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Vatman Responsible For First Production Line

May 22, 2008
Step back in time to 3000BC to see where paper origins lie and thank your lucky stars that this process has evolved over the years to a point where we can whip out a sheet of paper from a ream, whack it in the printer and let the ink cartridge do its thing. Originally known as papyrus, versions of this commodity have been found throughout civilisations since the beginning of time.

Bast, would be cooked, pressed flat with a hammer and then dissolved in water until it became a pulp. A wooden framed screen with a fabric base would then be laid in a puddle with the fabric just under the surface of the water and the pulp poured on top and hand smoothed. After removing the screen from the water, the 'paper' would then be left to dry by an open fire or in the sun. Once dry the paper is easily peeled away.

This method was extremely time consuming as a separate frame would be needed for each individual piece of paper, or the maker would have to wait until each piece was dry before making a new sheet. Not the best method if you have lengthy documents you want to record and not a method that would have seen paper being able to be fed through a machine to be assaulted by an ink cartridge.

The Chinese were also fairly instrumental, if secretive, in the development of paper and by 105 AD had developed a method of making paper from textile waste. It seems the ancient world knew more about recycling and re-using then people put into action today. The Chinese also brought about firsts in the paper making world with dyed paper, sized and coated paper as well as paper that was resistant to the damage of insects.

Chinese paper making techniques had reached Japan by 610AD and the original methods are still largely used today, albeit now with bamboo. From Japan, paper making spread to Asia, Tibet and India and was soon picked up on by the Arabs. They evolved this method into their own. Although it was slightly inferior to begin with they finally were able to produce a fine quality paper with a starch coating that any ink cartridge could have coped admirably with.

Paper took on ever more importance as trade continued to expand and administration needed more paper to keep up. However, it was still considered to be quite a skilled art even by the 14th Century.

By the 16th Century paper mills had spread throughout Europe. Machinery was now available to make the job easier and resulted in much better paper being produced at a much speedier rate. The vatman would be responsible for making the sheet from a mould, the couch squirt worked in conjunction with the vatman and placed the sheet on felt, the layman removed the still damp sheets form the felt and the apprentice who fed material to the vat.

The Reformation towards the end of the 16th Century led to further increases in paper making and raw materials became scarce. However, thanks largely to the industrial revolution of the 1800's, paper making done by machinery became a much finer art and paper was produced pretty much to today's standards.

It's easy to take paper for granted. There is no shortage, it is relatively cheap depending on the quality you want and there is always a stash by the printer ready to receive the sayings printed by an ink cartridge. But next time you grab a sheet, give a thought for the art that has gone into creating this product over the years, feel that sheets smoothness and smell that distinctive fragrance. It won't change anything but do it anyway.
About the Author
Publishing expert Catherine Harvey looks at the way modern papers are more receptive to an ink cartridge and paper improvement in general.
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