The Printed Book

by Harry G. Aldis, M.A. Cambridge at the University Press 1916

Construction of a Book Part 8

The material upon which books are printed is nearly always paper, but occasionally vellum is used. The 'rag-books' of the nursery are another variant. In the early days of printing, when manuscripts were commonly written upon vellum, it was natural that material should frequently be employed for some copies of a printed book. But even at that time this was exceptional, since paper was in comparison much cheaper, and the large supplies of vellum necessary for whole impressions of a book would be difficult and expensive to obtain. In some instances certain parts of a book liable to hard usage, such as the leaves of a missal containing the canon of the mass, were printed on vellum. In modem times this material is but seldom used, and then only for two or three copies produced for the gratification of the collector who delights in the fact that his copy is one of 'only three' in existence on vellum, quite regardless of the other fact that his precious copy with its greasy-looking print is inferior in comeliness and comfort to a good paper copy.

The manufacture of paper is said to have been carried on in China in the early part of the second century of the Christian era, and was practiced by the Arabs before the end of the eighth century. In the eleventh century the Moors introduced it into Spain whence it spread through Europe. In former days paper was made almost exclusively from rags; but in modern times, and more especially since the abolition of the Paper Duty in 1861, the material which goes under the name of paper is manufactured from various other things, including wood pulp, esparto grass, and straw. Wood pulp forms by far the largest proportion of the materials used, but the best paper continues to be produced from rags, for which no entirely satisfactory substitute has yet been found. Until about a hundred years ago all paper was hand-made, each sheet being separately formed in a shallow frame like a fine wire sieve. At the present time the most recent of huge paper making machines can turn out paper in the form of a continuous roll at the rate of six or seven miles an hour. But the best paper is still made by hand, though it comprises only an insignificant fraction of the whole manufacture.

Paper used in the printing of books may be either laid or wove. Laid paper can be distinguished by the wire marks: semi-transparent lines running close together in one direction, with heavier lines about an inch apart at right angles. Wove paper, on the other hand, shews a uniform texture when held up to the light. Both these kinds of paper are manufactured in an almost endless variety of quality, tint, and thickness. The strength of a paper depends not so much upon its thickness as upon the quality of the fiber of which it is composed. The thick spongy paper upon which novels are frequently printed is made from aerated pulp, on the same principle as an egg or a basin of cream is whisked up by the cook.