We used to use the term India paper loosely to describe a good, thin, opaque bible paper. Apparently we were guilty of ignoring OUP’s role in turning a cheap commodity paper into a quality sheet. Rags to riches.

The Oxford Companion to the Book describes India paper thus: “A very thin, tough, soft, absorbent unsized opaque buff paper, introduced from China about 1750. [It was originally called China paper.] It was also known as India (proof) paper since it came from East Asia. Made from bamboo fibre, it was used by plate printers to take first impressions of fine engravings. It was imitated in 1875 at Wolvercote Mill, Oxford,* as a thin opaque rag paper for the Oxford University Press for use in bibles, prayer books, airmail letters, etc. This later paper was known as Oxford India or bible paper.”

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*Oxford University Press acquired Wolvercote Mill in 1872, from Thomas Coombs, superintendent of the Clarendon Press, who had bought it in 1855. It had been in operation since about 1674. OUP sold it, and SAPPI closed it down in 1998.

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