18th century paper and snuff box making

Today the majority of  us rely on computers, tablets, mobile phones etc. for communication, but obviously such things did not exist in the eighteenth-century when – shock horror – they used paper and hand-wrote everything. So once again we dip into a most useful book The London Tradesman for today’s article.

Beechey, William; Filmer Honywood; Parliamentary Art Collection; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/filmer-honywood-213695
Filmer Honywood by William Beechey; Parliamentary Art Collection

The process of manufacturing paper

The use of paper is an ancient invention so the writer of this book has provided a description of how paper was made in the mid eighteenth-century.

Our paper in Europe is made of linen rags; the rags are then picked, separated into parcels, according to their fineness, washed and whited; then they are carried to the paper mills, where they are pounded amongst water till they are reduced to a pulp. When they are beat to a due consistence, they are poured into a working tub where there is a frame of wire, commonly called the paper mould, which is composed of so many wires laid close to one another, equal to the dimensions of the sheet of paper designed to be made; and some of them disposed in the shape of the figure which is discovered in the paper when you hold it betwixt you and the light.

https://rhollick.wordpress.com/2014/06/17/paper-making-by-hand-3/
Drying Loft. From Diderot’s Encyclopedia

This frame the workman holds in both his hands and plunges it into the tub and takes it quickly up again. The water runs through the spaces between the wires and there remains nothing on the mould but the water pulp, in a thin coat which forms the sheet of paper.

A flannel cloth is laid upon the top of the mould as the paper turned off upon it; then they dip it as before and continue to supply the vessel with fresh matter as it decreases. The flannel cloth sucks up the remaining moisture and the paper, after some time will suffer to be handled and hung up to dry in place properly suited for the purpose.

British (English) School; Benjamin Tomkins; Abingdon Town Council; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/benjamin-tomkins-108298
British (English) School; Benjamin Tomkins; Abingdon Town Council

Snuff Boxes

The writer then describes the process of manufacturing of a French invention, snuff boxes.

Snuff boxes are made of the same material as paper; are to be had at Paris of any colour, but are most commonly black, as ebony and are actually as hard and durable as any made of wood, horn or tortoise-shell. They are made of linen rags, beat to a pulp, as if intended for paper. A large quantity of pulp is put into a vessel and the water allowed to drain off; the pulp is dried and coheres together in a hard vessel, and the water allowed to drain off; the pulp is dried and coheres together in a hard, uniform lump, out of which they turn upon the leath (lathe), boxes or any other kind of toys which for their novelty fetch a large price.

http://www.sellingantiques.co.uk/153324/rare-late-18th-century-french-large-papier-mache-mother-of-pearl-snuff-box-c1790/
Rare late 18th Century French large papier mache & mother of pearl snuff box, c.1790. Courtesy of Selling Antiques website.

He ends his article with a complaint about how much money is spent in the UK on paper purchased from France, Holland and Genoa who, according to the writer produce the best paper. The French excel in writing-paper and the Genoese in printing paper.

Basically, he is saying that the UK needs to ‘get its act together‘ and to produce a better quality of paper so that it stops buying from abroad!

 

Featured Image

Collier, John; Trompe l’oeil Painting; The Fitzwilliam Museum.

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