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Laid Paper

Before about 1800, all paper was made by hand. By 1820, most paper was machine made, although a few high-quality papers continue to be made by hand even today. The mechanics of making paper by hand leave an impression that lasts for the life of the paper.

Laid paper is made on a mould, which consists of a rectangular frame to which is attached a fine mesh of wires parallel to the long sides of the mold. These fine wires are crossed by somewhat thicker wires, called chain lines, that run parallel to the short sides of the mold. The wire lines (also called laid lines) and the chain lines can clearly be seen when the paper is held up to the light.


This sample is from a 1698 book. The wire lines (laid lines) are parallel to the spine of the book (horizontal in the photograph) and are about 1 mm apart. The chain lines are vertical in the photograph, and in this book, are about 23 mm (7/8 inch) apart.


This sample is from a 1750 book, in which the chain lines (horizontal in the picture) are parallel to the spine and the wire lines are perpendicular to it. The direction of the chain lines, together with other evidence that can be discerned from the book, can help a bibliographer determine what format was used when the pages were laid out for printing.


Another example, this time from an 1804 book.


During the papermaking process, after the water with suspended paper fibers had been evenly distributed over the wire mesh of the mould, the mould would then be inverted over a piece of felt to deposit the new and very delicate piece of paper there. This resulted in the paper having two sides, a mould side, which had been next to the wire mesh, and a felt side. Mould and felt sides can sometimes be determined by examining the paper closely, with the mould side carrying the impression of the wire and chain lines and the felt side being smoother.


The top picture at left shows the mould side. The arrows indicate the faint impressions left by the chain lines, with the center one being the most visible in the photo. The bottom picture is the felt side of the same page, showing a smoother aspect.


This example, from a 1904 book, is most likely a mold-made paper, created in a machine process that formed paper on a continuous web and could impress laid lines and chain lines almost indistinguishable from hand-made papers. Mold-made papers were common from 1890 to 1914, and were usually used for upscale books.

Initial text and images courtesy of Alice Voith of My Wings Books.

Please send comments to us at Last updated May 17, 2016.

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