Papermaking in Germany

Papermaking in Germany

Image 1. The first permanent paper mill north of the Alps was established in 1390 on the Pegnitz river not far outside the walls of Nuremberg, one of the leading cities of the Holy Roman Empire for commerce and artisanal innovation. Remarkably, this building complex can be seen, one century later, in the lower right corner of this depiction of the city from the famous Nuremberg Chronicle published in 1493: due to the noise of the hammers and the smell, paper mills were generally erected outside the city walls.  
The mill’s founder, Ulman Stromer (1329-1407), was a prominent and widely travelled Nuremberg merchant. Having observed the prosperity generated by paper mills in Fabriano and other Italian centres, he returned to his home city with three Italian craftsmen (who were sworn ‘for ten years to engage in no work in paper-making except for me or my heirs’) and set about adapting an existing mill outside the city for the production of paper by including stamps, presses, tubs, and rooms for sorting and drying.
Despite initial difficulties with his Italian workers, the business thrived and by 1398 seventeen men were employed at the mill along with three women to sort rags and an accountant. The year of Stromer’s  death, 1407, saw the foundation of a second paper-mill; the second year one opened in Strasbourg, and others in Liegnitz in 1420, Basel in 1440, Bautzen in 1443, and Augsburg in 1468, by which time the plentiful supply of paper had provided the preconditions for the reinvention in the West of the art of printing with movable type.
Further reading. Ernst Mummelhoff, Ulman Stromer, in Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie, vol. 36 (Leipzig, 1893), pp. 617-18; Wolfgang von Stromer, 'Das Handelshaus der Stromer von Nürnberg und die Geschichte der ersten deutschen Papiermühle', Vierteljahrschrift für Sozial und Wirtschaftsgeschichte, 47 (1960), 81–104.

Image 2 is a depiction of a paper maker in the so-called 'book of trades' by Hartmann Schopper (b. 1542) with woodcuts by Jost Amman (1539-1591). Comparison with the contemporary Chinese images of papermaking suggests the similarities and differences of the process.

Through the windows in the back wall one can glimpse the major innovation of European papermaking: two water wheels drive the cogged shafted running along the back wall, which raises the hammers which pound the rags into a fine lint, which is then bleached, washed, and mixed with an adhesive substance to create the semi-fluid mass in the large tub in the foreground. Far more similar to Chinese precedent is the crucial action in the foreground, where the papermaker scoops up pulp onto a rectangular screen (in Europe made of fine metal wires), and washes it back and forth to create a single sheet of paper. The moist paper is carefully laid between felt sheets piled to the right. These are then placed in the powerful press behind the workman, to squeeze out excess water. The apprentice in the foreground is probably carrying pressed paper to the drying room, where they will be hung on lines, rather than dried against a wall as in China.

Essentially the same process is depicted in the brief video (2:15) on papermaking in late medieval France (below).

Credit: Howard Hotson (May 2019)