Archives for category: Paper

The reason paper comes in the sizes it does is not just tradition or whim. It has to do with √2 and aspect ratios. If you are making a book, when you fold a piece of paper in half you want its aspect ratio, the relationship of height to width, to be the same as it was on the larger sheet, otherwise you end up cutting a lot of paper to waste. √2 is notoriously an irrational number but this doesn’t prevent its being essential to the construction of the apparently super-rational* paper size system, A1, A2, A3 etc, each of which represents a halving of the one before. John Barrow’s Gresham College lecture, The Uses of Irrationality, gives you the mathematics. You can watch it at this link, or download a transcript.

Wikipedia has a pretty exhaustive discussion of the matter.

See also Size, and Cut sizes.


* The picture shows the ISO A series system with the truly irrational US system shown on red.

Finch, Pruyn & Company was formed in 1865 when Jeremiah and Daniel Finch, together with Samuel Pruyn, purchased the Glens Falls Company. Shortly thereafter they bought the Wing Mill, on which site they are still located. In 2007 the company was renamed Finch Paper LLC.

Still there — the 1911 office building

They started out with various lines of business including lumber, and it was only in 1905 that they started making paper. In the early years they made newsprint and hanging paper, the basis for wallpapers. Only in the 1950s did book-paper-making get going. Finch Opaque, the sheet best known to the publishing community, was only introduced in 1963, around the time when the company installed an odor-free pulping process and moved from coal power to oil. The mill is quite close to the middle of town — three or four blocks — so you can imagine the highly scented life in the town back then.

As is usually the case the mill is built next to a constant source of water, the Hudson River. In the early days this water would provide power. The falls are just upstream from the Finch Mill. In this old postcard view the mill is just to the left at the northern end of the bridge across the river. A mill lade leads off from the upper river and flows into the mill site. Not, I’m sure, that it had any influence on the founders decision-making, but the literary-minded may be interested  to know that just under that bridge one can find the cave  in which Hawkeye and his companions hid in James Fenimore Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans. Part of the mill can be seen in the background of this photo of the cave.

Photo Kent Myers, Finch Paper

Doubtless in the olden days the lade would also serve as a delivery method for their raw material. Logs, as we all sort of know, used not to be hauled around on trucks: they were thrown into the river and dramatically floated downstream to civilization. The last river drive carrying logs from the Adirondack Mountains down the Hudson River took place in 1950. This video, from Finch, shows a drive from the thirties. A more exciting job than driving a truck for sure.

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The introduction of the Fourdrinier machine galvanized the production of paper. It seemed we could make as much and more than we might ever need. Apparently in the 1860s a company called Waters & Sons was building boats made of paper in Troy, New York. Troy made so many paper collars it was known as the Collar City. Why couldn’t paper be used for everything? The age of paper was declared in 1862 when a song of that title was published. The sheet music cover shows Howard Paul, the singer of this song, attired in suit of paper.

Sheet music cover, “The Age of Paper” (London, 1862). Music and lyrics by Henry Walker, lithography by the firm of Concanen and Lee. The English singer Howard Paul performed the number in music halls clad entirely in paper clothing, much like the dandy pictured here. Arthur Granger was a London stationer, but here his offerings are exaggerated to include hats, coats, wigs, and umbrellas—all made of paper. (Photo from the Lester S. Levy Collection of Sheet Music, The Sheridan Libraries, The Johns Hopkins University.)

The website Disposable America has a six-part history of the disposable paper collar. The picture above is from Part III.

I am old enough to remember a world in which you could not buy a dress shirt with a collar attached. When I first had to wear a suit as as schoolboy the shirts we wore were separate from the collars. You had a little leather bag with a bunch of cuff links and collar studs inside, little button-like things made of ivory, or more likely plastic, which would attach the collar to the shirt via tiny button holes at the front and the back. Kids who have trouble tying a tie nowadays have no idea what it was like back then. You had to carefully position the tie inside the collar before attaching the front stud, because there was no turning the collar over after it was in situ. These things were starched at the laundry and would cut your head off if you wriggled about too much in them. I can scarcely imagine how much worse a steel collar (Yes: read the Disposable America story) must have been like. By my time paper and celluloid collars had gone the way of all flesh, and in my experience collars were made of cotton. White cotton of course, because in those days wearing a shirt of any color other than white would have been regarded as so sinful that no manufacturer would dare produce one.

Here’s the text of “The Age of Paper” song copied from where the music is also available:

Of “Golden Age” do poets tell,
 The “Age of Brass” they laud as well;
 While ev’ry age hath serv’d by times
 A peg on which to hang their rhymes.
 But as the world goes rolling on,
 Strange times indeed we’ve chanced upon,
 For Fashions progress never lags-
 And now we’re in the “Age of Rags.
  – For paper  now is all the rage
    And nothing else will suit the age.


 Each swell attired in mode extreme
 Of paper is a walking ream;
 His collar, necktie, shirt, and vest,
 Instead of starch’d are all hot press’d
 But greatest care he’s forced to own,
 Being held together by paste alone;
 And should he sneeze, or start, or spring
 Twould “weally be a dreadful thing”!
  – For paper  now is all the rage
    And nothing else will suit the age.


 The ladies meet our stricken gaze,
 All paper’d round like fresh bouquets;
 And, thus attir’d they roam the streets,
 Mere paper parcels fill’d with sweets.
 But on them should a rain drop fall,
 To grief they’d come, aye! each and all,
 For of their dresses once so splash,
 There’d naught remain but papier mash !
  – For paper  now is all the rage
    And nothing else will suit the age.


 The children soon we may suppose,
 Will run about in paper clothes;
 With sealing wax each tear we’ll bind,
 Then give them whacks of a different kind.
 To keep them clean no soap we’ll need,
 For India rubber will do instead,
 But pinafores ’tis greatly fear’d,
 Will at the corners get dog-ear’d!
  – For paper  now is all the rage
    And nothing else will suit the age.


 In every shop one now espies
 The “last new thing” in paper ties;
 The coats of “best blue wove” are made;
 But shirts, of course, are all “cream laid.”
 A paper hat should you desire,
 Or paper socks, say half a quire,
 Or “peg-tops” of the last design-
 You’ll get them all for three and nine!
  – For paper  now is all the rage
    And nothing else will suit the age.


 T’is hard to say where this will stop;
 Each tailor soon must close his shop;
 And ev’ry laundress, do not doubt,
 Ere long will fairly be washed out:
 For we shall see ‘midst other rigs
 Our maids deck’d out in paper wigs,
 Our ships unfurling paper sails,
 And tomcats sporting paper tails,
  – Before the world has lost its rage
    To celebrate the PAPER AGE.

Well, despite the song’s claims, the only garments ever made extensively from paper were those collars, some cuffs, and dickeys, shirt fronts. The aim in that highly scented world which we used to inhabit was to wear your shirt for at least a week, fooling everyone into believing it was spanking clean by means of the visible parts, the paper replaceables. I remember when deodorants first became available for men: senior opinion was that they represented some dastardly underhand plot to sap the manliness of the nation which had never had any problem with BO — which acronym came into common usage at that time (though the OED dates the earliest use to 1933). I suspect it took the widespread adoption of the washing machine to kill off the detachable collar. In my part of the world this didn’t happen till I was an adult, and was preceded by a short, quasi-decadent phase when colored shirt bodies accompanied by white detachable collars could be obtained.

Every now and then someone tries to make paper dresses fashionable, but it never seems to catch on. Even in the days when paper was made largely from cotton fiber, its use for clothing was pretty much restricted to those visible shirt bits. Rayon is made from cellulose which does come from wood, but this at best makes it a distant cousin of paper clothing. I do now have some socks made of bamboo, but again I don’t really see how that can be made paper-like. However I guess those paper gowns they make you wear at the doctor’s do have to count as garments.


There are few people left at work in publishing production departments now who can remember how it used to be when paper didn’t just fall out of the sky when you clicked your fingers. We’ve worked ever quicker and smoother purchasing operations into our workflow systems, relying on a slick supply chain, and now allow for a couple of weeks at the end of the process for the printer to receive the files and get the book into the warehouse. Delays have become almost unknown: unknown because any supplier who misses dates for you will probably have their ticket cancelled. But it looks like the unknown terror is about to return. Get used to it. If there’s no paper, there’s no books. And we are approaching a no paper world — or at least a world which isn’t overflowing with pulp and paper.

D. Eadward Tree gives us his 2019 Print Forecast, forwarded by Publishing Executive. The article is mainly focussed on the magazine business, but the same lessons apply for books. Bear in mind that book papers represent a tiny proportion of worldwide paper usage: there’s probably more paper consumed by Amazon’s cartons than by books. And as one papermaker suggests in Mr Tree’s piece, they’d make more money making toilet paper.

In the end, it’s not really too hard to work all this out. If paper doesn’t come quickly, then you need to lay in an inventory and keep it up-to-date. Large publishers used to employ people whose job it was to monitor and manage their paper inventories. We have now tended to lay off this responsibility onto the printer who gets to supply paper and maybe keep a penny or two on the transaction. I don’t think exhorting and threatening your printer on this score is really going to work: the squeaky wheel may get the oil, but too much squeaking and a small wheel tends to get switched out and put aside. It’s not hard to manage paper inventory: just costs you the labor time — and the cost of funding and storing an inventory.

Ideally you need to restrict your paper usage to as few as possible different types and sizes of paper. You also need to make your print decisions earlier, so paper can be guaranteed for the book once it’s ready for the printer. Maybe you’ll find yourself occasionally determining the print run based on the paper on hand: “Divide and print to paper” was an instruction we’d often have to give the printer. You’ll also need to preschedule. You’ll want to hold extra paper to make some allowance for a quick and unexpected reprint. All this takes time and concentration. Managing paper inventories can be pretty straightforward. I once upon a time constructed a moderately elaborate FileMakerPro system of three linked databases — to calculate probable future usage title by title; to book in firm usage numbers based on the printers’ usage reports; and to generate purchase orders in good time to ensure replenishment took place before inventory was exhausted. But you can run a paper inventory on a few index cards. Carrying a stock of various papers of different sizes will mean tying capital up in white paper, so you’ll need to sell the idea to the bosses. But consider what your chances of survival are in a sea where the big fish are going to be able to intimidate printers into letting them gobble up all the paper, leaving smaller fry without.

Look on the bright side. This “loss of efficiency” represents a gain in responsibility for production departments.

See also Paper buying

In my review of Mark Kurlansky’s Paper I did criticize him for ignoring this ubiquitous, and no doubt fascinating product. As I suspected there’s lots of fun to be found in that innocent looking roll. Who knew that bleaching the stuff also made it softer?

As a general introduction the following video delivers more than its title might suggest, though the color issue (strange that one has never thought about this) does provide the main theme.

The manufacturing process is basically the same as for any paper  — only the formula for mixing the pulp will vary.

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The stuff was, perhaps predictably, first used in China, and is said to have been introduced to the USA in 1857. Wikipedia, in a notably po-faced article, informs us that Americans each use an average of 23.6 rolls of toilet paper per annum — no wonder I seem perpetually to be wheeling vast packages back from the supermarket. Why did it become an essential of hospitality welcoming that the end sheet of the toilet paper roll has to be folded into an arrowhead by hotel room cleaners? Wikipedia gives no hint. Another exciting and thought-provoking fact that they don’t cover, which I found out from watching Steve Harvey’s vital quiz program, Family Feud, is that American users break down into three categories, folders, clumpers, and wrappers.

I am old enough to remember visiting houses where paper for this use consisted of neatly torn up sheets of newspaper. Handy for reading too. I recently made the observation that in France the perforations into sheets are further apart on a roll of loo paper than they are in the USA: our American sheet — self-evidently the greatest in the world now we’ve been made so great again— is 3.7″ long and 4.1″ wide. This has the advantage of saving trees! A recent innovation, which may not stick, seems to be the omission of that cardboard roll in the middle.

Can it be long before the ultimate threat to the tissue industry reaches our modest western shores? Early adopters are already saving wiping energy and paper, and prices are coming down. Another invasion from the east, the Japanese auto-wiping toilet seems set to be an inevitable addition to all our bathrooms. (It works by squirting water followed by warm drying air. Who could resist such decadence?) Will this solve our ecological problems by saving lots more trees from pulping?

Photo: Boston Public Library

It’s no coincidence that paper mills are always next to a river or a lake. They need more water than anything else to make paper. The pulp released onto the moving belt in a paper making machine will be diluted to 97% water.

This Sappi diagram, which you can enlarge by clicking on it, claims that paper mills return 90% of the water they use to the rivers. In the olden days, before we got our legal ducks in a row, the effluent was heavily polluted, and living downstream from a paper mill demanded olfactory blindness.

Paper Online has a bit of detail They point out the thought-provoking idea that because the modern paper mill has to purify the water it takes in, the decontaminated outflow may well be improving the quality of water in the river.

The amount of water used in papermaking has been being steadily reduced. For those who want numbers, here’s a 2014 article from Professional Papermaking focussed on the German industry.

Of course the industry’s need for paper doesn’t begin when the wood reaches the mill. Water management is needed in their forestry divisions: trees need water to grow. The following video focuses on that part of the water budget.

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I need sustaining just to get me past these sorts of complaints, which make me go weak at the knees.

Much of what Tom Corson-Knowles is saying at PRnewswire is true enough in detail, but put it all together and it can’t really justify the headline “Book Publishers and Book Lovers are Destroying the Planet”. (This piece was linked to by The Passive Voice, eager as always to pass on any story which appears to show publishing is a poor light.) Mr Corson-Knowles claims “that around 10 million of the trees that are killed to create books die in vain each year, because the books end up getting destroyed instead of being read.” Well, of course it’s true that publishers print too many copies of lots of books, and that most of this unsold inventory gets pulped. But this problem of excess inventory is really yesterday’s news: publishers’ inventory control is much tighter today that in the past, and print runs are way down, with more frequent reprints if a book takes off. But what’s a publisher meant to do in a world where you can get orders before publication for a million copies of a book? Say that their customers are nuts and print only half a million? In so far as the problem of excess inventory still exists it only affects a tiny proportion of books: most titles are getting preorders for quantities in the hundreds, not the millions, so there’s no need to overprint. You just don’t see headlines saying “Author X’s latest garners 650 preorders”.

It may also be true that somewhere in the world, say Indonesia, forests are being chopped down faster than they can regenerate. But the American paper industry has gotten its act together on this one, and for every tree chopped down for paper-making another tree is planted. It’d be nice not to chop down those 10 million trees, except of course for the 10 million little seedlings who’d never get to start their journey to treedom.

It’s also true that paper making consumes lots of energy and gives off fairly obnoxious by-products. Here again environmental controls plus self interest have led the paper industry to immensely reduced emissions. But paper-making isn’t unique in using energy. Almost anything we do consumes energy, and it’s NOT an argument in favor of ebooks to say that “Printing books is environmentally expensive”. Creating, transmitting, and reading an ebook is also “environmentally expensive” in almost exactly the same way. It’s just that the energy consumption is going on in places which you can’t see. Do you know for a fact whether any of the juice you put into your iPhone or Kindle is coming from coal-generated power? I’m no expert, but I have seen analyses suggesting that the ebook business consumes more energy that paper books do. It doesn’t really matter whether it uses more, the same, or less: the point is that energy cost does not attach to one side of the equation only.

Even more confusedly “If a bookstore can’t sell its copies, its entitled to request a full refund from the publisher. However, shipping books is expensive. So instead of sending the books back, bookstores often rip the covers off and send only those back to the publisher as proof that the book has been taken out of circulation. Those damaged books are often pulped: ground up, mixed with certain chemicals, and recycled into paper for other uses.” Again this isn’t altogether wrong; it’s just wrong in detail. Booksellers don’t “often rip the covers off and send them back” — this procedure happens with mass paperbacks only, and is based upon the calculation that a cheap paperback is worth less than the cost of shipping it. And of course, as anyone who’s bought one of these knows, books with their covers ripped off are not always pulped: all too often they are sold off cheap to customers who don’t mind cheating the author and the publishers who have already given credit for these rip-offs. It is true that the right to return unsold copies is the bane of our business. We have to do something about this, and I believe that the economics of it will force us to. But as long as we believe that people will buy Fire and Fury if it’s there, but will forget about it as soon as they leave the store, this is a very difficult cure.

TCK Publishing, Mr Corson-Knowles’ company, proudly states that they use print-on-demand technology to eliminate the waste of unsold books. Who do they think developed POD? Certainly not TCK Publishing! Oops, it was those very publishers who are out to destroy the planet.

Now of course all TCK is trying to do is put their best foot forward. Maybe the scare headline was put there by PRnewswire. But these sorts of things exaggerate a reality which is actually fairly anodyne, and allow the commentariat to pile on in absolute irrelevancy.

They always do things better elsewhere. In his 2011 Gresham College Lecture John Barrow takes a swipe at us Americans because “There are only three countries in the world that do not use the paper size aspect ratios I have talking about so far, the so-called International Standard, the USA, Canada and Mexico. They use a curious collection of historically somewhat ad hoc paper sizes.”

Here’s a diagram showing the “logical”  International Standard folding down of an A0 sheet (which measures 1 square meter  — but only approximately, as you’ll find if you do the math. But when you stray from the theoretical world of mathematics clunky reality tends to get in the way, like the thickness of the blade making a cut, or the tick mark on a ruler, and the inability of people to hit exactly the same number every time they do a measurement). Superimposed in red in the diagram are American Legal and Letter sizes. But it is true that if you start with an A0 sheet and fold away, you should be able to end up with a tiny 52mm x 74mm A8 bit of paper — in theory you can go on till you reach A10. For those of you who remember being told paper could only be folded six or seven times, think rather of cuts than folds, and view this video of a 13th fold being successfully completed. (Video via Mental Floss.)

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Now American cut paper sizes are of course not just an ad hoc choice. They are based upon ANSI (American National Standards Institute) standard ANSI/ASME Y14.1, which used Letter size, 8½” x 11″ as its basis. Contrary to what Professor Barrow implies in his lecture God did not include a paper aspect ratio of 1:√2 in his briefing to Moses on Mount Sinai. It may well be neat and nice that A3 and A4 etc. all enjoy a relationship between length and breadth which is based on √2 and can each be derived by cutting their predecessors in half maintaining the same proportional relationship between the long side and the width. But neat and nice is just neat and nice. As Barrow tells us about √2, “This number, famously, is an irrational number, and that fact was discovered by the Ancient Greeks. It was known, supposedly, to the Pythagoreans, and there are stories and legends that the first person to discover it was regarded as an enemy of the people and thrown into the sea because he had unveiled something that was indeed irrational and therefore dangerous to the world of thought.” Clearly we in America have taken care to protect ourselves against that irrationally (if only by adopting a completely different basis of irrationality), and while it may be annoying to the purist that the margins of a document printed on legal paper will change if reduced and printed out on a letter size sheet, it really doesn’t matter in any practical and meaningful sense, does it?

Paper sizes were only standardized in the last quarter of the 20th century. Prior to that they were maintained by custom and convention. Britain’s participation in the International Standard no doubt has something to do with its membership of the EU: maybe they’ll want to get back to good old foolscap again. The reason a sheet of paper is of a certain size originally resulted not from far-sighted papermakers conferring as to what they should do in accordance with some Platonic ideal. The aspect ration, which may or may not have had something to do with the Golden Ratio, was decided upon by each vatman who would make his mould as best suited him. He’d no doubt try to get the biggest sheet out at any one time, and the width would be governed by the extent of his reach with arms stretched wide. The breadth would then follow with considerations of weight and balance coming into the picture. Make it too big and you won’t be able to dip the mould and lift it: make it too small and you’ll get exhausted making handkerchief-sized paper. Who’s to say that the idea of what shape a page should be may not have been influenced by the size of a sheep or a calf, as early papermakers were of course competing with parchment and vellum?

Long before the late 20th century paper sizes for book work had been fixed by the sizes of printing presses. Of course printing press sizes would initially have been influenced by the sizes of paper available. Mutual reinforcement continued until it would became insane to produce paper measuring 26″ x 39″ or a multiple thereof for the American market, where a standard of 25″ x 38″ had evolved.

The Kraft process, the chemical procedure used to separate the cellulose in wood from the lignin which binds the cellulose fibers together and provides to structure of a tree, surprisingly (at least to me) was not invented by a German named Kraft. It was actually invented in 1884 by a German named Carl Ferdinand Dahl. The first pulp mill using the process came on line in Sweden in 1890-1. Wikipedia, Encyclopedia Britannica, and Uncle Tom Cobley and all maintain it is called Kraft (strength in German) because it makes strong paper. I wonder. The US Patent for the process makes no reference to Kraft or strength ( — if you do look at this you’ll find an extravagant illustration of the pitfalls of optical character recognition technology). The Oxford English Dictionary tells us that the term kraft paper is derived from the Swedish kraftpapper (which no doubt does mean strong paper) so I suspect we’ve got the cart pulling the horse here, and Mr Dahl’s process picked up its name because it was first used in Sweden to make the strong brown stuff we now call kraft paper. The Kraft process doesn’t have to result in brown paper though: 80% of the pulp produced chemically in the USA uses the Kraft process.

The Kraft process tweaked the earlier soda process, and is sometimes referred to as the sulphate process, after the sodium sulphate it uses.

It certainly takes a deal of craft to follow this diagram, which can be enlarged by clicking on it.

Wood chips, steamed to expand the water cavities in them are mixed with a combination of black liquor and white liquor, and the mixture is then cooked in a digester. After a few hours the chips fall apart into cellulose and lignin plus other byproducts, including turpentine. The black liquor, which is actually produced during this process, was in the past mostly vented into the river which is always to be found next to a paper mill. Eventually we came to realize that this wasn’t exactly good for the fishes, who tended to turn up dead as a consequence.

The cellulose from the digester goes to the blow tank, so called because the cellulose is really blown in there. After that the cellulose fibers are screened, washed, and bleached. Various chemicals, including surfactants, defoamers, dispersing and fixing agents are added to help the pulp perform in production. The pulp delivers from the end of the machine and its driers as a continuous thick blanket. This is cut into sheets and baled for shipment. Most pulp is produced in specialized pulp mills, though there are still a few paper mills which produce their own pulp. Notable among these is Glatfelter — a much appreciated manufacturer of book papers. A visit to their Spring Grove plant in Pennsylvania starts with a visit to their forest! Here’s their video of the pulping process:

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Jeff Peachey’s blog tells about splitting paper. Taking a single sheet of paper and dividing it into two sheets each half as thin, sounds insanely difficult. The benefits, if you want to display on your wall both sides of a single printed leaf, are obvious. (One does perhaps have to repeat one’s disapproval of dealers who dismember old books in order to obtain pictures they can sell to intellectual punters.) I don’t imagine paper splitting is as easy as the description suggests though. The things book restorers have to get up to!

Here’s a video from the Morgan Library’s blog showing how it’s done. It all works well, but I think we can assume lots of attempts which don’t work out, resulting in the destruction of a leaf which takes with it whatever information it contained. In other words this is a high-risk activity.

As usual, if you don’t see a video here, please click on the title of the post in order to view it in your browser.

To the book manufacturing operative paper splitting sounds hair-splittingly close to paper slitting. Paper slitting is the cutting of a single roll of paper into two or more ribbons as it races through the rollers at the back end of the press, or in the mill where it has been made in a continuous roll as wide as the Fourdrinier machine it comes from.