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Intensively studying the history of printing this summer to write a short book, and I realize there's a funny thing about paper. Paper has been…a sort of simulation of paper for 200 years. That sounds weird, but.
Paper until the early 1800s was made sheet by sheet in a very time- and labor-intensive method. It produced the deckle edge, where fibers overlapped the deckle, or frame, in which the mold of wires fit. Well-made paper was very fine and even.
Then a paper-making machine was invented (it bankrupted the inventors as well as the initial investors, the Fourdriniers, after which it was named). It produced a continuous roll of paper, called a web. It was nearly entirely mechanical & is still the process used today.
However, people even in the 19th century liked the romance of paper. So machine-made paper was given hand-made attributes with a “watermarking dandy roll,” which pressed fake/simulation wire lines into the paper, incl. a watermark, as it was produced to seem hand made!
By the end of the 19th C, book printers figured out how to use a metal die to cut flat machine-edge paper to create a fake deckle edge, so that books looked as if they were printed using hand-made paper. (I wrote about this in 2012 for the Economist: economist.com/babbage/2012/0… )
So, arguably, the attributes of paper that people seem to prize most are those that effectively disappeared as necessary byproducts of paper making 200 years ago. However, the reverse is true, too: with machine-made paper, highly flat, or “calendered,” paper could be made.
Calendering involves adding fillers, like clay. You can make paper that is very, very glossy and flat, and it is SUPERCALENDERED. (🎶Supercalender fragile extra special deluxe editions🎶)
• Some machine-made paper retains the deckle edge (on the two sides of the roll). I’ve used some of this in printing.
• You can tell a fake deckle edge, because it's cut, not feathery, and identical thickness.
So paper shifted into a simulacrum of itself two centuries ago. Printing changed in the 1950s from Gutenberg's imitation of writing to offset printing and phototype's imitation of printing (to quote Robert Bringhurst).
Yet, atavistically, we still “know” what’s “real.” The aspects of paper we like date back a millennium or longer. The aspects of printing we enjoy—the tactile feel—became widespread in the 15th C and largely disappeared 70 years ago!
We like the feel of what we think is handmade paper. In others words: All hands on deckle!
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