Tag Archives: paper

An Early Modern DIY Guide to Making Paper

By Gabriella Szalay

After about half an hour of working it over everything was already so small and delicate that I could scoop, or rather make fine sheets out of it. These sheets allowed themselves to be neatly pressed on to felt, removed from the same and hung up. After they had dried, I was able to size and burnish them[1]

Penned by the Regensburg pastor and naturalist Jacob Christian Schäffer (1718-1790), these words provide a succinct description of the paper making process in the early modern period. They teach us that select raw materials were first turned into a pulp by fermenting them, and then stamping them with wooden hammers operated by a mill or beating them with the metal blades of a Hollander beater. They also tell us that this pulp was then formed into sheets using a mould. These sheets were in turn transferred onto felt blankets in order to soak up the water that helped facilitate stamping and beating. After this they were hung up to dry in a well-ventilated area. Paper intended for printing or writing was then covered with a thin layer of sizing, which typically consisted of animal glue, so that it could better retain ink. Finally, it was rubbed with a flat, hard tool until it achieved a clean finish.

Caption Sorting, Fermenting and Washing of Linen Rags, Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers. Image Credit: Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology, Smithsonian Institution Libraries
Sorting, Fermenting and Washing of Linen Rags, Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers. Image Credit: Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology, Smithsonian Institution Libraries

What Schäffer’s text does not tell us that the paper that concerned him was in many ways atypical. It was not made from the macerated linen (i.e. flax) or hemp rags that had served as the material of choice among European paper makers since the thirteenth century.

Caption Paper made from Wasps’ Nests, Jacob Christian Schäffer’s Versuche und Muster ohne alle Lumpen oder doch noch mit einem geringen Zusatze derselben Papier zu machen. Image Credit: Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology, Smithsonian Institution Libraries
Caption Paper made from Wasps’ Nests, Jacob Christian Schäffer’s Versuche und Muster ohne alle Lumpen oder doch noch mit einem geringen Zusatze derselben Papier zu machen. Image Credit: Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology, Smithsonian Institution Libraries

Rather, as he revealed in a subsequent passage, “it was for me an extremely pleasurable sight, to once again have produced such fine paper from wasps’ nests!”[2]


Title Page, Jacob Christian Schäffer’s Versuche und Muster ohne alle Lumpen oder doch noch mit einem geringen Zusatze derselben Papier zu machen. Image Credit: Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology, Smithsonian Institution Libraries
Title Page, Jacob Christian Schäffer’s Versuche und Muster ohne alle Lumpen oder doch noch mit einem geringen Zusatze derselben Papier zu machen. Image Credit: Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology, Smithsonian Institution Libraries

A complete description of Schäffer’s attempts to make paper from wasps’ nests and other ‘exotic’ materials appears in Versuche und Muster ohne alle Lumpen oder doch noch mit einem geringen Zusatze derselben Papier zu machen (1765). The first of six volumes published by Schäffer on what I call paper trials, it begins with an account of how for generations men of learning had been experimenting with material substitutes for making paper.[3] Their goal, Schäffer argued, was to put an end to the cyclical relationship between waning supplies of linen rags and waxing costs of fine, white writing paper. As an avid participant in the Republic of Letters and as an author and publisher of natural history texts it is not surprising that he was sympathetic to their concerns. Nor that his interest in paper trials was piqued by his fellow entomologist, René-Antoine Ferchault de Réaumur, (1683-1757), who following his close study of American and European paper wasps suggested that it should be possible to make paper from a wide range of botanical specimens, including trees.[4]

Jacob Christian Schäffer’s Stamper. Image Credit: Museen der Stadt Regensburg, Historisches Museum. Photo: Michael Preischl


Schäffer’s first paper trial, conducted in 1764, examined the possibilities of making paper from the wool-like seeds of black poplar trees. He was disappointed by the initial results, noting how the corresponding sample lacked the rigidity (Steife) and density (Festigkeit) of paper made from linen rags. Nevertheless, he decided to go forward with more trials and had a miniature Stamper built to his specifications and set up in his own house so that he could supervise the paper making process directly. He also hired a couple of journeymen (Gesellen) to help him carry out the more than eighty paper trials on over fifty different kinds of materials that would occupy his attention over the next seven years.

Paper made from Pine Cones, Jacob Christian Schäffer’s Versuche und Muster ohne alle Lumpen oder doch noch mit einem geringen Zusatze derselben Papier zu machen. Image Credit: Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology, Smithsonian Institution Libraries
Paper made from Pine Cones, Jacob Christian Schäffer’s Versuche und Muster ohne alle Lumpen oder doch noch mit einem geringen Zusatze derselben Papier zu machen. Image Credit: Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology, Smithsonian Institution Libraries

Among the many things that make Schäffer’s paper trials worth further study are how well they are documented and how eagerly they were reproduced by other men of learning. Each volume of Schäffer’s text is filled with entries describing the physical properties and/ or origins of the material under investigation, followed by recipes for turning that material into paper. The entry dedicated to pine cones (Tannenzapfen), for example, begins by identifying them as the fruit (Frucht) or seed-cases (Saamenbehältnisse) of coniferous trees. It then notes that because of their ligneous quality they need to be soaked in water for one week before they can be turned into pulp. Schäffer even tweaked his own recipe, recalling how when the pine cones proved to still be too hard: “I placed them into a lime pit for twenty-four hours, allowed them to be stamped again, and then washed them and stamped them until they were small, delicate and rag-like.”[5]

Szalay Fig 6
Title Page, Gerhard Anton Senger’s Die älteste Urkunde der Papierfabrikation. Image Credit: Niedersächsische Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Göttingen

The precision with which he addressed variables like time, combined with his decision to include samples from each experiment alongside the text turned Schäffer’s books into veritable “how-to-manuals.” Within a year of their publication, men of learning across Europe were installing miniature Stampers in their homes and making paper from Schäffer’s recipes with the help of artisan assistants. Some, like Gerhard Anton Senger (1754-1822), even tried to convince commercial paper mills and government bodies that they should do away with paper made from linen rags, which often had to be imported from foreign suppliers. Instead one should learn to make use of locally available resources, such as the green algae (Conferva) that filled the lakes and streams of Senger’s native Prussia and provided the topic and the material support for his Die älteste Urkunde der Papierfabrikation. Although paper made from Conferva had an unsightly greenish hue, Schäffer noted in his recipe that if left out in the sun, it would eventually assume the pristine, white color that made paper from linen rags so economically and socially desirable.


Gabriella Szalayis a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University in New York and in the Philosophische Fakultät at the Georg August University in Göttingen. Since the fall of 2014 she has been Research Fellow at the DFG-Funded Graduiertenkolleg “Cultures of Expertise from the 12th to the 18th Century.” She will be finishing her dissertation “Materializing the Past: The History of Art and Natural History in Germany, 1750-1800” in the spring of 2017. This fall she will be part of the Working Group Working with Paper: Gendered Practices in the History of Knowledge at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin.


[1] Jacob Christian Schäffer, Versuche und Muster ohne alle Lumpen oder doch mit einem geringen Zusatze derselben Papier zu machen (Regensburg, 1765), 33.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Among the names singled out by Schäffer for their interest in finding material substitutes for paper were Albertus Seba (1665-1736), Jean-Étienne Guettard (1715-1786) and Johann Gottlieb Gleditsch (1714-1786).

[4] Réaumur first presented this idea to the Académie des sciences in Paris in 1719, more than one hundred years before paper produced from wood pulp began to be produced on a commercial scale in 1845.

[5] Jacob Christian Schäffer, Neue Versuche und Muster das Pflanzenreich zum Papiermachen und andern Sachen (Regensburg, 1767).

Exploring CPP 10A214: Enter Lady Honywood, Continued; Getting it on Paper

By Hillary Nunn with Rebecca Laroche

Elaine Leong’s posting about paper’s use as a medical tool inspired me to look more carefully at instances of paper in the Layfield manuscript, which Rebecca Laroche and I have been examining in this series. What I found was much more than I expected. It turns out that concentrating on paper highlights some of the embedded puzzles about recipe transmission that have been lurking in the College of Physicians of Philadelphia manuscript, and even in the Recipe Projects blog itself. My exploration also brings us back to Lady Honywood, proving once more Rebecca’s observation that “one just has to take advantage of a name like ‘Lady Honywood’ if it’s given to you.”

Rebecca and Elaine both have written substantially about Lady Honywood (or Honeywood) in Recipe Project posts before. This past March, Elaine pointed out that Joanna St. John’s 1680 recipe book contains a remedy attributed to Lady Honeywood “for a cancer,” where the medicine is spread on paper and then laid on the sore. Not surprisingly, Lady Honeywood’s name rang a bell for me, since almost two years earlier, Rebecca had devoted two posts to Lady Honywood’s presence in the Layfield manuscript. Lady Honywood’s recipe for the gout, Rebecca showed, hinted that the compiler of the CPP manuscript’s second section had a particular need to treat that ailment since seven cures for gout appear there.

But it turns out that Elaine and Rebecca were talking about the same recipe, or so I found out when I searched for mention of paper in the CPP manuscript. While St. John labels the recipe as a cancer treatment, the Layfield manuscript identifies it as “The Lady Honywood: receite for the Goute, running & swellinge.”

Layfielde_MS Honywood

The Layfield manuscript mentions the concoction’s effectiveness against cancer as an afterthought, but it is nonetheless there – as is paper as mode of administration. The ingredients are identical as well, with two notable variations. First, the Layfield manuscript walks the user through the process of rendering juice from its herbal ingredients, while St. John begins with the juices:


Otherwise, the only difference is that St. John’s version calls for “bean flower” while the Layfield manuscript calls for “wheaten flour.”

The variation in recipe titles is not uncommon, of course, and it certainly highlights Rebecca’s point about the importance of local needs in the organization of these manuscripts. At the same time, it underscores how easily categorization schemes can obscure connections among texts and contributors. Lady Honywood and her recipe, variant title or no, forge a connection between two manuscripts, the St. John and the Layfield, that otherwise show no obvious overlap. And, ironically enough, a search for paper helped bring to light what had been an unidentified link within this very blog. The overlap between manuscripts, and the one between blog entries, hints further at what connections lie just beyond the reach of our current digital tools. Just more evidence that we need a searchable database of these manuscripts!


[1] Below is a transcription for the Layfield hand:

Rx. one handfull of Fetherfew, salladine, smalledge, &
Rhew, of each a handfull, pick them cleane, wash them &
drie the water out cleane, & beate them in a mortar very
small, & then straine the Juce of it into a dish, &
thicken it with wheaten-flower; & put into it the
yelke of anew-laid egg, & as much honey as [that] con-
taines too, all beaten together, & spread it vpon capp
paper, or Grossers browne-paper, & apply it to the
place pained; & as the paine remoues, or moues so
follow it with this medicine –
2. this same also will helpe the Ague in a womans breast
or any bruise, the bloode beinge setled, or kill a felon
or the Kings euell, if it be swellinge or runninge.
If it be runninge lay adrie peece of paper vpon the
soare, & the plaister vpon it, by Gods blessinge it will
do all these cures

Paper as Commodity in Medieval Magical and Medical Practices

By Orietta Da Rold

‘He then looked and saw an amulet sewn into the tarboosh, which he took and opened’

(The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1001 Nights)

The tale of Nur al-Din and his son Hasan is a well-known tale from the Arabian Nights. It tells the story of Nur al-Din’s self-imposed exile in Basra and of the return to Egypt of his son Hasan. The involvement of magic, the disguise and the subsequent recognition of Hasan as the son of Nur al-Din are all essential elements of the story. But the amulet represents the tangible proof of Hasan’s true identity. The talisman is made with a scroll of paper, folded and stitched in a fold of material then placed in Hasan’s turban. It was given to Hasan by his father just before he died. A token of recognition which unlocks a knotted mystery; a powerful meaningful object which represents the climax of the narrative, because it enables the identification of the male protagonist and the continuation of the story to a happy conclusion.[1] In the Arabian Nights, the writing of words on paper regularly carries symbolic, almost sacred connotations, announcing in a loud and clear voice that paper as a commodity is an integral part of understanding social and cultural custom in fiction and perhaps in real life too.

It is now accepted that Arabian Nights, first mentioned in a ninth-century manuscript fragment, is a compilation of stories which has evolved and extended over the centuries;[2] it is tantalising to suggest that this process of augmentation also absorbed local practices and technologies. Paper arrived in the Arab world well before its introduction to the West and started to be used as a commodity from the eighth century.[3] The amulet on paper is a witness to knowledge and healing in a society fully accustomed to paper. This use in popular lore is indicative of the adoption, acceptance and full participation of a new technology in society (see also the ‘One Million Pagoda’ in Japan). Similar evidence can be traced in the use of paper in charms, amulets, medical or culinary recipes in Western literature and culture from the late medieval period. This evidence, however, is seldom studied or indeed catalogued, although more work has been undertaken on post medieval medical practices.

One fascinating example is Oxford, Bodleian Library, Laud Misc. MS 553. The volume is a fifteenth-century collection of medical recipes and texts including one charm which claimed to cure all manner of fevers. In this instance, the maker is instructed to write this phrase: ‘for to destruye alle maner of feueres wryt þes ix wordes in pauper’ on a piece of paper.[4] Here, the very act of inscribing these 9 words on paper activate their magical and healing power.

The practice of using paper in medical knowledge and treatments is also seen in another medical treatise translated into English in the fourteenth century. Oxford, Bodleian Library, Ashmole MS 1396 and London, British Library, Additional MS 12056 contain a version  of Lanfrank’s Science of Cirurgie. Paper is here used in a number of different ways. In a recipe to whiten teeth, paper was folded and used as a plaster to apply a mixture of flour, sal ana and honey.[5] In another recipe, burnt paper ashes was used, alongside borax, to staunch blood after phlebotomy.[6]

Cambridge, Trinity College, MS O. 1.13, fol. 194v, to be published with the following credits: ‘By permission of the Master and Fellows of Trinity College, Cambridge’. Photo taken by author.
Cambridge, Trinity College, MS O. 1.13, fol. 194v. By permission of the Master and Fellows of Trinity College, Cambridge. Photo taken by author.

In a final example in Cambridge, Trinity College, MS O. 1.13 (fol. 194v), a recipe dating to the late fifteenth-century uses brown paper as a kind of bandage to heal the wound of the head.[7] In all these examples the different proprieties of paper are put to use in different ways for esthetical and healing purposes.

In contrast to Mediterranean countries, England only experienced the importation of paper at the beginning of the fourteenth century. However, as soon as it became available it was adopted in diverse ways. As we recover the significance of the paper revolution in the West and in different geographical locales, in this case England, we often focus on the impact that it had on book production, record keeping and manuscript transmission. We frequently forget that the great success that paper enjoys as technology and craft is in direct proportion to its multiple uses to fulfill different needs and, as such, demands more attention.

The examples I have included above explain that paper started to be employed in traditional medical practices as an alternative to textiles to attend to injuries. This is what I call the ‘textile’ economy in medical customs, which largely employed linen cloth and wool to medicate and wrap wounds, but also to make potions.

Cambridge St John’s College, MS B. 15, fol. 11v. By permission of the Master and Fellows of St John’s College, Cambridge.
Cambridge St John’s College, MS B. 15, fol. 11v. By permission of the Master and Fellows of St John’s College, Cambridge.

Cambridge, St John’s College, MS B.15 is another collection of medical recipes, in which a recipe advises to cure pain and the inflation of nerves with black wool (fol. 11v). The recipes says ‘Tak blak wolle as it growth between þe schepe legges’ and carries on advising how to wash it in in warm water to make a concoction derived from the water to cure nerves.

This phenomenon should not be surprising because in fourteenth- and fifteenth-century England, grocers, spice dealers and haberdashers sold paper to meet a wide range of practical needs outside the book trade. For example, in the 1360s the household of King John II of France purchased paper from a certain Berthëlemi Mine, a spice dealer in London to wrap up jam (Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, MS FR 11205).

It should not, therefore, be surprising that paper as a technological innovation contributed to both literary as well as medical texts. Both served specific purposed in society and both contributed to popular lore with the determination of improving life; in the case of the Arabian Nights, actually prolonging life itself.


Orietta Da Rold is a University Lecture in The Faculty of English and a Fellow of St John’s College at the University of Cambridge. She has worked for many years on the impact of paper in late medieval England. Da Rold is the Director of the Mapping Paper project and is currently working on a monograph seeking to explore the impact that paper had in the pre-printing world by considering how paper enabled the mobility of knowledge and dissemination of learning by enriching literary, cultural and technological practices.

[1] On this practice, see Don C. Skemer, Binding Words: Textual Amulets in the Middle Ages, Magic in History (University Park, Pa.: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2006)

[2] R. Irwin, The Arabian Nights: A Companion (London: Penguin, 1995)

[3] J. Bloom, Paper before Print: The History and Impact of Paper in the Islamic World (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001).

[4] S. J. Ogilvie-Thomson, Index of Middle English Prose, Handlist XVI, Manuscripts in the Laudian Collection Bodleian Library, Oxford (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2000), p. 69, item 41. I should like to thank Lea T. Olsan for drawing my attention to this reference.

[5] ‘If a mannes teeþ ben blac, in þis maner þou schalt make hem whit / farinam ordei, sal ana, & leie hem in hony, & make þerof past & folde it in paper or in lynnen clooþ’; Robert von Fleischhacker, ed., Lanfrank’s “Science of Cirurgie“, E.E.T.S., O.S. (London, 1894), p. 265.

[6] ‘þan sette þervpon a ventuse for to drawe þerto blood. & þan anoynte þe same place wiþ blood, & þan sette þervpon þe watir leche. & whanne he is ful & þou wolt do him awei, blowe vpon þe place baurac, ouþer askis maad of paper’; Robert von Fleischhacker, ed., Lanfrank’s “Science of Cirurgie“, E.E.T.S., O.S. (London, 1894), p. 305.

[7] ‘ffor the sowndinge in the hedd: take ij sheetes of browne paper’. Cambridge, Trinity College, MS O. 1.13, fol. 194v.

Looking at Paper and Recipes…

By Elaine Leong

Earlier this year, when the daffodils were in full bloom, I shared the fruits of my recent research with the readers of this blog. My current project, ‘Papering the Household: Paper, Recipes and Technologies in Early Modern England’ explores the intersection of early modern recipes and paper making and paper use.

Folger Shakespeare Library, Manuscript v.a. 456, fol. 28r.
Folger Shakespeare Library, Manuscript v.a. 456, fol. 28r.

In that post, I marveled at the myriad of ways in which early modern householders utilized paper in their production of a range of medicinal and health-related products – as plasters to apply medicines, as a means to preserve drugs and, in some cases, to separate mixtures. A good example is the recipe to heal a bruise showcased in the image above. This week, over at the Shakespeare’s World blog, I explore the way householders used paper in culinary and, in particular, baking recipes. Paper, it turns out, was a crucial tool for early modern home cooks. Bakers used floured paper to line cake and biscuit tins and to mold and shape sugar confections such as almond lozenges and cheesecakes. There was also one fascinating instance where paper was employed as a way to gauge the heat of one’s oven. Once I started looking, uses of paper began to crop up in recipe after recipe.

When I reflect upon my adventures in research paper and recipes, two key thoughts spring to mind. First, my previous notions of paper-use in early modern England were woefully misguided. While certain kinds of paper were undoubtedly expensive and largely used for writing and book production, many other kinds of paper were in constant use and re-use in the period. For example, grocers were in the habit of wrapping foodstuffs in brown paper. The same paper was then used or, most probably, re-used to make medicinal plasters and to line cake and biscuit tin. While we might think of the more expensive seized white paper as reserved as letter paper and book production, it seems that it was also used for making marchpane, drying apricots and stopping nosebleeds. Early modern men and women used paper in a wide range of contexts that we’re only beginning to uncover.

Secondly, I was also struck by the collaborative nature of the research. As many of you know, shifting through the hundreds and hundreds of recipes in early modern recipe collections to look for use of a particular material is not easy task. Lucky for me, I’ve had immense help from the communities of two “citizen transcription” projects. The first is the Early Modern Manuscripts Online Collective (EMROC) in which students transcribe and encode manuscript recipe texts in classrooms. The second is Shakespeare’s World, a Zooniverse project creating transcriptions of the Folger Shakespeare Library’s manuscript holdings.

Members of these two projects helped me in different ways. EMROC members collectively produced full-text transcriptions of Johanna St. John and Rebekah Winche’s recipe books. With the “find” function in Word, entries with paper-use were a snap to locate. The community at Shakespeare’s World, on the other hand, has been looking out for and tagging recipes with paper as they work their way through the digital archive. Using the channel #paper, they have created a data set of more than twenty examples of paper-use from ten different manuscript recipe books in just a few months. I am grateful to the members of both these projects for their help.

Clearly, my project is enriched and extended by our collective efforts and my analysis of paper-use in recipes owes much to students on campuses in the USA and Canada and to the energetic community at Shakespeare’s World. With citizen science projects such as Zooniverse (which hosts Shakespeare’s World) our research methodologies are continually changing and expanding. I might have begun my research on recipes in the wooden carrels in Duke Humphrey’s Library but a few years on, the research landscape has definitely shifted.

View of the Bodleian library at oxford in Oxonia Illustrata (Oxford, 1675).

For one thing, with the modernization of the Bodleian, readers now engage with early modern manuscripts in the Weston Library rather than Duke Humphrey’s… But also with digitization projects, many of us now read our manuscripts on our computers rather than at the archive. I miss the musty smell and crackly pages of a seventeenth-century manuscript, but I’m also delighted for new research possibilities offered by new digital tools and thrilled to be part of large communities of fellow citizen scientists.

Of course, this idea of “crowd sourcing” research is not new. Recipe collecting could be considered an early form of citizen science. After all, our historical actors quickly realized that calling on their friends and family was the most effective and quickest way to gather tried and trusted medical and culinary knowledge.

Speaking of collaboration and communities, in my journey to explore paper and recipes I have encountered a number of scholars working on cognate projects. Over the three Tuesdays, I would like to share some our discussions on the theme of paper and recipes with you. Next week, Orietta da Rold offers us rich evidence of paper-use in medical recipes in late medieval England, reminding us that the story I tell for seventeenth-century England was one with a long history. On August 16, in a special post on the Layfield manuscript, Hillary Nunn demonstrates how following the trail of paper brings up unusual questions and unexpected connections. In the final post of the series, Gabriella Szalay introduces us to the work of the eighteenth-century German naturalist Jacob Christian Schäffer (1718-1790) who conducted a series of “paper trials” in a bid identify raw materials (other than linen rags) to make paper.

Together, this series of posts on paper and recipes demonstrates the wealth of questions inspired by looking at an everyday object: paper.