Paper

I refilled the printer this morning, loading around 100 sheets of A4 paper into the tray. In the course of the day I’ll be writing in three notebooks which serve different purposes. Getting pens ready for despatch will require some form-filling. It’s all paper.

We love our pens and ink has become a very popular subject of discussion on the pen boards but paper is the poor relation, much less discussed but equally essential. People do discuss the best modern papers but I don’t know much about them. I use old paper from the mid-twentieth century or earlier, a time when all writing paper was fountain-pen friendly.

I freely confess that I love paper. It’s an obsession with me, not far behind fountain pens themselves. Like many other things, it was the Chinese who invented paper. and it took a long time for that technology to reach the West. On this side of the world such writing as was being done was on vellum and parchment, expensive materials that were the result of a long and costly preparation process. Books were treasures, about as far from modern cheap paperbacks as it is possible to imagine. Literacy was low and so was the requirement for written materials. Supply and demand were in balance. That was about to change.

Those prepared animal skins were an excellent material to write on. I’ll have more to say about them another time but it’s important to realise that it wasn’t writing that drove their replacement by paper. Acts of Parliament were still written on parchment until 2017 when it was finally replaced with archival paper. Vellum and parchment were impossible to completely standardise, making them unsuitable for printing. That’s where the increased demand for paper came from. Paper had been around, supplied by Italian paper-makers, since the 13th century but it’s use was relatively low until the 15th century arrival of printing. High-quality, water-marked paper was soon being used by printers in huge quantity.

Scribes gradually fell into line, using this good paper for letters, diaries, notes and draft copies. In some respects paper wasn’t quite so good as vellum for handwriting; for instance you couldn’t properly delete an error, just cross it out, whereas with a sharp knife the scribe could completely remove a mistake from vellum as if it had never happened.

Price ensured that paper won the day and wonderful papers have been produced. Some was even made to resemble parchment. I have a diminishing supply of that lovely textured paper, best written on with a medium or broad nib because of its coarse but satisfying surface.

It’s not so long ago that paper was comparatively expensive and it was used carefully. In letters, people often wrote one way then turned the paper sideways and wrote across the first writing. Now if I make a mistake on written or printed paper the sheet goes for recycling without a second thought. We are wealthy in paper!

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