The Alkaline Paper Advocate

Volume 4, Number 3
Jul 1991

Rittenhouse to Twinrocker: Iowa City, March 22-95

by Ellen McCrady

Hand papers, book arts people, and a few conservators, rare book people and others involved with paper history came to the University of Iowa in March for a conference on the history of hand papermaking in the U.S., organized by the University of Iowa Center for the Book. Some of the participants already knew each other from the Paper and Book Intensive (a summer school/retreat) and meetings of the Friends of the Dard Hunter Paper Museum. This conference, like both of those organizations, offered common ground for practical and scholarly, artistic and scientific, types whose interests center on paper.

There were five paper historical papers, based on original research and covering the periods 1690-1729, 17871837, 1881-1907, 1913-31 and 1971-91 for individual papermaking firms. Other papers covered the life and work of a paper historian, the co-evolution of printing papers and lithography, and the preservation/access dilemma. In addition, there were historical videos on early papermakers and mills, a documentary on Twinrocker did a long sequence recording the shakes of well-known European vatmen who are still living. One afternoon was devoted to a tour of the numerous parts of the Center for the Book: Tim Barrett's facilities for hand paper , the typography lab, book conservation lab, rare book room, Windhover Press, calligraphy classroom, and offset workshop. We participants were generally pampered: picked up and delivered to the airport, fed and housed comfortably in the same building where the sessions were held, and given plenty of time to talk to old friends and new acquaintances between sessions. Plans are to publish the proceedings, but not all papers will be included. John Bidwell's paper will appear elsewhere, and Paul Needham will supply a bibliography but not his paper. Those Interested in purchasing a copy of the postprints should write to Tim Barrett, School of Art and Art History, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA 52242.

Gordon Marshall, Assistant Librarian from the Library Company of Philadelphia, delivered a paper entitled "'From Linen Rags good Paper doth Derive" The Rittenhouse Mill and the Beginnings of Papermaking in America: a Tricentennial Celebration." Co-written by Gordon and James Green, Curator of Printed Books, the paper was based on an exhibition of the same held at the Library Company from October, 1990 to March, 1991. Both the exhibition and the paper were made possible by Gordon's discovery of manuscript Rittenhouse land surveys in the collections of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and Jim Green's location of important manuscript business records owned by Rittenhouse family descendants. Their paper focused on the "pioneer period" 1690 to 1729, during which the Rittenhouse family or close family relations controlled America's entire paper industry. William Rittenhouse was a Mennonite papermaker from eastern Germany who came to America after a stay of 22 years or so in the Netherlands. where sow of the highest quality paper of the day was made. When he and his son Claus set up their own mill, though, they made only low or medium quality papers. Voorn's recent research m Rittenhouse unearthed many new facts about his years in Germany and Holland [see IPH Yearbook, vol. 4, 1983/841. Voorn's most recent paper [ IPH Information, vol 24 #3, 1990] points out, among other things, that windmills were used in Holland, water mills in America and that there were no mould makers in America in 1690. Confronted with primitive equipment, poor transportation and an erratic supply of indifferent quality rags, it is not hard to see why quality suffered in the production of the Rittenhouse mill. Furthermore, the mill was destroyed by flood in 1700-1701 and had to be rebuilt, this time without the help of the only printer in the middle colonies, William Bradford. The story of American hand paper mills is punctuated from the very beginning with floods, fires, financial panics and bankruptcies. Rittenhouse and his son escaped the last three types of catastrophes but the destruction of a mill is not a minor setback. William Rittenhouse died in 1708, and the construction of three mills in 1729 not controlled by the Rittenhouse family brought the pioneer period of American papermaking to a close.

John Bidwell, on leave from UCLA and now at Oxford University, spoke on the process of technology transfer (or, more specifically, industrial espionage) by which the paper and related technology was brought to America by Joshua and Thomas Gilpin in the early nineteenth century. They knew about the great efficiencies made possible in England by the recently-developed Fourdrinier and by Dickinson's cylinder mould machine, and decided to build their own. Mr. Fourdrinier smelled a rat and would not let them near his machine, but Mr. Dickinson let a Gilpin associate spend two days at his mill, drawing and observing the machine and doing everything but peeking inside it. That was all they needed to get a start, and they had an American patent by 1816 on their own mould machine, which they continued to improve. Then came the Panic of 1819, a flood in 1822, a fire in 1825, and bankruptcy, due mostly to the expense of the machine technology. Another panic and another flood finished off the Gilpins' successors at the mill site in 1839. in the periods between catastrophes, something of historical importance happened: paper became a bulk commodity. Fortunately, the flood of 1839 was not the end of papermaking by machine in America, because a Gilpin competitor had had the foresight to do his own industrial spying, even attempting, without success, to pry the secret from a workman with offers of a bribe and strong drink. By 1830, paper machines were common in America.

Some of the paper the Gilpins made is now brown brittle, at least partly because they used the newly discovered technology of bleaching with chlorine gas. They knew it affected permanence, but may have felt they had no choice, because there were no longer enough white rags to supply papermakers, and colored rags could not be used without first bleaching them.

Helena Wright, who put together the Smithsonian exhibition, "300 Years of American Papermaking," spoke on a Massachusetts paper company, L.L. Brown, that made most of its paper by machine, but also made and sold handmade paper as a sideline in the late 19th and early 20th century. Her research addresses the question why they did this, since it is hard to see how they made any money on it, and their ads did not suggest that they were serving a well-defined market sector. Was it the same kind of economic activity as handmade paper operations today? Much of the paper was used in limited editions. Terry Belanger noted in the discussion period afterward that the 1880s had seen a revival of self-consciously antique books printed on handmade paper, "aggressively deckled. "

Cathy Baker, paper conservator and executive secretary of the Friends of the Dard Hunter Paper Museum, has been investigating the history of Dard Hunter's two hand paper mills in connection with her work on the biography of Hunter. (Hunter's 1958 autobiography apparently contains many errors.) Hunter built, equipped and worked his first paper mill in Marlboro-on-Hudson, New York for about six years before selling it in 1918. He then moved to Chillicothe, Ohio, started the Mountain House Press, and during the 1920s, wrote three of his "one man" books on papermaking. Eager to start up a commercially successful business in handmade paper, Hunter bought several buildings in Lime Rock, Connecticut in 1928. Upon completion of building, hand papermaking started in 1930. In 1931, Hunter knew the business was doomed to fail, and it went into receivership that year. Although paper continued to be made without Hunter's guidance, the business finally failed, and the buildings and paper stock were sold at auction in 1933. A flood destroyed the buildings in 1955, and no vestige of the mill remains. (There is no record of a fire.) Hunter's mill at Marlboro, however, is under restoration. The Gomez Foundation for Mill House is currently restoring the mill, even to thatching the roof, and plans are underway to reintroduce hand papermaking on a limited basis.

Kathryn and Howard Clark gave a joint slide presentation on the 20-year history of their hand paper mill, Twinrocker. They met in graduate school, where she was in art and he in engineering, and set up the first American hand paper mill since 1929, initially in San Francisco, then in Brookston, Indiana. They had to teach themselves and invent many of the methods they now use. Howard built the beaters, presses and other equipment. They attracted so much attention from the art world in San Francisco that one of the reasons they moved to Indiana after Howard's father died was to get away from the crowds. After setting up shop on the family farm, they trained a series of apprentices two at a time, for two years each. There was no formal apprenticeship agreement and no certificate, but plenty of instruction and experience. Over four years of work were compressed into those two years: everyone worked 10 to 14 hours a day, six or seven days a week. Everyone lived where they wanted to but shared cooking duties and ate together in the farmhouse. Tim Barrett was one of their apprentices.

We were shown a new world-class film called "The Mark of the Maker" about the Clarks, their reasons for reviving hand papermaking, and the sources of their personal commitment to their work. It includes three interviews with nonpapermakers who have worked with the Clarks, including one with scholar-printer Michael Gullick. It is available for purchase as a 16m film ($450) or VHS video ($300), and it can also be rented for $125. It is 27 minutes long. Information is available from McGowan Film and Video, 4926 N. Walcott, Chicago, IL 60640 (312/271-0793 or 0794).

Paul Needham, now director of the book department at Sotheby's in New York, spoke on the life and work of Allan Stevenson, one of the great scholar-bibliographers, whose pathfinding work on watermarks as bibliographical evidence has not yet been fully absorbed by his successors. Born in 1903 in Ontario (and later naturalized as a U.S. citizen), he got his master's degree at Rice in 1926 and went to the University of Chicago three years later for his Ph.D., which he did not get till he was about 46 years old. He taught for about three years, but he did not find the work congenial and left it in 1952. For about five years he worked as a cataloger. He applied for grants, but his applications were all turned down. While doing research for his dissertation, on a Jacobean playwright, he became aware of watermarks through a fellow student and began publishing papers on the usefulness of watermarks in dating of publications. He published on the occurrence of watermarks as "twins" in paired moulds, chain indentations and two-sidedness in paper. His last, unpublished, work was a series of lectures an dating of woodcut codices, showing that they could not have been published before 1450, despite art historians' claim of a an earlier date. His major work, "The Problem of the Missale Speciale" (1967) demonstrates his ability to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Having satisfied himself earlier that the Missale Speciale was published in 1473, not 1450 as claimed by another leading scholar, he put off publishing his findings until 1960, when two German watermark tracers independently came to the same conclusion and published simultaneously, giving watermark evidence to support the later date. Instead of simply conceding priority, Stevenson extended their work by finding other books of known date with the same watermark, building a watertight case and pinning down the date much more precisely than anyone had done before. In the discussion period, Terry Belanger said Allan Stevenson pioneered the use of beta radiography, though he did most of his work without it. Tracings of watermarks are better than beta radiographs 90% of the time, he said. A new method of recording watermarks by the use of "soft" X rays, the Gruentz method, was mentioned favorably, and Cathy Baker said they can do it in the conservation program at Buffalo State College; it is the only place in the country with such facility.

Leonard Schlosser's paper, "Changes in Papermaking Related to the Growth of Lithography, 1798-1950," emphasized the important role that book illustrations had played in creating the demand for (and supply of) smooth even paper capable of reproducing every detail. That demand for smooth and even paper, in fact, had begun in 15th Century Europe when the rougher paper used for writing since 1282 or earlier was seen to be unsatisfactory for illustrations in early printed books. Aquatint (about 1750) even required a glazed paper.

By the time lithography was invented in the 1790s, wove paper was being made that permitted its rapid adoption for music, maps and art. Real stones were used then, sometimes 20 for a single colored picture by chromolithography, rather than by presses with rollers, and the lithographed illustrations had to be printed separately from the letterpress text. If you wanted to print the illustrations in the same impression as the text, you had to use woodcuts or zinc line cuts, which were type high. Even Civil War photographs usually had to be copied by a wood engraver before they could be printed. Halftone screens were invented about 1850 and coated paper about 1880 to permit reproduction of halftones.

The rotary offset press was invented about 1903, but was not capable of quality work until 1950, when long run plates made reproduction of fine details possible and good inks began to appear. Film typesetting, introduced in 1970, gave the process further impetus. Now papers had to be produced to meet the demands of offset printing of both text and illustrations at once. Coated papers with high surface strength and good holdout against water were produced to cope with the tackier offset inks and the fountain solutions. Fidelity of the image continues to improve, and papers continue to adapt to the needs of evolving printing processes.

Terry Belanger is paper was entitled "Format, Collation and Curators; Bibliography in the Library." His paper dealt with several closely related dilemmas: the ultimate irreconcilability of preservation and access, the limited degree to which reformatted copies can be substituted for artifactual objects, and the increasing impossibility of caring properly for all the books that belong in rare book libraries, much less those in the stacks of research libraries. His speaking style was epigrammatic and quotable. He offered none of the usual solutions to the larger preservation problems, or any unusual ones either, but he made a good case for forgetting all the common assumptions and taking a closer look at the big picture for the next 50 years. Actually, he did propose a solution of sorts: to use some of the books for sanitary landfill. After hearing what he had to say, it was hard to think of a sounder solution.

Here are some of the other things he said, not necessarily word for word: "Reformatting copies of books whose primary appeal is sentimental has all the appeal of a kiss through glass.... The book as object became more visible just as nonbook formats became common; the fish don't notice the water they're swimming in until the level in the tank begins to sink.... An old book's best friend is probably indifference.... research libraries are largely made up of books no one wants to read.... Readers [in rare book room] want to read books [instead of microfilm and other copies]. They want to be able to trace them, do rubbings, collate them.... We want readers to take an interest in books as physical objects--but that damages them. So access to physical books as objects will became more restricted.... Librarians must lead the procession to the dump. It's better to choose which books to preserve than to let it be done by chance."

One of the historic videos we saw was "The Fiber of History," produced and filmed by Triumph Film , Ltd., Rosemont, PA. It is 15 minutes long, and available for $39.95 plus shipping from the executive director of the Friends of Historic RittenhouseTown, Andrew A. Frederick, 620 Newtown Road, Warminster, PA 18974 (215/441-8789). It portrays an imaginative encounter between the ghost of Rittenhouse and two young modern skeptics, and tells the story of the earliest papermaking in America. The other video, "Papier Bereiding Budholland Papier," was an early papermaking methods. It was silent, with subtitles, and about 12 minutes long.

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