Everybody knows that books are bad for the environment.  All that paper is made from trees, and deforestation is contributing to the loss of habitat and biodiversity.

Would it surprise you to know that little over 150 years ago, paper was actually eco-savvy?  Or moreover, that it was a means of recycling old undergarments and rags?  Prior to the mid-19th century, paper was made from leftover or discarded cotton and linen.  This is what’s known as “rag paper.”

During the late 16th and early 17th centuries, when newspapers and pamphlets really came into vogue, there was an international shortage in the rag supply.  Certain countries even issued sanctions against the exporting of rags, and rag smugglers started up a new black market!

Continued shortages caused paper manufacturers to seek alternative fibers in the 18th century, and it wasn’t until the 1840’s that experiments in using ground-wood pulp began. But once we figured out how to process wood fibers into paper pulp, boy, did that solve the problem!  Trees grow everywhere.

If you’d like to see an early example of wood pulp paper, stop by the upcoming exhibit of Highlights from the James Wilson Bright Collection, opening September 9th in the Goucher College Athenaeum.  More details to follow!

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