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Papyrus, from which comes the word paper, is the name of a celebrated plant once extensively used in Egypt for baskets, shoes, cords, &c. It is said that of this plant the little ark was made in which Moses was exposed on the banks of the Nile—and of this the most ancient paper was manufactured. Strange though it seems, this plant, once so valuable, has totally disappeared, and is altogether unknown to modern botanists. The prophecy of Isaiah has literally been fulfilled :—“The paper reeds by the brooks, by the mouth of the brooks, and every thing sown by the brooks, shall wither, be driven away, and be no more.” Those rolls of papyrus-writing are often found inside of mummies. Some fine specimens are in Paris, and also in the British Museum.
Another name for the papyrus was Byblus, whence comes the word Bible, or book.
So much for the ancient materials—let us now speak of modern paper.
One of the first paper-mills in Britain is said to have been erected by Sir John Speilman, a German, who established one in 1588 at Dartford, for which the honour of knighthood was conferred on him by Queen Elizabeth, who also granted him a licence “for the sole gathering of all rags, &c., necessary for the making of such paper.” Mills were erected before this, however, for in Shakspeare's play of Henry the Sixth, the plot of which was laid at least a century before, he refers to a paper mill. Jack Cade brings these serious charges against Lord Say—“Thou hast most traitorously corrupted the youth of the realm in erecting a grammar school; and whereas, before, our forefathers had no other books but the score and the tally, thou hast caused printing to be
used; and contrary to the king, his crown, and dignity, thou hast built a paper mill!"
In 1695 a company was formed in Scotland for manufacturing white writing and printing paper, but papermaking did not reach any high degree of perfection till 1760, when James Whatman established his mills at Maidstone. From him is derived the well-known name of - Whatman's paper"-a paper which has still such a good name that it brings a higher price than any other.
Every body is supposed to know that paper is made of rags. So it is. That a thing so clean, so pure, so white, as paper, should be made of rags—the very name of which reminds us of dirt and poverty-seems strange.
Well, paper is made of rags, but what are the rags made of? Whatever it be, the paper maker can use them all-silks, woollens, flax, hemp, and cotton; in all disguises, whether as cambric, lace, linen, holland, fustian, corduroy, bagging, canvas, or even cables-all can be used in the manufacture of paper of one kind or another. The chief material for paper is linen and cotton rags.
These are collected in great quantities at home. A large quantity is also imported. The annual consumption of rags, in this country alone, far exceeds 120,000 tons, three-fourths of which are imported; Italy and Germany furnishing the principal supplies. Large quantities are regularly imported from Bremen, Hamburg, Leghorn, Trieste, and other places; while other countries, such as France, Holland, and Belgium, prohibit their exportation, in order to encourage their home manufacture of paper. A very large supply of rags, formerly considered almost worthless, is now got from the cotton factories in Manchester and its
neighbourhood-the cotton-waste and sweepings of the cotton mills.
That sheet of newspaper, then, which the Queen of England may be at this moment reading with the greatest care, may have existed, a few months ago, in the shape of a tattered covering to the lonely shepherd, watching his flock on the plains of Hungary, or it may have formed part of the tattered shirt of a beggar in Ireland.
Having got the rags brought to the mill, the first process is carefully sorting and cutting them into small pieces, which is done by women. Each woman stands at a table, a large knife being fixed in the centre of the table. The woman stands so as to have the back of the blade opposite to her, while at her right hand on the floor is a large wooden box, with several divisions. Her business consists in examining the rags, opening the seams, removing the dirt, pins, needles, and buttons of endless variety, which would be likely to injure the machinery, or damage the quality of the paper. She then cuts the rags into small pieces not exceeding four inches square, by drawing them sharply across the edge of the knife, at the same time keeping each quality distinct in the several divisions of the box placed on her right hand.
After this, the rags are removed to what is called the dusting machine, by means of which any remaining particles of dust are effectually beaten out. Much of the beauty and cleanness of the paper depends on the care with which the rags are picked and sorted. I have often seen ten or fifteen pounds worth lost by some bits of an india-rubber cloak having got in among the rags. The rubber is boiled, and torn down into dirty little black specks, which are dusted over the paper, so that the whole sheet becomes marred with them. The rags having been cut, and carefully examined and dusted, have next to be boiled. This is done in large round boilers, capable of holding half a ton or more. A strong lees of ashes of soda and quicklime are used in this process. After this process of cleansing, the rags are considered in a fit state to be torn down into pulp. This is one of the most important processes in paper-making. The engines for this purpose are made of cast iron or of strong wood, lined with lead or copper, having inside cylinders filled with teeth, which tear down the rags into pulp, the cylinders going round at the rate of three or four times every second.
The operation of paper-making, after the rags or materials to be used have been thus made into pulp, may be divided into two kinds—that which is carried on in hand-mills, where the formation of the sheet is done by the labour of the hand; and that which is carried on in machine-mills, where the paper is produced upon the machine wire-cloth in one continuous web. All the fine, thick papers used for making ledgers are made by the hand. Printing and most kinds of writing papers are made by the machine.
The world has been living very fast during the last half century. Fifty years ago a stage-coach took a whole day to travel fifty miles. It was supposed to be a world's wonder, and was therefore sometimes called the “Fly." But we live in a railway age, and we can travel fifty miles in an hour and a half with ease, and if any
small delay occurs at a station on the line, we make a great to-do about it. Yet, coaches still exist, and will likely do so
for a long time. Paper-making also used to travel by coach, when it was made by the hand; now it travels by railway, being chiefly made by the machine.
Let us now shortly describe the process of making by the hand—the slow-coach process.
There is a mould of fine wire-cloth fixed upon a wooden frame. This is dipped down into a quantity of pulp, which has been previously mixed with water to the required consistency. After gently shaking it to and fro in a horizontal position, the fibres become so connected as to form one uniform fabric, while the water drains away. The sheet is then lifted up and turned off upon a piece of felt, in a pile, with many others, a felt being placed between each sheet, and the whole is subjected to a great pressure in order to get rid of the water. After being again dried and pressed, the sheets are dipped into a tub of animal size. This is to make it hard and fit for being written upon, for, until it has been sized, it is just like blotting paper; and, last of all, it is again pressed, by placing the sheets separately between very smooth copper plates, which are passed through rollers, which give a pressure of from twenty to thirty tons. This is to give it the finish or smoothness which people all like, now that steel pens are so much used. After three or four such pressures, it is said to be rolled, but if passed through more frequently the paper acquires a higher surface, and is then said to be glazed.
The paper-making machine is constructed so as to imitate, in a great measure, and in some respects to improve, the processes used in making paper by hand; but its chief advantages are the increased rapidity with which it accomplishes the manufacture, and provides the