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