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date: 22 October 2019


  • Shirley Millidge


Distinguishing mark incorporated into paper and visible only through transmitted light. Watermarks may include names, symbols, initials, seals, and dates. They are used as a mill or papermaker’s trademark, with a given mill using several different watermarks to distinguish papers of differing qualities. Before c. 1790 they were usually referred to as ‘papermarks’.

A watermark appears as a pale pattern in the sheet when a piece of paper is held up to the light or placed over a lightbox. In handmade paper the watermark is produced during the manufacture of the sheet by the screen and by the vatman’s handling of the mould (see Paper, §I). The design is made of wire and set into the screen in the mould on which the sheet of paper is to be formed. The vatman dips the mould into the prepared paper pulp and then lifts it out horizontally. The screen retains the fibred pulp while allowing the water to drain away. The vatman then shakes the mould in two directions, from left to right and then from back to front, matting the fibres together. The wet pulp settles out more thinly over the wires that form the watermark design than it does over the rest of the screen, so the mark is more translucent than the sheet around it. The mould is then passed to a second workman, who turns it over and quickly releases the paper on to a piece of felt....

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