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Rare Books Digital Exhibition — Paper is Fundamental

“The most fundamental thing about a book is to find the right paper, because it’s the whole ground of the being of the book, and the quality of the paper is in some ways the most elusive … Critics of the book generally focus on the type and when people get into printing, the first thing they get into is type. They learn to recognize the different faces, and become pre-occupied with them. But the paper is more fundamental, because that is where the beauty begins, and in the end, that is all that beauty can come back to – the substance of the paper, the field on which the whole thing can act.”

— William Everson (1912 – 1994), On Printing

Most people see and touch paper every day. The type and quality of it are easily overlooked. Most of us know little about where the paper we use comes from. Paper is produced by pressing together the moist cellulose fibers of plant material, which is achieved through drawing sheets of the fibers from vats of pulp before pressing and drying them. Developed in China during the Han dynasty by a court official named Cai Lun, the invention of paper was a world-changing event that only seems magnificent in retrospect. The use of paper spread slowly from Asia and it did not reach Europe until the eleventh century. Even after its arrival in Europe its use there caught on slowly. It was only with the development of printing with moveable type in the mid-fifteenth century that the collaboration of ink and paper launched European culture into modernity.

The Rare Books Department invites you to take a virtual stroll through our digital exhibition, “Paper is Fundamental.”

Egypt?, 500AH/1106CE
ND2895 S2 U5 frag. 1

Islamic Holy Scripture is meant to be recited aloud, either alone or in community. The divine word of God calls for proper recitation. Marks indicate where the reader must pause, pause voluntarily, or must not pause. The reliance on proper recitation was one method of memorization through oral transmission.

The early state of the written Arabic language would have made uniformity of the Scripture difficult. The gradual improvement of consistent written Arabic was complete by the late ninth century.

Pictorial representation with written Scripture was considered irrelevant to the divine message. The word was all that the devoted needed. However, the development of calligraphy not only transmitted the word of God in written form, but supplied an aesthetic value to the written word.

China: s.n., n.d
BQ1960 D3

One volume from a set of selections of sacred Buddhist writings, commonly referred to as “Tripi’aka Sutapi’aka.”

Woodblock printed on rice paper during the fifth year of the Ming Emperor, Cheng Tung, ca. 1440 – ten years before Johann Gutenberg printed his first book. One hundred pages of text bound accordion-style in green and yellow brocade. The characters are printed in clear, legible black ink.

Rare Books copy from the Kenneth Lieurance Ott Collection donated to the Okanogan County Museum, Washington.

Boethius (d. 524)
Augsburg: E. Ratdolt, 20 May 1488
First edition
PA6231 A7 1488

Ancius Manlius Severinuis Boethius, Roman philosopher and statesman, was appointed consul of Rome in 510 AD. A minister under Emperor Theodoric, Boethius was falsely accused of treason, imprisoned, and sentenced to death.  According to tradition, he wrote his great work, The Consolation of Philosophy, while awaiting execution.  His treatise on ancient music was also for many centuries unrivaled as the final authority on Western music.

Boethius’ Arithmetica was produced by Erhard Ratdolt as part of his extensive program of astronomical and mathematical publications. The early printed treatise is typical of the classical works used in Western European Renaissance education.

Laid paper. Most likely linen. One does not often find incunables (books that were printed between 1450 and 1500, the first fifty years of printing following Gutenberg’s invention of moveable type) that were printed on bad paper. It most certainly happened, but the majority of those that survive were printed on paper of exceptional quality. Looking at this paper, it is hard to believe that it is 500 years old.

Johann Michael Bach (1745-1820)
Cassel: Waysenhaus, 1780
First edition
MT49 B25 1780

Johann Michael Bach was a German lawyer, music theorist, and composer. He was a son of Johann Elias Bach (1705–1755), and a nephew of Johann Sebastian Bach, not to be confused with his great uncle Johann Michael Bach (1648–1694), brother of Johann Christoph Bach. He is sometimes referred to as the “Wuppertaler Bach” to distinguish him from his great uncle, the “Gehrener Bach.”

J. M. Bach was active as a lawyer in Güstrow (Mecklenburg) before becoming a music teacher at the school in Elberfeld, Wuppertal. Kurze und systematische Anleitung zum General-Bass was his main theoretical work, in which he discusses tones and their intervals.

Possibly wove paper. Type unknown. This paper does not appear to have laid lines, but suffers from a high number of “wrinkly” creases throughout. On the folio consisting of page 9 & 10 a flaw in the paper has affected the printing. While this paper is of a decent thickness it clearly is not the highest quality paper.

Continental Congress
Philadelphia: Printed by Francis Bailey, in Market-street, 1781
JK18 1781
First edition

This book contains the first official publication of the newly ratified Articles of Confederation – the document under which a fledgling country governed itself until the adoption of the Constitution. Authorized by the Continental Congress of 1780 in a resolution of December 29: “Resolved; That this committee of three be appointed to collect, and cause to be published, two hundred correct copies, of the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of confederation and perpetual union, the alliances between these United States, and his Most Christian Majesty, with the constitutions or forms of government of the several states, to be bound together in boards. The members chosen, Mr. Bee, Mr. Witherspoon, and Mr. Wolcott. Extract from the Minutes, Charles Thomas, secretary.”

The book also contains the first printings of the 1778 Treaty of Amity and Commerce with France (the first treaty between what would become the United States and any other country) and the Treaty of Alliance with France (assuring the French of an alliance should their recognition of the states lead to war with Great Britain.) The collected documents were vital to the construction of the Federal Constitution of 1787. Although the imprint reads Philadelphia, the edition was published by Bailey in Lancaster, where he had moved with Congress after the British occupation of Philadelphia began in September 1781.

Edition of two hundred copies.

Laid Paper. Most likely cotton. This paper feels softer to the touch and has much less ruffle than its linen counterpart. The softness of cotton also has the added benefit of making cotton paper more pliable.

Thomas De Quincey (1785-1859)
London: W. Scott, 1800z
PR4534 C6 1800z

Thomas Penson De Quincey was an English essayist, best known for his Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1821). Many scholars suggest that in publishing this work De Quincey inaugurated the tradition of addiction literature in the West. His immediate influence extended to Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Baudelaire, and Nikolai Gogol, but even major 20th-century writers such as Jorge Luis Borges admired and claimed to be partly influenced by his work.

Confessions of an English Opium-Eater is an autobiographical account of De Quincy’s laudanum addiction and its effect on his life. It was the first major work he published and the one which won him fame almost overnight. First published anonymously in September and October 1821 in the London MagazineConfessions was released in book form in 1822, and again in 1856, in an edition revised by De Quincey. Confessions maintained primacy of place in De Quincey’s literary output, and his literary reputation. Yet from the time of its publication, Confessions was criticized for presenting a picture of the opium experience that was too positive and too enticing to readers.

Wood pulp paper. The paper used by the Walter Scott Publishing Co. for the production of this book is from the same time and of about the same grade as was used for Kin’s Songs of the Heart, despite their differing origins. The use of wood pulp paper suggests publication of this edition in the second half of the 19th century, after the advent of wood pulp paper, although it lacks the later revisions. The uneven edges of the paper in this book should not be confused with the deckle edge. This is an example of a book with pages which the reader was required to “open” before reading them. The cutting open of the untrimmed quires resulted in the uneven edges of the pages.

William Morris (1834-1896)
Hammersmith: Kelmscott Press; London: Sold by Reeves and Turner, 1891
First edition
PR5078 P4 1891

Poems by the Way is the second book printed at Kelmscott Press and the first printed in red and black. The book includes the first appearance of several of the poems, including “Goldilock,” written especially for this book. This collection contains early narrative poems based on medieval or classical stories, poems influenced by medieval tales of Iceland and Scandinavia, and socialism. A wide, white vine woodcut border on page one introduces many decorative ten-line and six-line initials. Printed in black and red in Golden type. Title in gilt on spine, blue silk ties.

Edition of three hundred copies printed on paper, thirteen printed on vellum.

A deckle is a removable wooden frame used in manual papermaking. In a related sense, it can also mean the untrimmed, or “deckle” edge of paper. During the papermaking process, a deckle is placed onto a mould to keep the paper pulp within the bounds of the wire facing (sieve) on a mould. The mould, with its deckle in place, is dipped into a vat of water and beaten (fibrillated) plant fiber – the solution of which is called paper pulp. The pulp is quickly scooped out of the vat with the mould and deckle. The deckle is then removed and the newly formed sheet is “couched” (set) onto felts (a stack of which is referred as the “post”). When the paper is couched, i.e. placed on the felts for pressing (to further drain the water from the sheets), it will often cause an irregular edge to form. Paper with a feathered edge is described as having a deckle edge, in contrast to a cut edge. Machine-made paper may artificially have its edges produced to resemble a deckle edge. Before the 19th century, the deckle edge was unavoidable. It was a natural after effect of the papermaking process, in which sheets of paper were made individually using a mould and deckle.

Beginning in the 1800s, with the invention of the Fourdrinier machine, paper was produced in long rolls and the deckle edge became mostly obsolete; although there was some deckle on the ends of the rolls, it was cut off, and the individual sheets cut out from the roll would have no deckle in any case. With the appearance of smooth edges in the 19th century, the deckle edge slowly emerged as a status symbol. Many 19th-century presses advertised two versions of the same book: one with edges trimmed smooth and a higher-priced deckle version, which suggested the book was made with higher-quality paper, or with more refined methods. This tradition carried forward into the 20th and 21st centuries. In the case of mechanically produced paper, a modern deckle is sometimes created by a purpose-built machine to give the appearance of a true deckle edge by cutting the smooth edge into patterns. A deckle edge is unrelated to the practice of unopened pages, in which a reader must cut open pages with a knife.

Nigel Macfarlane
Winchester, Hampshire, England: Alembic Press, 1986
TS1095 T53 M33 1986

Edition of 108 copies, hand-set in Kennerley and printed on an Arab Foolscap Folio press at the Alembic Press. This copy is number 6.

This book was printed on paper handmade in Nepal and Bhutan.

All this and so much more!

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