4.1.3: 1830 - 1910 - Paper (including production, watermarks, paper trade)

Two technical innovations in papermaking were introduced during this period which were to change the old craft of making paper by hand into a mechanized industry: the paper-making machine and wood-pulp as a raw material. The result was that paper, which at the beginning of the century had still been a scarce, luxury product, by 1890 had become a cheap mass-produced article.

The paper-making machine, or Fourdrinier machine, produced a continuous roll of paper almost automatically. It made the work of the dipper, the coucher and the lifter, who were at the heart of hand-made production, superfluous. The first paper-making machines appeared in the Netherlands in South Limburg from 1834 onwards and somewhat later in the old paper producing areas such as the Zaanstreek and the Veluwe. The energy needed was initially supplied by wind and water but these were soon replaced by steam. Machine-made paper slowly displaced hand-made paper because it was cheaper and could be supplied more quickly in large quantities. As the quality of this paper, especially in the initial decades, was much lower than that of hand-made paper there remained, up until the First World War, a (decreasing) international demand for the latter, especially for the production of bonds, official documents and de luxe editions. Because of this, Dutch papermakers were able to maintain their dominant position in this market for some time. Newspapers and most books, however, were soon printed on machine-made paper. Watermarks, which at first distinguished hand-made from machine-made paper, could, from 1827 onwards, also be applied to machine-made paper by using a wire form on the screen. Bibliophiles who liked to see watermarks in their books could from then on also be served with cheap factory-made paper (laid lines could be applied in this way so that the paper looked as if it had been made with an old-fashioned mould).

The increase in scale in paper production and the degree of specialisation among paper manufacturers led, around 1850, to the rise of the paper wholesaler who was able to provide printers and other clients with a large number of different types of paper.

Paper remained expensive, initially because the raw material, rags, was becoming scarce due to the increasing demand. The long search for other raw materials led, in the 1850s, to the introduction of, among other things, straw, esparto grass and wood pulp and, twenty years later, to cellulose obtained from wood by means of a chemical process. Wood pulp and cellulose have since been the major raw materials for paper in addition to glue, colouring agents and fillers. The cheaper types of paper such as newsprint contain more wood pulp and the more expensive, and more durable, types are largely made from cellulose (this is often referred to as woodfree, but this only means free from wood pulp). The price of all types of paper fell between 1880 and 1900 by a quarter to a third. Large editions in particular (newspapers, popular reading material), where paper costs constituted a large part of the production costs, could now be put on the market much more cheaply.

Dutch printers obtained a large proportion of their paper from abroad, especially from Belgium and Germany, throughout the nineteenth century, mainly due to the relatively low import duties and the lead which these countries had in the field of mass production. After 1850, when import duties were reduced in other countries as well, the market for printed matter grew spectacularly and the Dutch paper industry concentrated into large mechanised companies and once again conquered a major part of the domestic and foreign market. The number of Dutch paper companies fell from 167 in 1852 to 35 in 1910, while production grew from 8 million kilograms in 1852 to 50 million kilograms shortly before the First World War. By the end of the 1840s an annual total of about 400,000 guilders (about € 182,000) for (mostly printing) paper was imported and in 1909 this had risen to 5 million guilders (about 2.27 million €). Exports grew from 3.3 million kilograms in 1874 to 14.6 million kilograms in 1909.

author: D. van Lente

Paper (including production, watermarks, paper trade)