Archives for category: Paper

According to Wikipedia, ori means folding and kami means paper in Japanese. Origami, the art of paper folding, has they tell us been being practiced since the Edo (or Tokugawa) period, 1603–1868. Washi was the paper traditionally favored for folding. In my post about washi I told you that shi is Japanese for paper. I guess you are allowed to have more than one word for paper: but maybe there aren’t really two words. I know no Japanese, but looking at this explanation from Quora, I have to say I see the same symbol in all three words: “The word for paper in Japanese is 紙 kami. The famous Japanese paper is called 和紙 washi in contrast with the Western paper, 洋紙 youshi.” It seems that kanji symbols in Japanese are often pronounced in various ways depending on context, often with different meanings. (Go! Go! Nihon has a pretty thorough explanation.)

Notable origamist (if I’m allowed to form this word), Robert Lang, spoke on WNYC in a segment of the New Yorker Radio Hour on 30 May 2020. You can listen at this link. He referred to paper’s “memory” yet ability to take another fold despite that memory of the first. Most materials are either too stubborn to take the first fold, or too submissive to be able to remember the first while accepting the second. No doubt paper’s suitability for folding is a result of its fiber structure, with fibers tending to lie in one direction. Here’s a video of the artist at work:

Make sure your volume isn’t too high before you play this one! This next one is much less frantic and much more instructive.

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When you consider the fantastic elaboration possible in these bits of folded paper, it will come as no surprise that copyright in origami designs has become an issue. However it appears that protection is “fashious to seek”*. Japanese courts have tended to locate folding designs in the public domain, asserting that they are ideas rather than creative expression. Wikipedia‘s entry on Origami covers this.


* “The Laird o’ Cockpen”

Photo: from Atlas Obscura, by Nathan Mahendra

Well I guess it probably does have a pretty good fiber content, but making paper from elephant dung seems an unlikely idea to come up with. Notwithstanding, Atlas Obscura shows us that it’s being done in Sri Lanka. I guess an elephant is actually quite an efficient pulping machine; apparently they eat, digest and reprocess about 300lbs of fiber-rich fodder every day.

Somehow in these days of paper hoarding, this topic seems especially relevant.

Can this have any connection with that old sheet size, elephant (584 x 771mm)? Well, although lists Elephant and Double Elephant under the heading “Imperial” this cannot really have anything to do with the colonial rule of Ceylon by our revered ancestors, though it may of course have been they who bagged all the trees.

A famous example: Audubon’s The Birds of America was printed on a double elephant folio sheet. The Beinecke Library has a nice little post on the topic. Do we need to say that no elephants were involved in the production of the paper used for this book?

We are all aware, I think, that paper holds a prominent place in Japanese culture. After all they even make the walls of houses out of it!

Traditional Japanese hand-made paper is called washi, and while all hand manufacturing is much reduced everywhere, washi is still being made. I did a post in 2016 which includes a video showing the process.

This article from BBC Future about the Japanese love of paper covers all the expected bases, but actually focusses on Japanese resistance to digitization of the economy. In this article the word paper is almost being used as an antonym of digital payments. In the days of the Sony Walkman we grew accustomed to thinking of Japan as the source of modernization. Seems we were wrong: traditional modes of business generate mounds of paperwork, and show little sign of change. The fax machine is still a prominent business tool in Japan. Apparently more than three quarters of payments in Japan are made using cash. The government spends ¥1 trillion each year printing bills.

There are lots of reasons for this paper fixation, but among them is the extensive use of the hanko, a small ink stamp used to authenticate documents the same way signatures are used here. The BBC article, which really covers a lot of ground, tells us that every person in Japan has a hanko, and that when you open a business, you have to create a company hanko. But they do go on to imply that hanko use is now declining.

Another paper preserver is the habit of many Japanese people to record their life in a little planner book called a techoTechos include a full page for every day of the year. In order to make a book of 400 or so pages slim enough to slip into your pocket requires a special thin paper which has to be obtained from Tomoe River, a company making speciality papers for industry. This introductory video from Hobonichi starts with a couple of young people who claim ignorance of this fashion, but there you are:

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Just in case some are unaware of this: words in blue, orange or some other non-black color represent links. Click on the color type and you’ll be taken to the site referred to. You can always get back by clicking the back arrow at the top of your browser.

Coated paper or uncoated paper; that is the question. Here are two versions of Picasso’s “Three Dancers”. The first is printed on coated paper, the second on uncoated paper. Of course, given the color differences it’s clear (and almost inevitable) that they were created from different original photos. The first is Colorplate 77 from H. W. Janson’s History of Art, Prentice-Hall & Abrams, Revised and Expanded Edition, 18th printing 1974, printed in Japan (by Toppan?). The second is from Herbert Read’s A Concise History of Modern Painting, Thames & Hudson Fifth Impression 1963, printed by Jarrolds in Norwich.

It’s hard to tell from my photos but the uncoated, Thames & Hudson version is much softer, warmer, and less “dramatic”. It may well be it’s a better representation of the original than the sharper, more highly defined Janson picture. There is a loss of detail in the black/brown of the right hand dancer, but the flesh tones look a lot healthier. Strangely it has lost the signature in the lower lefthand corner. But without lugging both books to the Tate, how could you know for sure which is more representative of the original?

What is certain is that the Janson version is more expensive. It is printed with a finer screen on a coated paper and is bound in as an insert in this student text intro to art. The Read version is printed on the text paper, and the book looks like it was part of an international co-edition series of runs.

In these details, Janson left, Read right, you can see the halftone dots. A neat rosette pattern in Janson, and a less obvious pattern in Read. But notice the size of the dots of red and black ink up the left hand side of the Read detail. This is a consequence of two things: the screen value — because it’s on a smoother paper the Janson can have a finer screen thus smaller dots and more of them — and partly because, being on a rougher cartridge sheet, the ink on the Read image has been absorbed into the paper more than the Janson which has gone for the ink hold out that can be achieved with fine screen halftones on coated papers. The reason we print on coated paper is so that we can show more detail. We can show more detail because with a coated paper we can use a finer screen, and the coating on the paper will allow the ink to sit more on the surface of the paper rather than sinking into the paper (and expanding ever so slightly). This has become such a convention that we now tend to react with surprise to a color halftone which isn’t printed on coated paper. Just about the only color you’ll find nowadays on an offset sheet (uncoated) will be in children’s books, and is often in line drawing form, not reproductions of photographs. As such the color involved will tend to be solids, not halftone dots.

The amount of blue and pink in the Read image is striking, and no doubt is explainable by differences between the original photos.

But which is more like the original? Here’s the Tate’s on-line version of the painting:

The Three Dancers 1925 Pablo Picasso 1881-1973 Purchased with a special Grant-in-Aid and the Florence Fox Bequest with assistance from the Friends of the Tate Gallery and the Contemporary Art Society 1965

Whether this one is true-to-life or not is impossible to say: indeed as I explored in another post, there’s no real true-to-life version of any reproduction, since what anyone sees when looking at anything is not some absolute value but a reflection of light, and (obviously) light will change from say 11 am to 11 pm, or even from 11 am to 11.15 am. But one has to say that, despite the money spent on the Janson printing, the Read version looks a lot closer to the Tate’s version, which I have to assume is not a million miles off perceived “reality” regardless of the weather.

Our friend Ilene loves the warmth and slight fuzziness (or lack of sharp definition) of color halftones printed on an offset (uncoated sheet). She cuts them up and uses them in her art projects. This post is addressed to her.

One might conclude that, despite what we may have gained, we have certainly lost something valuable by insisting on always using finer screens and coated paper for our halftone reproductions of fine art, or indeed of any photographs. Striking effects can be achieved by printing four color halftones on an uncoated sheet.

Trinity College Library in Cambridge explain in their blog the differences between marbled paper, trickle paper, silhouette paper, surface color paper, and sprinkle paper. “Trickle papers are made when coloured or uncoloured liquid has been purposely dropped or sprinkled and allowed to trickle downwards, leaving traces on the paper surface. Other — less usual or outdated — terms are dribbled paper, drizzle paper or trickle marble. In the Dryden Album, there are three variations of trickle paper. These papers are too old to be European — western trickle papers were very popular in the 19th century — so it is very likely that they are of Turkish origin.”  You can see how you could do this, but I can’t find any information online about what liquids might work best. The word trickle seems to have been taken over by the software industry, as so often seems to happen with old jargon nowadays.


The examples Trinity shows us all come from The Dryden Album, a collection of Greek and Turkish costume illustrations dating from the 17th century. An account of the origin and content of the Album may be found at an earlier post, by William Kynan-Wilson. The entire volume may be examined here.

Modern examples of trickle paper can be seen and purchased at the Susanne Krause section of Dirk Lange Handmarmorpapier, a German website. Ms Krause it is who provided Trinity College Library with the information in their post. She is co-author of a tri-lingual (German, English, Dutch) book with Julia Rinck, Decorated Paper–A Guide Book (Stuttgart, Hauswedell 2016) which may tell you how to do these things. Amazon Germany offers it for 129€.

See also Marbled papers, and Making marbled papers.

We’ve all gotten used to the roller-coaster ride that has been the paper pricing picture over the past few decades. D. Eadward Tree suggests this uppsy-downsy may be over. I wonder.

Pricing marches with the supply/demand cycle. Shutting down a paper-making machine is a big deal, so as owner of a paper machine you will want to delay that decision till the last possible moment. Historically Sod’s law (Murphy’s law to US readers) has usually meant that that moment has tended to coincide with the beginning of the recovery of demand, so that suddenly, just as demand is increasing, supply is dropping. So you turn around and start getting the machine ready to make paper again, which you manage just in time for everyone else to have pulled off the same trick. In other words, as supply peaks, demand plummets, as the next phase of the economic cycle comes around. This isn’t a result of stupidity: it’s an effect of the difficulty of turning on and off your paper-faucet. Taking 14% out of the American coated-freesheet-making capacity by closing a single mill might look like a transformational change, but won’t it just fall into the same pattern after a number of years? There may be a bit more of a lag than before, but after all, if there’s more demand than capacity, surely someone’s ultimately going to be tempted to try to supply it even if being able to charge more for your product may dampen enthusiasm for a while.

It’s undeniable that print runs are coming down, and it’s also true that suppliers’ demand planning has become harder than it used to be because of this ability to print closer to a six-month supply or even less. But it’s individual print numbers we are talking about: not annual gross demand for books, which remains fairly constant even if it’s now achieved by two or three individual printings. If there’s a misfit between print capacity and publishing’s needs, the misfit between that and paper-making capacity is even greater. It’s like publishers want to print books in the hundreds, book manufacturers need to work in the thousands, and paper makers are forced to think in the hundreds of thousands. It’s all a balancing act: matching capacity to demand is an art not a science. Ultimately balance will be achieved; only to be disrupted all over again.

However as book work moves more and more towards digital printing, the “problem” will tend to get less and less “problematic” as papers suited for offset (or even letterpress) printing decline in significance, and the main paper used for books becomes that used for digital print.

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. For a comprehensive listing, go to


* 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