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The Collation

The mystery of gridded paper

For a blank sheet of paper, we thought this one was pretty interesting. But before we get to what exactly it is, let’s refresh our understanding of how paper is made.

Prior to the 19th century all paper was made by hand using a mold and a deckle. In the West the papermaker’s mold was a wooden frame with a woven mesh of copper wire. Molds were rectangular in shape, and limited to sizes that could be handled comfortably. For structural reasons, the mold was made using two gauges of wire: heavy wires attached to wooden ribs spanned the width of the frame, and a lighter gauge ran lengthwise. In the papermaking process, these features of the mold each leave their mark on the handmade sheet: the wooden ribs and wires running widthwise (parallel to the short side of the mold) leave marks we call chain lines, and the lighter wires running lengthwise leave laid or wire lines. (The Encyclopédie’s illustration of a paper mold is helpful in visualizing a mold and deckle.)

a vatman at work in a reconstructed mill at Museo della Carta e Filigrana in Fabriano

a vatman at work in a reconstructed mill at Museo della Carta e Filigrana in Fabriano

  1. If you want to learn more about how laid paper is made and how it looks different from modern laid paper, read Erin’s post on “Learning to ‘read’ old paper”; for a detailed examination of how handmade paper was made, from start to finish, consult Timothy Barrett’s essay “European Papermaking Techniques 1300–1800.”
  2. Morgan Adams, Conservator for Special Collections at Columbia University Library, treated the Chamant Sketchbook as a post-graduate fellow at the Morgan Library. She wrote about the treatment in The Common.


What a great and informative blog post; thank you! I will keep an eye out for paper with gridded wire marks in our early printed books at the Lilly Library!

Kristin Leaman — June 2, 2015


Could the grid of the paper relate to the content of the book, “Cryptomenytices Cryptographia” ?

Demonstration of The Squaring Cypher Method

This square box of letters on page 140 of the cypher book is an example of what’s called the squaring method.Thomas Bokenham who has studied the Cryptomenytices book for many years and was able to crack the code on the Shakspeare Statue in Westminster Abbey using a refinement of this cypher wrote :

“There are 36 lines, each containing 36 letters evenly spaced.Certain of these letters, each six letters apart from it’s neighbor, are selected to form a 36 letter square which reads MAGNENTIUS HRABANUS MAURUS HOC OPUS FECIT. Maurus Magnentius Hrabanus who lived from776 to 856 A.D. was an Archbishop of Mainz and was said to be a great scholar. A life of him was written by the Abbot Trithemius and we are told that he invented this cypher system.”

M.A. Webb — June 2, 2015


It would be pretty awesome if those endleaves were bound in for use as cyphers! If I am remembering it right, it looked like there was a full bifolium of the gridded paper missing from the front of the book (double endleaves in the rear but just a single in the front). Maybe it was taken out for that reason – I would like to believe it!

Austin Plann Curley — June 3, 2015


What a grand story—Umberto Ecco and Dan Brown material!
I imagine the Duke could have well enjoyed working with the papermaker to printer to fashion a book incorporating his theories–spycraft embedded within bookcraft.

Lunenberg also now makes sense……

“Augustus of Brunswick-Lüneburg (10 April 1579 – 17 September 1666), called the Younger, was duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg. In the estate division of the House of Welf of 1635, he received the Principality of Wolfenbüttel. Augustus was born in Dannenberg, the seventh child of Henry, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg. After complicated negotiations with his family members and an intervention by Emperor Ferdinand II, it was agreed that he should inherit Wolfenbüttel, whose last ruler had died in 1634. Because of the Thirty Years’ War, he could not move into his residence until 1644. Augustus instituted a number of government reforms, and founded the Bibliotheca Augusta, a large library, in Wolfenbüttel. Under the pseudonym Gustavus Selenus, he wrote a book on chess in 1616, Chess or the King’s game, and on cryptography in 1624: Cryptomenytices et Cryptographiae libri IX. The pseudonym is a cryptic reference to his name, Gustavus anagrams (with U=V) to Augustus, the surname is a play on the Greek goddess of the moon (Selene). The book on cryptography is largely based on earlier work by Trithemius. Augustus died at Wolfenbüttel and was succeeded by his three sons, Rudolph Augustus, Anthony Ulrich, and Ferdinand Albert.”

M.A. Webb — June 3, 2015


With the caveat that it is dangerous to make generalisations based on photographs of single sheets I offer the following observations!

Short fibres are present in the pulp as evidenced by the shadowing on the chainlines & the clarity of the water mark. There does not appear to be any entanglement of longer fibres on the thicker horizontal laid picking. There is no evidence of back wash at the thicker laid lines which implies the shake was minimal.

The cherub watermark has been designed & positioned correctly to ensure it is anchored firmly to the face.. The texture is NOT & the felts seemed to have been in reasonable condition. The paper looks as though it has been very well sized with gelatine & has bulked up as a result. The waterleaf sheet was probably quite thin & this is why the thicker laid lines are so obvious after gelatine sizing.

The mould face has been deliberately designed from the beginning of its construction . This strongly indicates there was a specific reason for doing so.
This could be for reasons relating to mould construction &/or availability of materials eg sufficient wire of the correct gauge, easier mould/ paper identification within the Mill, or because the paper had a specific use.

The fact that a regular grid pattern was established may or may not have been deliberate since the rib spacings could have been influenced by other construction factors.

Like others, however, I believe that the face has been designed to aid the use by the customer. It could have been for a specific use by a limited number of customers ie made on a limited basis which is why not much has survived or somebody had a bright idea but because it was comparatively difficult to achieve consistent results during manufacture it never became a mainstream paper.
What would be very interesting is to see what happened to the thicker laid lines at the edge of an untrimmed sheet.

Chris Gibbs — June 4, 2015


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