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The History of Paper

The magic of paper
Paper has been the daily bread of man’s communication. It is the commonplace tool we take for granted and which has communicated our ideas, emotions, stories, inventions and creations for millennia. Even in the age of electronic data transmission, we need paper more than ever as a back-up. And nothing beats paper when it comes to the pleasure of reading and appreciating a book. Today, more than ever, children need printed books to help them learn to read, discover the world around them and develop their imaginations. Paper is a symbol of man’s intellect and humanity, and it’s not about to disappear in the electronic age.

The History of Paper Ancient times: in the beginning
The word paper is believed to derive from the Greek word given to the Ancient Egyptians’ papyrus scrolls. Indeed, papyrus is one of the oldest forms of paper known to man. It was made from the reeds which were split, soaked and criss-crossed together. Papyrus is synonymous with the writings of the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. It evokes images of the Dead Sea Scrolls and has an almost mythical place in the development of middle-eastern and western civilizations. The only place it grows in Europe is near Syracuse in Sicily, Malta’s island neighbour.

The stocking of the great library at Alexandria in Egypt in the 3rd century B.C. made papyrus scarce, so the search started even then for alternative raw materials. At the same time, in other parts of the world, various materials were being used to develop paper including parchment (made from skins) and a paper made from rags.

The start of paper as we know it
The Chinese are believed to have developed paper making from rag pulp in around 100 A.D. The imperial court and its vast administration had great need for paper and probably gave impetus to its development. From China, the techniques spread first throughout Asia, and then from India to the Middle East. The Arab cultures created an even finer quality paper using the age-old material of rag pulp. The dissemination of paper-making techniques to Italy in the 13th century saw the arrival of a more scientific and industrial approach to its production with the use of water mills and stamping presses. Today, many of the world’s largest, international paper manufacturers are based in Asia and in Italy. It seems the paper craftsmanship of the ancients lives on in these regions today.

The revolution in paper and printing
By the 16th century, paper-making was a milling process and some mills were beginning to be quite profitable businesses. The Reformation in the 16th century which coincided with the invention of moveable type and the printing press, saw a real surge in the demand for and production of paper. The old raw material of rags was soon in short supply and people had to search for an alternative. It wasn’t until the mid 1800s that ground wood pulp and then a chemical compound pulp was patented. This was to solve the problem, at that time, for raw material. The 19th century was to see the dawning of the true mechanical age in paper-making and large-scale companies started to form. But, the paper industry has always had its specialist craftsmen and small companies existed then, as today, to fill niche demand. Between 1850 and 1950, new techniques allowed for the introduction of various paper weights, types and grades and with them, a whole new world of possibilities for the industries that use paper ­ advertising, publishing and the arts.

Now and of the future
Forest Stewardship Council Now, as communication industries develop in newly-emerging markets, world demand for paper has risen again sharply. And, since electronic storage is never a guaranteed permanent method of keeping information, we still see paper used in vast quantities to archive data. Only information that needs regular updating is likely to rely solely on an electronic form. With the rise in demand, raw materials have become scarcer and procurement and production costs have risen. We now talk of a ‘paper cycle’ in the industry as it seeks to not only manufacture paper, but also to reclaim and recycle paper to help conserve the world’s resources and reduce energy consumption. International bodies like the Forest Stewardship Council® promote sustainable forest management and encourage the paper industry to exercise environmental responsibility throughout the chain of production, reclamation and recycling of paper.

Useful Links for further reading

History and definitions:
» http://www.paperonline.org/
» http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Papermaking
» http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paper
» http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paper_recycling

Environment, recycling & sustainable forest
» http://www.fsc.org/en

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