Skip to main content

Paper: Its physical Characteristics

Wood Processing for Paper

Wood chips in the early processing stage to become wood pulp; the primary ingredient in modern paper.

In Developing and Maintaining Practical Archives: A How-to-Do-It Manual, Gregory S. Hunter defines paper as ". . . fibers that have been reduced to pulp, suspended in water, and then matted. Paper is usually made of cellulose fibers, lightweight material that forms the cell walls of plants."[1]Hunter's brief definition of paper only hints at its complexity. The preface of Preservation of Paper and Textiles of Historic and Artistic Value notes that as the volume of paper fabrication has risen, quality has gone down. This is primarily the result of the use of wood pulp as the main ingredient in paper manufactoring, whereas in the past paper had been produced from longer fiber materials like cotton rag. Gary B. Magee explains that " . . . paper makers have traditionally favoured rag, esparto and wood. . . Generally speaking, the greater proportion of rag and esparto and the smaller the share of wood pulp used in the production process, the better the quality of the paper produced."[2]

The decline in the quality of industrially manufactured paper occurred relatively quickly in its history. Beginning in the early nineteenth century industrial papermaking began in Europe and primarily used long fibered plant materials like cotton rag, which produced a relatively high quality paper.[3] By the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, the use of cheap wood pulp spiked in worldwide paper production, especially in Britain. Gary B. Magee notes that in 1896 wood pulp made up fifty percent of all materials used in paper making. By 1913 wood pulp accounted for three quarters of paper production in Britain. [4] Wood pulp continues to be the primary plant material used in paper production.  

 

 

[1] Dale S. Hunter, Developing and Maintaing Practical Archives (New York:Neal-Schuman Publishers, 2003), 158.

[2] Gary B. Magee, "Technological Divergence in a Continuous Flow Production Industry: American and British Paper Making in the Late Victorian and Edwardian Era," Business History, 39, No. 1 (1997), 30.

[3] Ralf Weidenmuller, Papermaking: The Art and Craft of Handmade Paper (San Diego: Thorfinn International Marketing Consultants, Inc.), 54.

[4] Magee, 30.