Heritage, Volume 2, Number 3, Summer 1985




by Terry Rempel, Conservator

Great Uncle Henry's letters home during
the Civil War. . . a tattered but much loved
diary from a grandmother's youth. . .the
first dollar you ever made. . everyone has
some piece of history tucked away in an
attic or drawer. Most of the time these
memories will be on paper, a material we
all take for granted.
Paper presents us with a paradox. It can
be very strong - such as the paper used
in an original print by Albrecht Durer
from the 16th century - and yet last
month's newspaper can yellow and crumble
into dust before our eyes. Why does
this dichotomy exist? How can we help
preserve our paper heritage, these pages
out of time?

Let's take a brief look at the history of
paper and books. It is thought that paper,
as we know it, was invented by the Chinese
sometime during the 2nd century
A.D., and reached Europe in a slightly
modified form by the 13th century. Paper
was made from cotton and linen rags up
until the mid 1800's, when the process for
making paper from wood-pulp was developed.
By the early 20th century, woodpulp
paper was being used in newspapers,
books, and writing papers, and high
quality rag paper had become an expensive
specialty product.
Books have been with us in one form or
another for centuries: scrolls, papyrus
leaves bundled together with string, and

hand-copied parchment pages bound in
vellum from medieval monasteries, are
some early examples. The Gutenberg
Bible, the first example of a book printed
with movable type still extant, dates from
approximately 1455. All of these early
books were hand bound. Today, hand
binding is reserved for limited or special
editions, and is also used in conservation.
Most commercial books now are machine
bound by the process of over-sewing, or
are glued together in an unsewn binding
in what used to be known as a "perfect"
Some libraries, archives, and museums
have preservation and conservation programs,
with a trained staff to look after


"l< 1'.,! "

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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 2, Number 3, Summer 1985. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45444/. Accessed December 1, 2015.