Early papermaking in Italy

Commentary
Early papermaking in Italy

As indicated by this map from the Museo della Carta e della Filigrana in Fabriano, paper making was first undertaken in Europe within Muslim areas of Spain in the mid twelfth century. After the reconquest, it was preserved in Spain by Jewish intermediaries.  But the place in which paper making was transformed in Europe, and from which it spread north was the little Italian town of Fabriano on the west coast of the Adriatic. 

Italy had no previous tradition of paper manufacture, and the need to improvise appears to have led to a series of transformational innovations. The most important of these was the mechanisation of the production process. In particular, the fulling mill, which had been developed previously for processing wool, was adapted to drive the fibrillation or pulping process, significantly cutting labour time and cost.  Second, animal gelatines replaced starch as the binding agent, increasing the durability of the paper and its reception of ink. Third, since bamboo was not available, metal wire was used to construct the screen on which the paper was formed, which opened the possibility of introducing watermarks, which could be varied infinitely to serve as trademarks identifying the origin of the paper. Together, these innovations led Fabriano to dominate first the Italian and then the European paper markets: Italian paper was also exported to south and east as early as 1300.

The first video below, from the Museum of Paper and Papermarks in Fabriano, provides a clear account of the main innovations which distinguished Italian papermaking from its predecessors elsewhere. The second video (in Italian) provides a glimpse of another early papermaking centre in Italy: Amalfi.