British Library Treasures in full: Gutenberg Bible
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4. The paper

Paper-making is a Chinese invention. It spread slowly from China along the silk road and reached Europe from the Muslim world.

Paper was not necessary for the invention of printing, but printing would not have been a commercial success without paper. At the same time the commercial success of printing meant an explosive expansion of paper-making in Europe. European paper was made from recycled linen clothes. Linen was made from the flax plant. There was a trade in linen rags, which were soaked and beaten into a thick pulp. It was then scooped up in a frame with a wire-mesh bottom, allowing the water to run out but keeping a thin layer of linen fibres.

Most 15th-century paper is of a very high quality, as is the paper used for the Gutenberg Bible. Later the quality of paper declined - most disastrously in the 19th century when paper-makers began using wood pulp.

The paper used in the Gutenberg Bible was imported from Caselle in Piedmont, Northern Italy being one of the most important centres for paper-making in the 15th century.

Watermark of an ox head
Watermark of an ox head. Larger image

It can be identified because it has watermarks. About 70% of the paper has the watermark of an ox head, 20% show a bunch of grapes (in two versions); 10% show a walking ox.

Watermark of a bunch of grapes
Watermark of a bunch of grapes. Larger image.

Its size is known as royal folio, already at that time a fairly standard size of paper, each sheet measuring about 430 x 620 mm, before being folded.

On the paper and its distribution within each gathering see Paul Schwenke, 'Die Gutenbergbibel', in: Johannes Gutenbergs zweiundvierzigzeilige Bibel: Ergänzungsband zur Faksimile-Ausgabe (Leipzig, 1923), and Paul Needham, 'The paper supply of the Gutenberg Bible', The Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, 79 (1985), 303-74.

The history of paper-making

The museum in the old paper mill in Basel has a short virtual tour as does the Italian paper museum, which has some information on the important early Italian paper-making.

On the history of paper-making, especially in England, see
The British Association of Paper Historians. See also The American Museum of Paper Making.

Tell Me More
1. The types
2. The press
3. The ink
4. The paper
5. The vellum
6. Composition and presses
7. The gatherings
8. Three phases in the printing process
9. How many

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