When the American Printing History Association was established in 1974, the Clarks of Twinrocker were getting their feet wet on Indiana farmland. They began attracting apprentices, Tim Barrett being among the first crop. Forty years later at APHA’s biennial conference, convened jointly with the Friends of Dard Hunter (FDH)1 in San Francisco, Kathryn and Howard Clark delivered the keynote. Again, in 2018, another APHA/FDH combined conference took place, this time in Iowa City with Tim Barrett as site host.
Attendees I spoke with after each of these outstanding gatherings agreed they were among the best conferences in either group’s history. Given such enthusiasm, and given the existential connection between paper and printing, one would think there would be much more overlap between the two communities. Dard Hunter certainly had a keen interest in printing history, sparked during his Roycroft days. APHA’s mission encourages the study of related fields like papermaking. Why don’t we get together more often?2
When we are unable to meet face to face, our publications keep us connected. The periodical you now hold in your hands has been connecting paper aficionados biannually for nearly 35 years. Similarly, APHA publishes their semi-annual Printing History. It is a joy to hold and read—beautifully designed, illustrated, and printed. In our digital era, I suppose both publications could be considered subversive: they are still only available in a printed version.
Searching the contents of 68 issues of Hand Papermaking3 reveals very few articles that focus on the culture of print and the immense historic importance of words on pages. Searching the contents of 75 issues of Printing History4 reveals just four entries on papermaking: Tim Barrett’s article on fifteenth-century paper and Sid Berger’s review of John Bidwell’s American Paper Mills 1690–1832, and two articles, oddly, on the same subject—mummy paper.
Joseph Dane’s article examines evidence that linen burial wrappings from Egyptian mummies were imported to US papermills in the mid-1800s when papermakers faced a serious rag shortage. He concludes that no such paper has ever been found and the practice of making paper from mummy linen probably never happened. Fifteen years after Dane’s article, Andrew Stauffer wrote a follow-up offering new evidence from England and Egypt two decades before the “myth” prevailed. But he concedes that from 1847 on, reports of mummy paper in the United States were mostly legend or satire.
I said it was odd to find half the papermaking articles in 41 years of Printing History to be about mummy paper. It is an odd subject of course, but odder still is how much coverage it gets, totally out of proportion to its place in paper history. Pick up any book that includes at least a cursory overview of paper history; odds are that mummy paper will be mentioned, especially in books that are directed at a younger audience, and often include a gruesome picture. Whether or not the practice ever existed,5 the topic raises eyebrows and grabs attention. I suppose a bit of publicity from any source should be welcome in our niche field. Maybe inciting topics like mummy paper helped keep interest alive over the past 150 years.
What keeps my interest alive is when history informs current work being done in paper and print. For examples, I opened my copy of the Hand Papermaking portfolio Opacity and Translucency: Letterpress Printing on Handmade Paper (1996), a boxed collection of juried works. One by Tom Leech titled Revoltaire (because the paper is made from a recycled copy of The Complete Works of Voltaire) is a photoengraved sheet imprinted with Voltaire’s 1742 Remarks on History in which he suggests the study of history should begin with the invention of printing. Another work is a sort of paper altar, by Paul Wong in collaboration with printers Ann Noonan and Joe Elliot, honoring what Wong calls the “symbolic invention” of papermaking by Ts’ai Lun. Other works in the collection discuss the first appearance of watermarks in 1282, Frederic Goudy’s Mediaeval typeface, the nature of alphabets, and the physical aspects of a book.
The portfolio’s sixteen works are historically contextualized with a commissioned essay by Sandra Kirshenbaum, founding editor of the celebrated San Francisco–based journal Fine Print: The Review for the Arts of the Book (1975–1990). An interesting aside: the founders of Hand Papermaking envisioned their new publication on bookshelves sitting next to Fine Print and designed it accordingly, with the same elegant 12 x 9-inch format.
The Fine Press Movement is an arena of overlapping interest for printers and papermakers, and their historians. APHA’s Printing History chronicles this area well, with articles on Kelmscott, Merrymount, Nonesuch, Gregynog, and Stinehour, among many others. Hand Papermaking covers some fine-press works that emphasize paper, such as Cathleen Baker’s 368-page Dard Hunter biography, printed by Steve Miller’s Red Hydra Press on Twinrocker paper. Another figure honored by both communities is Henry Morris, a pioneer of the handmade-paper renaissance who built his basement papermill in the late 1950s, and went on to publish more than 75 fine-press books through his Bird & Bull Press, most of them devoted to the history of printing and papermaking. Be sure to read Greg Campbell’s 2009 interview of Morris in Hand Papermaking, and the hilarious story of building his own beater.
My entire adult life—schooling and vocations—has revolved around the worlds of printing or papermaking or both. The significance of history grows ever stronger as I grow older. Printing and papermaking come alive when viewed through the lens of history.
1. Founded in 1981, Friends of Dard Hunter was renamed North American Hand Papermakers in 2019.
2. Sadly, as I write this in March 2020, the coronavirus is proving to be an unrelated answer to this question.
3. Go to http://handpapermaking.ws/search.php for a keyword search engine to Hand Papermaking magazine.
4. Printing History’s searchable index is available at https://printinghistory
5. Read more at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mummy_paper (accessed August 2, 2020).