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Historical Catalan Sizing Recipe

Winter 2015
Winter 2015
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Born in Barcelona, Spain, Victòria Rabal  is an artist, master papermaker, and director, since 1985, of the Paper Mill Museum of Capellades (Barcelona) Spain. Rabal received her degrees in 1981 in fine arts (painting and printing) from the University of Barcelona, and in art history from the Autonomous University of Barcelona. In 2008, she received a paper master diploma from the Catalan Government. Since 1984 Rabal has organized papermaking workshops at the museum, the first one featuring Laurence Barker. She has led workshops in hand papermaking in several universities and cultural centers in Spain, Japan, Ecuador, Brazil, Portugal, and the US.  The manufacture of paper in Catalonia, Spain went through its first period of development during the eleventh through thirteenth centuries. Known as Hispano–Arabic paper, it had a similar quality to Arabic paper, made from hemp and/or linen rags and surface sized with rice or wheat starch. The sizing gave the paper a close resemblance to parchment, a valued commodity. And in fact it is common to find books made with both parchment and paper from this period, such as the Breviary and Missal of Silos, dating from the eleventh century, and held in the library of the Monastery of Santo Domingo de Silos near Burgos, Spain. By 1350, Hispano-Arabic papermaking started to disappear, and at the same time, starch sizing was replaced by gelatin sizing. It is believed that this process was developed in Fabriano, Italy, a papermaking center that also had a number of tanneries.

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In the fifteenth century Catalan papermaking suffered a financial crisis due to competition from high-quality Italian and later French paper. But towards the end of the seventeenth century there was a resurgence of Catalan papermaking, reaching its maximum splendor at the end of the eighteenth century. During this period huge new mills were constructed all across Catalonia. The mills were driven by water power and averaged a daily production of 4,500 sheets, employing about 30 workers per mill. Capellades and the villages around it formed the biggest papermaking center of Spain in this period. There were more than forty paper mills, most of them producing high-quality white paper and also cigarette paper. In Capellades alone, there were sixteen paper mills, known together as Molins de la Costa, thanks to the abundance of water from the Bassa, a natural spring with a daily output of 12 million liters. Today, the Paper Mill Museum is housed in the first of these paper mills of Capellades. Igualada, the principal city of the Capellades area was also an important tannery center, but because of the volume of paper being produced in the area, hides were bought in from all over Spain. The most important papermakers had first priority in buying rags, and also quality hides. The traditional gelatin sizing process in Europe has been described in detail by authors such as LaLande and Diderot, but in Catalonia we are fortunate to have a number of official archival records documenting the practice of gelatin sizing. Among them is a survey of the paper industry, signed April 21,1799, conducted by the General Board of Trade of the Spanish Government. The objective of the survey was to enhance paper manufacture by introducing a series of improvements at the paper mills of Spain. The survey results included these recommended procedures: The person who takes care of sizing the paper and supervising the task accomplished by all the workers is the Owner of the Tenant Factory, his sons or a trustworthy Steward who, through practice, has acquired all the necessary skills. According to the quality of the hides, they must be boiled more or less time to make the sizing, and if they are good, twelve hours seem to be sufficient; it being understood that the fire must be held at a level that keeps the pot boiling only slightly, without increasing or diminishing it, as, in the first case, the hides would be burned and sizing would, consequently, be lost; and in the second case, it would then be necessary to boil it longer than the twelve hours mentioned. In order to keep its consistency, paper for printing and engraving should have the same amount of sizing as that used for writing. And, even though some Printers at times reach agreements with Manufacturers stipulating that the paper have less sizing, they do so in order to pay less or because they need the paper for printing Gazettes, Romances or other things of little importance.1 Gelatin is formed between 40 and 50 degrees Celsius. It jellifies below 35 degrees Celsius, expands on contact with alkaline or acidic solutions, solidifies at less than 10 degrees Celsius, and forms a strong cohesive film when it dries. Historically gelatin was made by simmering hides in a copper cauldron until the solution became a jelly. The gelatin was run off and strained through a cloth sieve. After simmering, rock alum (aluminum potassium sulfate, AlK(SO4)2.12H2O) was added.2 The proportions were approximately water 85%, gelatin 10%, and rock alum 5%. Adding alum did several useful things: it slowed the growth of microbes; it accelerated drying of the gelatin and made it insoluble; and it stabilized the viscosity of the solution. The sizing operation was done in the estança del perol ("cauldron room") located in the cellar, the ground floor or in the drying room (mirador). The main difference between traditional Catalan and other European sizing methods was the way the sheets were soaked in the sizing vat. In the Catalan method, the worker placed a stack of 25 sheets between two pieces of fabric known as copia. The worker opened out the stack of sheets like a fan, and soaked the sheets in the hot solution. Once soaked, the paper was pressed and the excess gelatin squeezed out during pressing was collected in a vat to be used again. The worker hung the pressed sheets on the lines in the drying room, and then smoothed out the sheets under the calendering hammer. The sizing process was a difficult operation, requiring concentration and the right conditions. It could not be done every day, nor on very hot summer days. It was painful, scalding work because of the temperature of the gelatin. Workers remembered how they finished the day with red hands and arms. The difficulty of the sizing process is also reflected in the local vocabulary. There were special terms to describe defects of the sizing process such as estels ("stars") when the gelatin expands over the paper's surface forming little dots; coloms ("pigeons") for spots of sizing; flac ("skinny") for under-sized paper; and agafar la guineu ("to catch the fox") when the paper's surface does not have the regular amount of sizing due to the hot weather during summertime.3 Sizing paper in hot summer weather was a real challenge. Historian Josep Maria Madurell i Marimon wrote about a mysterious paper sizing invention to tackle this problem.4 At the end of the eighteenth century, Catalan papermakers Bernat Bes and his son developed a sizing process that made it possible to size paper during a summer heat wave. It was said that this size also rendered the paper water resistant for more than 12 minutes when soaked in water. After many demonstrations and debates, Catalan papermakers refused to pay for the right to use the invention, and the formula was never revealed. Hand papermaking production in Catalonia ended effectively at the end of 1919. The papermaking machine—the Piccardo (partially manual) and the Foudrinier (fully automated)—replaced the vats and hands. Until recently, the traditional sizing process was still alive in Capellades, thanks to retired mill workers, such as Magí Roig, who remembered how to size paper by hand when they ran the Piccardo machine in the Vilaseca or Munné factories. We were fortunate to have the opportunity to invite Mr. Roig to do a demonstration at the Paper Mill Museum in 1995. It was remarkable to observe how he prepared the size and how he moved his hands throughout the process. It was a window into how hand papermaking took place in the old days. ___________ notes 1. Oriol Valls i Subira, The History of Paper in Spain XVII-XIX (Madrid: Empresa Nacional de Celulosas, S.A., 1982), vol. 3: 178. 2. For material safety data sheet on aluminum potassium sulfate, see: http:// (accessed August 17, 2015). 3. Oriol Vall i Subira, Vocabulari Paperer (Barcelona: Taller Editorial Mateu, 1999). 4. Josep Maria Madurell i Marimon, El paper a les terres catalanes. Contribució a la seva història \[The Paper of the Catalan Country. Contribution to its History.\] (Barcelona: Ed. Fundacio Vives Casajuana, 1972), vol. 1.