The Art of Paper

Paper is an item that surrounds our lives every day.  It is so predominate that we do not even think about its many uses. 

If we just listed ten usages, you can see how diverse paper truly is.  

  1. Money
  2. Books
  3. Wrapping Paper
  4. Receipts
  5. Toilet Paper
  6. Stationary
  7. Envelopes
  8. Newspapers
  9. Gift Bags
  10. Holiday Cards

There is a rich history behind the art of paper and papermaking.  Our  word for paper comes from the word “Papyrus,” which was a plant that grew along the banks of the Nile.  Before paper became what it is today, the art of papermaking began in China by a man named Ts’si Lun. 

The first molds used by Ts’ai Lun were made of woven cloth and later molds were made from bamboo. Lun’s art of papermaking laid locked in China for seven centuries until the Battle of Samarkand, where the Arabs captured Chinese papermakers and had them reveal their secrets. 

Prior to this, Arabs were using parchment as a writing surface.  This new papermaking technique spread to Europe through the Arab colonies of Spain and Sicily.  From there, it spread throughout Europe and later, into the New World. The greatest advantage that paper held over papyrus and parchment was that it could be bound into books. Because of this, knowledge and books have been more easily spread throughout the civilized world.

Papermaking was introduced to the English colonies in the New World by a Dutchman named William Rittenhouse.  Rittenhouse founded America’s first paper mill in 1690 and received most of his business from a man named William Bradford.  Bradford became iconic as the person to print New York’s first paper currency, the first American Book of Common Prayer, and New York’s first newspaper. 

After Bradford’s currency, Zenas Crane developed a technique to put silk threads in its bank note paper to prevent the raising of money.  Raising was the illegal process of changing a one dollar bill into a ten dollar bill.  Craine put one thread in one dollar bills, two threads in two dollar bills, and three treads in three dollar bills.  Crane’s mastering of this technique allowed him to supply the paper for the US currency. To this day, Crane has remained the sole supplier of currency paper to the US Bureau of Engraving. Crane also supplies currency and bank note paper to the governments of some forty other countries.

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