Paper And Watermarks - Part 1

The manufacture of paper is one of the oldest arts known to mankind and remains today basically one of the simplest arts. It is of interest to the stamp collector principally because of the watermarks and some of the special papers used for making some nineteenth-century postage stamps. Presently "ordinary" paper with or without the watermark is used universally throughout the world for making postage stamps. Basically paper is made by reducing wood fiber to a pulp and then spreading this pulp evenly on a surface to dry. Almost all modern paper is made from wood pulp to which rag or other fibers may, or may not, have been added. Straw of various kinds, papyrus and other vegetable fibers have also been used but today such special papers are seldom used in the ordinary channels of commerce.

The wood fiber may be reduced to pulp in various ways. The logs may be placed in hydraulic presses and forced against millstones or they may be chipped into small pieces and "digested" with chemicals. In either process a great deal of water is used, so paper mills are almost always located along a river which may be diverted through the plant to provide the power to drive the machinery and, more important, to provide the flux that carries the pulp through the required processes. Other than the very few cases where paper is still handmade - principally as a hobby or for demonstration purposes - all paper is made on a Fourdrinier Paper Making Machine or a development of that machine. It is during the process of making paper that the watermark is applied. The pulp in a highly saturated state passes through "beaters," "digesters" and other machines where it is given its sizing and the proper chemicals are added to bleach, color and otherwise prepare it. When ready the pulp is allowed to flow upon a fast-moving screen which, by oscillation and shaking removes a considerable quantity of the water.

Fourdrinier machine
Fourdrinier machine.

Near the end of this endless screen there is suspended a hollow cylinder called a "dandy roll," the purpose of which is to squeeze more water from the pulp. Watching a machine in operation one sees only a wet surface moving rapidly toward the dandy roll but leaving the roll, as if by magic, one sees the partially formed paper rapidly moving toward the drying rolls. These latter are a battery of large-diameter steam-heated rolls over which passes a cloth belt or "blanket." After passing under the dandy rolls the now partially dry paper passes almost immediately to the drying process. It is picked up by the blanket and travels over and around each drying roll in such a manner that both sides are presented to the surface of each roll during the process. Upon leaving the drying rolls the paper is completed. It may be wound directly upon cores or it may pass through a calendar to give it a finish before being wound on cores. But once over the drying rolls the paper is, to all intents and purposes, "made." It can be further processed by converters and various finishes applied for special purposes such as "linen finish" writing paper, "coated paper," etc.