The discovery of paper, between legend and reality
The discovery of paper
is one of many shining precious stones in the history of
human civilisation; this discovery is worldwide attributed
to a Chinese minister named Ts’ai Lun, in 105
a.c. Old tales tell that Ts’ai Lun was finding himself at the shore if a pool besides a laundry which was squandering water of some, probably wear out textiles. The laundry, suffering hard under the rubbing and beating began, to fray and small fibres began to float but later on they began to reunite into a small sheets at the feet of Ts’ai Lun.
On the skin of the water a veil of fibres was formed after a while. Ts’ai Lun observed it and he picked it up with care to put it on herbs to let it dry. The dry sheet was solid, white and soft and it brought Ts’ai Lun the brilliant idea that it could be used as writing material. This legend about the art of making paper runs from that moment on around the world at relatively fast speed. It reaches through the east to Korea and from there to Japan in the VI century a.c., then it comes to the Arab world to reach the Mediterranean later on. The new art became successful for its special qualities and it substitutes the production of parchment paper in short time.
The material originally used for the production of paper was mulberry which was replaced later on by treated bamboo. Even later materials such as linen, hemp and rags were used to produce paper. Some papermakers had their own procedures, their formulas and their secrets. Not only papermakers contributed to general knowledge of the art of papermaking, there were also literates, writers, copiers and the public that made their own paper. In fact the process was divulged with simple tools to realise. In practice the procedure remained completely equal to the original Chinese one. The first steps in the process to “industrialise” the production can be attributed to the Italians. Many exclusively manual operations became mechanical or with aid of already existing equipment in advantage of the production and the costs.