5. On Paper
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Without paper, or something like it, and without ink, printing would be virtually impossible and certainly impractical. Indeed, light, cheap materials to which ink could easily be applied, and an ink that could be applied, were as important in the history of printing as were movable type and the printing press.
In a sense, ink goes back to the prehistoric men who first painted on the walls of their caves with ochre, and to their descendants who used dyes from plants and sepia substances from squid, cuttlefish and octopi. But real ink was not developed until the Chinese and the Egyptians, having developed forms of writing, began to search for a substance with which to write and at some point discovered soot.
Until then, soot was just a nuisance. But scraped off cooking vessels and mixed with glue or gum—such as gum arabic—it produced dry molded sticks which scribes then mixed with water to create what is called carbon ink, India ink or Chinese ink.
Carbon ink, probably the earliest writing ink developed, is still used today, but over the centuries man also developed substitutes. During the Middle Ages, for example, ink in Europe was made with soluble iron salt. It was easier to prepare and could not be erased, but, since it contained sulfuric acid, ultimately destroyed the material on which it was applied.
Another ink was called enkauston—which was used by Byzantine emperors to sign their names and from which comes our word "ink." Various colored juices, extracts and suspensions of substances from plants, animals and minerals have also been used for inks including indigo, alizarin, pokeberries, cochineal and sepia. There is even a recipe for gold ink in a fourth century papyrus now in Leiden in The Netherlands.
With the advent of printing, it became clear that an oil-based ink was vital and the Germans, by mixing varnish or boiled linseed oil with carbon lampblack, developed such an ink. It was so successful that for more than 300 years it continued in use with little modification. Later, varnishes of varying stiffness were developed for different papers and presses, but it was not until the 20th century that ink-making became a complicated chemical-industrial process.
Paper is perhaps more important than ink, but its origins are less ancient. About the third millennium, the ancient Egyptians went down to the banks of the Nile and discovered an uncommon use fora common wild reed growing there. The reed, of course, was papyrus and what the Egyptians discovered was that they could cut papyrus, extract its pith, and dampen and press it into sheets or long rolls. It was the first "paper."
The word "paper," in fact, is derived from "papyrus"—while the Greek word khartes, which denotes the papyrus leaf, became, in Latin, charta, meaning parchment, from which comes the modern English words "chart," "card," "charter" and the Arabic word for both parchment and paper-qirtas.
The first real paper, however, as distinguished from papyrus, was invented by the Chinese, about A.D. 105. It was made from tree bark, hemp rags and, one fifth-century history of the Han Dynasty claims, fish nets. The use of the new discovery spread quickly through China. Within 30 years of its announcement to the Chinese Emperor—in A. D. 105—a Chinese could write: "I send you the works of the philosopher Hsu in 10 scrolls—unable to afford a copy in silk, I am obliged to send you one on paper."
Paper gradually moved west from China as new techniques increased production—and opened the way for different and finer varieties. By the fifth and sixth centuries, the manufacture of paper had spread into central Asia—a region which was then within the Chinese sphere of influence—and by the seventh century paper was being produced at Samarkand. Then, after the death of the Prophet Muhammad in the year 632, the nascent Islamic empire spread toward central Asia, where, after the defeat of a Chinese military force by the Talas River in 751, the secret of making paper was discovered by the Muslims. The 11th century Arab writer, al-Tha'alabi, says that paper was brought to Samarkand by Chinese prisoners, some of whom were paper makers. The prisoners, al-Tha'alabi wrote, began the manufacture of the new writing material in Samarkand and "thus it (paper) came to minister to the needs and well-being of all mankind. . . "
Arab chroniclers say that the paper introduced into Samarkand was made from "grasses and plants"—possibly because, although the Chinese could make rag paper, raw materials such as paper mulberry, laurel, bamboo and Chinese grass were cheaper and more plentiful. The Arabs, on the other hand, ultimately favored rag paper made from hemp and linen—probably because the raw materials used by the Chinese were not readily available far from China.
It is uncertain where the Arabs themselves first made paper. One Arab historian says that the first Arab to use it for writing was the Caliph 'Umar at Mecca, and traditionally the Barmakid family, some of whom were viziers and scribes under the eighth century Abbasid caliphs, get credit for introducing the use of paper to Baghdad. But historians also know that Damascus was a major production center, and factories there produced much of the paper bought by Europe until the 13th or 14th centuries.
One thing, though, is indisputable: the use of paper spread quickly through the Islamic world. The new and vibrant civilization stimulated learning—and the growth of governmental bureaucracy—and the demand for cheap, abundant writing materials grew accordingly. Paper met those demands and by A.D. 1000, papyrus production had almost ceased.
Paper, however, was not immediately accepted for all uses. For a long time, copies of the Koran and other religious works were copied on vellum or parchment—partly for reasons of tradition and partly because these products were more durable. And in North Africa, parchment continued to be the medium for ordinary letters until the middle of the 11th century.
As for the rag paper produced by the Arabs, a doctor, originally from Baghdad, wrote rather disapprovingly about one source of rags in the 12th century: "The Bedouin and fellah search the ancient cities of the dead (in Egypt) to recover the cloth bands in which the mummies are bound, and when these cannot be used for clothes, they sell them to the factories which make of them paper destined for the food markets." Surprisingly, cotton does not seem to have been used in the manufacture of paper until after the industry had reached Europe, although cotton was an important article of trade in the Middle East long before Europe had its own paper industry.
During the 11th and 12th centuries, Syria was the major Arab paper producing region. Factories turned out paper products in Tripoli, Tyre, Tiberias, Hama and, of course, Damascus. An 11th century Persian traveler wrote of Tripoli: "They make good paper here, like that of Samarkand, but of finer quality." From Syria, paper making spread to Egypt—where the nascent industry may well have supported those people put out of work by the declining papyrus industry—and from Egypt paper manufacturing spread across North Africa to Morocco, where Fez became the main center of production.
One anecdote, from theyear 1145, shows how abundant paper was in Fez. When Abd al-Mu'min of the Almohads—a strict, reformist Islamic sect—took the city, the residents feared that the conquerors would destroy the lovely carved arabesques, adorned with gold and paint, which decorated one of the mosques. So they covered the entire interior with sheets of white paper until the walls appeared perfectly plain and attracted no undue attention. The ruse was successful.
From North Africa, paper making ultimately reached Spain and by 1150 al-Idrisi could write of the city of Xativa: "Paper is found there such as cannot be found anywhere in the civilized world, and is sent to the East and the West." This was the beginning of the export of paper to the Middle East, where Spanish paper was particularly prized for copying books because of its fine quality and durability. But the first paper document from Christian Europe is Sicilian, probably because Sicily was for several centuries under Muslim domination and had continuing contacts with the Arab world (see Aramco World, November-December 1970). This document is a deed of King Roger, dated 1109 and written in Arabic and Latin. The first manuscript on paper dates from 1154 and is still preserved in the archives at Genoa.
In Europe there was an initial resistance to the use of paper. The Emperor Frederick II, for example, forbade its use for public documents in 1221. But paper caught on anyway, and in 1157 a paper factory was established at Vidalon on the French side of the Pyrenees. Significantly, its founder, Jean Montgolfier, had learned how to make paper while he was a prisoner of the Muslims in Damascus. In Italy, the first paper factory did not come on stream until more than a century later: in 1276. But it was not until the 14th century that Italy outstripped Syria and North Africa as Europe's main source of supply for paper.
During the Middle Ages paper making became one of the few large-scale industries as consumption soared and it became uneconomical to produce it in small workshops. A letter written from Lebanon in the 11th century, for example, mentions 28 camel loads—about 14,000 pounds—of Damascus paper being sent to Egypt as a single order. Historians say that of the 600 mills turning out various goods in Fez in the 13th century, 400 of them were processing paper.
The primary use of paper, of course, was as a material on which to write, but as early as the ninth century, Arab merchants in China had seen paper towels and even toilet paper—and in medieval times it was also used for packaging. Given the relatively primitive means of transporting goods in medieval times, this was important. Traders used paper, for example, to protect delicate goods, such as silk and coral necklaces, and in the 10th century Iraqi confectionery dealers wrapped sweets in paper. An 11th century writer also mentions citrus fruit-probably oranges—wrapped in paper, and a Persian traveler in Cairo, about the same time, wrote: "In the bazaar the grocers, the pharmacies and dry-goods stores provide the glass bottles, china jars and paper needed to hold or wrap what they sell. Thus, the buyer does not have to worry about containers for his purchases."
The advent of paper in the Muslim world also coincided with a great expansion in banking techniques. New and complicated financial transactions could not have been carried out without paper.
Another use of paper was initiated in 1294 by the Mongol governor of Khorasan; he tried to introduce paper money in Tabriz, the capital (See Aramco World November-December 1980). Government officials produced notes printed in Arabic and Mongolian, set up a network of centers for their distribution and, in an Arabic inscription on the notes, gave the date, warned off forgers and promised that "when these notes are put into circulation, poverty would vanish, provisions would become cheap and rich and poor would be equal."
It was an interesting idea, but it didn't work; two or three days after the notes hit the bazaars, the people of Tabriz were in revolt.
* Saudi Aramco World is published by Saudi Aramco, the oil company born as an international enterprise 75 years ago, The magazine is aims to increase cross-cultural understanding. The bimonthly magazine's goal is to broaden knowledge of the cultures, history and geography of the Arab and Muslim worlds and their connections with the West. From its launch in 1949 until the May/June 2000 issue, the magazine's name was Aramco World. The July/August 2000 issue was the first to carry the name Saudi Aramco World. The magazine is published in Houston, Texas by Aramco Services Company, a subsidiary of Saudi Aramco. It is published in print and on the Internet. The website of the magazine is: http://www.saudiaramcoworld.com.
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by: FSTC Limited, Fri 22 August, 2008