. One is the development of the production of alum in England; foreign sources were largely controlled by the Roman Catholic papacy (an intricate and involved story in itself), and this was clearly unacceptable to Henry VIII. The other example is the loss in England, following the dissolution of the monasteries, of a training in artistic skills, including draughtsmanship, carried out in the monastic system.
For those who have any interest in paper and its history, this book will be of very great value. It constitutes a worthy successor to the first two-volume work by John Balston, "The elder James Whatman, England's Greatest Paper Maker (1702–1759)". It will also provide excellent reference material for students in the history of art, and in paper conservation.
Jusqu'au milieu du XVIII siècle en Occident, le papier, de fabrication uniquement manuelle, est du type vergé : il présente, vu par transparence, des lignes claires et serrées (vergeures) coupées perpendiculairement par d'autres beaucoup plus espacées (lignes de chaîne ou pontuseaux). Celles-ci sont généralment entourées de zones d'ombre plus ou moins larges. Lignes claire et ombres résultent de l'emploi, pour la fabrication des feuilles, de formes constituées à l'aide de fils métalliques entrecroisés, supportées par des baguettes de bois. C'est à l'occasion de recherches entreprises pour éliminer ces marques qu'apparaît l'emploi d'une forme nouvelle, constituée d'un treillis métallique fabriqué industriellement. À cette découverte est associé souvent le nom de l'Anglais Baskerville, célèbre imprimeur et fondeur de caractères. En fait, nous dit l'auteur, son rôle se réduit à celui d'un premier utilisateur, lors de l'impression d'un Virgile en 1757, du nouveau papier auquel Ambroise Didot l'aîné donnera plus tard le nom de vélin. Le véritable inventeur est le papetier James Whatman. Les premiers essais sont assez décevants, mais à travers divers perfectionnements dont le principal mérite paraît également revenir à Whatman et après lui, à partir de 1762, à son fils, toutes marques parasites disparaîtront de la feuille. Après une première période d'emploi, de 1755 à 1768, le vélin paraît en sommeil pour réapparaître et se répandre dans d'autres fabriques anglaises à partir de 1780. C'est à peu près l'époque à laquelle diverses fabriques françaises à Annonay, Docelles, Courtalin, Angoulême, s'intéressent au papier vélin. L'apparition de la machine au début du XIX siêcle élargit considérablement l'emploi de la toile véline. Aujourd'hui, plus de 99% du papier fabriqué dans le monde est du type vélin.
De nombreuses composantes, depuis la nature, l'épaisseur ou l'écartement des fils du treillis jusqu'à l'emploi de l'alun pour la préparation de la colle, interviennent dans la qualité du produit fini : il faut souligner les soins apportés par l'auteur à décrire avec minutie tous les problèmes auxquels ont été confrontés les Whatman. Accessoirement, à propos du choix de papier pour leurs dessins, aquarelles, gravures, est évoquée longuement l'oeuvre d'artistes anglais tels que Gainsborough, Constable, Cotman, Turner. Quelques précisions sont également fournies sur le carrière de Whatman fils.
L'ouvrage de John Balston vient ainsi heureusement compléter son étude consacrée à Whatman père, parue en 1992 (voir NLA no. 74, p.14) et éclairer d'un jour nouveau une étape importante de l'histoire du papier.
The Whatmans and Wove Paper is the subject of an editorial review by Nicolas Barker in "The Book Collector" (Vol. 48, No. 2 - Summer, 1999, pp. 185-198).Excerpts are quoted here from pp. 195-197.In addition to discussing the fundamental changes in structure which the conventional papermakingmould underwent during its transition from a laid to a wove cover, Nicolas Barker writes:
"The great missing link in the story of wove is the story of the invention of the fine woven wire mesh that made it possible. Balston devotes an entire chapter to this, one of the three into which his narrative is divided. As an example of making bricks without straw and using them to build a substantial edifice, this is an astonishing achievement, and one that carries conviction. Out of a few entries in the Whatman ledgers, he has discovered the names of those who supplied the wove mesh, and by pertinacious ransacking of genealogical and other sources, from Chepstowe to America and back, has reconstructed the process by which improved and finer brass wire came to be woven, showing that it reached the point when it could be used for the purposes that Whatman intended at the exact time that he seems to have begun his experiments. He has even traced the route by which the process reached France, recognising 'Lecoq', alias 'Alcoq', as Joseph Alcock (son of Michael Alcock, the extraordinary Birmingham entrepreneur who operated a successful brass-finishing business until he went bankrupt in 1756 and fled to France, setting up a new factory at La Charité).
The remainder of Balston's great book is taken up with a series of disconnected appendices dealing with alum (an unjustly maligned substance, in his view) and its use in papermaking, Baskerville's hot-pressing process, his own correspondence with Bill Barlow on the Miltons, some further notes on the unusual laid papers used by Baskerville after 1760, 'the genesis of modern drawing paper' (a very long essay) and the identity of Whatman's single-wire 'W' countermark. At this point, it has to be said (if it is not already clear) that this is not the last word on its subject, as were the two previous volumes on Whatman and the history of English, specifically Kentish, papermaking up to the invention of wove. Inevitably, problems unresolved then still remain to be sorted out.
There is an enormous amount of information that will be of permanent value in this third volume of his great work. The last clues will, thanks to it, surely fall into place."
"Clearly Balston's researches have led him well beyond the normal realms of interest to the general reader. But the importance of his subject to fine book production in the paper industry gives this erudite research a significant appeal to all bibliophiles of the period as well as to those more specifically interested in the technologies of book production."