Linen Rag Paper — Recycling Old Clothes in 1825

Thomas Curson Hansard (1776-1833)

Above: a French cookbook, published in 1758, which belonged to my grandfather, printed on linen-rag paper with marbled end papers

End Paper on CD cover

End paper design

“The inventor of linen-rag paper, whoever he was, is entitled to the gratitude of posterity. . . The art of printing would have been comparatively of little importance without having the means of procuring a proper material to receive the impressions. While the papyrus was the only kind of paper, it was impossible to have procured it in sufficient quantities to have made large editions of books, without which the great bulk of mankind would have for ever retained the ignorant barbarity of the dark ages. . . A more common or economical substance could not be conceived than the tattered remnants of our clothes, linen worn out and otherwise incapable of being applied to the least use . . .”

The collection of rags for paper in the 18th and 19th centuries resembles today’s push for recycling. During the American Revolution, collecting rags for paper was even considered a patriotic duty!

I recorded this selection from Hansard’s Typographia, an Historical Sketch of the Origin and Progress of the Art of Printing, 1825, for Volume 45 of the Nonfiction Collection, and adopted the end paper from my grandfather’s cookbook for the CD cover.

If you are a fan of marbled paper, as I am, you will certainly enjoy this website highlighting the Decorative Paper Collection of the University of Washington.

An aside:  It’s the year 1715; the place is the Portuguese colony of Brazil; and the scenario–the king of Portugal intervenes in a dispute about a ream of paper! Captain-major Manoel de Madureira Lobo complains to King Joāo V that he has had to write the king a lot of official letters and he has exceeded his yearly allotment of paper. He has requested another ream from the royal stores, but the treasurer has refused him in disrespectful language. Joāo V writes back that he will reprimand the treasury official for his language but not for the refusal. The captain-major will just have to be content with one ream of paper. (From a long-ago Ph.D. dissertation on the Portuguese colonial settlements in the Amazon basin.)