Tag Archives: papermaking

What a bunch of fools!

At the beginning of each new school year, I would go to the newsagency to buy my required exercise books. Usually there was a tall one and some short fat ones.

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Foolscap and the shorter book

(If we are going down the past of nostalgia, who remembers roneos?)

I liked neither because I grew up in a French country where the exercise books were like this:

  You can learn cursive writing with this sort of paper

Since I can no longer buy these lined books, my preference now lies with the range of “A” size products. This sizing has become the standard, but in 1979, A4 books were not common.

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A4 and A5 notebooks

However what has all this got to do with the image below?


Yes it is a fool, with a very small head. He has a 7 bell collar, short even 2 bell hat, with a 4 and 3 circles under. And no hair braid.

Paper with the fool’s cap watermark was used quite commonly all over Europe. On the Continent, its size was quite varied, but in England in denoted paper 12 inches by 16 inches. The foolscap usually refers to the fool’s head with a cap. Sometimes the cap is a hat, sometimes it is a cap that goes over the ears. The cap or hat usually has two bells, sometimes on sashes of differing sizes. Early fools had braids, either diagonal or horizontal; towards the end of the 17th century the fools loose their braid and and the braid, in form of circles, is now found on the hat. The fool’s collar also differs in time and place: it can have from 4 to 8 points. Underneath the fool you will more than likely find a 4 with a crosse pommée and 3 circles. Sometimes in lieu of the 4 there might be a triangle.

In E.J. Labarre’s 1952 “Dictionary and Encyclopedia of paper and papermaking“(p110), you will find all the variety of sizes. They are too innumerable to list here, but let me mention a few: you could find small foolscap, double small, quarto, foolscap long folio. In his research, Briquet found fools caps in paper used in the Upper Rhine provinces dating to 1540. My own research has uncovered watermarks dating from 1478 to 1703; however the earlier date could be from more recent paper as it was found on endpapers used in a rebind. In England, the mark was replaced by the Britannia watermark, being paper exported from the Netherlands. It appears that the mark itself disappears altogether at about 1795.

In the above gallery you will see a variety of fools caps, with caps and braids or with short hair and hats.

Now that there are no watermarks in ordinary writing paper, I think I’ll stick to the standard A sizes!

For more pictures of watermarks click here to visit my Flickr site




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December 9, 2017 · 5:03 am

Saints and saintly women

I am not a religious person; I tried to read the Bible once but got bored quickly. I believe that this has led to  a lack  in my art appreciation abilities. I might understand more symbolism if I had had a more thorough religious literary upbringing.

My random watermark discoveries have shifted my attentions to spanish papermakers and their marks. Did you know that the largest collection of Jesuit texts in the Southern Hemisphere is held at the library of the Compania de Jesus in Cordoba, Argentina. The National Library of Australia has over 5400 books in their Jesuit Collection.

In fact in terms of historical papermaking I haven’t been able to find much information on spanish papermakers. As I peruse the Library’s catalogue, and bring up from the stacks  a mountain of books on papermaking history, much of it is Britain-centric.

I have a lot of data; lots of watermarks to sift through. They are starting to look the same. So while having access to data on internet databases such as Piccard’s or Le Briquet  they hurt my eyes. Using books is perhaps limited, but online databases take longer

To help me sort my data I’d like to make lists of papermakers. Italians, Spanish, French, Dutch. It isn’t as easy as it sounds. I can’t find a list of spanish historical papermakers. I am going to have to guess and amalgamate data.

This is just a long intro to the book of saints I was examining.

Leather bound, blind tooled landscape book

Oracvlvm anachoreticvm : Sanctissimo patri nostro / D. Clementi VIII

Printed in Venice by Raphael Sadeler, and bound with Musius, Cornelius, 1503-1572. Solitvdo, sive Vita solitaria lavdata. It’s about hermits and saintly women, who might have been hermits.

IMG_5521      IMG_5522

It is a strange landscape book. You don’t see many of those. Covered in leather with 5 single cord supports. Blind tooled. No introduction or title pages. In fact it looks like someone’s scrap book. The first and last third (more or less) of the book are cross -grained bound pages with text; it is landscape because correctly paper grained printed plates have been stuck on to make the book wide.


cross grain meets grain

Each page in these section has text and then an image. In between these parts, are engraving of different saints. Some of the plates are loose. What struck me was that the images were not what I was used to; more accurately, not what I expected.

The book is dated Venice 1600. The pictures are so naturalistic, cartoon-like in the mood they give.

Hermit's gardenThere are everyday scenes with hermits in. Some strange beasts and people.


So, picked at random because I was looking for spanish books, I come across some interesting watermarks:

This appears in the first third of the book:

Shield watermark

And a shadow watermark, maybe? Can you make out the face in the tree?

Mask like face under the bird cage in tree

And as the plates are printed on full pages, we get this mark:


The women return to the cross grain/grain pattern and have this mark:

Shield with 3 fleur d elis and crown aboveI was wondering if each of the women had their own mark, a saintly mark, but I think it was just random paper:

Can't make it out. Can you?

This watermark seems part lion, part snake. I’d really appreciate it if anyone had a clue to please let me know what you think it might be.

An anchor, which is typically Italian

The anchor above was found in the back fly. This is a typical italian mark. There were also horns amid the women’s skirts.

Chasing watermarks is a bit like trying to find the end of the rainbow; it is endless.





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Filed under bookbinding

A bit of a watermark gallery

The quality is not very good. It is really hard to photograph. If you have any solutions please let me know. I have a light sheet and a small camera.


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June 4, 2015 · 6:14 am