February 17


“A.D. 1801, February 17th—No. 2481. Mathias Koops of James Street, Westminster, gentleman, for a method of manufacturing paper from straw, hay, thistles, waste, and refuse of hemp and flax, and different kinds of wood and bark, fit for printing and other useful purposes.”

So stated the Great Seal Patent Office of London, upon the granting of a patent to Koops from which emerged The Straw Paper Manufactory at Mill Bank underneath the Bridge at Westminster. Although this mill, set up in 1801, began business with great expectations, it was bankrupt within two years. However, the venture was, according to Dard Hunter, the noted historian of paper, the “paper manufactury upon which is based the greater part of our modern paper industry.” Hunter credits the Koops mill with being the first in Europe to manufacture paper from other than linen and cotton rags.

While a number of documents concerning the short life of this undertaking were discovered in 1941, there is no available account of the methods used by Koops in his manufacturing process, although the mill was the largest of its kind constructed in England up to that time,

Improvements in printing presses during the 18th century had placed pressure on the paper manufacturers to increase their production, as it took considerably longer to make a sheet of paper than to print upon it. The hand methods were notoriously slow, and the industry was completely dependent upon the supply of rags. In 1700 English papermakers used 700 tons of linen a year, but by the time of the experiments of Mathias Koops, they required almost 9,000 tons.

The tremendous expansion which took place in the textile industry during the early decades of the 19th century due to the impact of the industrial revolution significantly reduced the price of the raw materials of paper manufacture, but by the 1850’s the bulk of papermaking was being produced by machines utilizing wood pulp as a source in place of rags. While such paper was inferior to that manufactured from rags, this was a minor factor in a period when the vociferous demand for economic printing production seriously interfered with the search for greater quality.

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