Early history of paper

The name paper derives from the name of the papyrus plant, however, the methods of production are different. Paper is made of pulped cellulose fibres (usually cotton, flax, or wood), whereas papyrus is made of sliced sections of the inner pithy body of the flower stem of the papyrus plant, laid in two layers at right angles, pressed together and dried.

According to tradition, paper was first made in AD 105 by Ts'ai Lun (50?-118), a eunuch attached to the Eastern Han court of the Chinese emperor Ho Ti (r. 89-105). One Chinese record states that he " ...first made paper by pulping fishing nets and rags. Later, he used the the fibres of plants; any which proved sufficiently elastic in tension were used as the raw materials for paper. The raw materials were first well boiled and then beaten into a mash. they were then stirred into a pulp and spread on a straining frame or basket. When it had formed a thin tissue, the resultant paper was then pressed with heavy weights ", although this may not be correct. It is thought that the origins of Chinese papermaking may lie in the manufacture of bark cloth from the Pacific islands.

The earliest known paper still in existence was made from rags about AD 150, discovered in Turkestan in a ruined tower of the Great Wall of China by Sir Aurel Stein in 1904, however, there is disagreement in China as to whether some material possibly paper can be dated earlier than AD 105.

For approximately 500 years the art of papermaking was confined to China, but in 610 it was introduced into Japan, and into Central Asia about 750. Tradition has it that Chinese papermakers were captured by the Arabs in a battle near Samarkand in AD 751, thus spreading the art westwards. In 793, there was a factory working in Baghdad, with Chinese workmen introduced by Haroun-el-Raschid. The next known place of production was Damascus, which was to supply Europe for several centuries (particularly with the paper known as Charta Damascena). Paper made its appearance in Egypt about 800 but was not manufactured there until 900, and from there the knowledge was taken to Morocco, and from Morocco to Europe by the Moors.

The table below roughly charts the spread of the manufacture of paper from country to country from thereon by the dates of the earliest known papermills, although it should be noted that the use of paper in a country may predate manufacture by 2-300 years.

Country Date
Spain (Xativa) poss 1056
Italy (Genoa) 1255 (poss. 1235 on Ligurian coast)
France (Troyes) 1348
Germany (Nuremburg) 1390
Switzerland (Friebourg) 1411
Belgium 1407
Great Britain (Hertfordshire) 1494
Sweden (Motala) 1532
Hungary 1546
Netherlands (Altmaar & Dortrecht) 1586
Denmark 1635
Norway 1690
Russia (Moscow) 1690
USA (Germanstown, Pa.) 1690/1