Popular Science Monthly/Volume 42/November 1892/The First German Paper-Maker



"IN the name of Christ, amen. Anno Domini 1390, I, Ulman Stromer, started at making paper on St. John's day at the Solstice, and began to set up a wheel in the Gleissmühle, and Clos Obsser was the first who came to work."

So said Ulman Stromer, undoubtedly the first German paper-maker, in his notes which are still preserved. Five hundred years have passed since then, and the art of paper-making can look back on as long a period of earnest effort and profitable work. When Ulman Stromer so long ago established paper-making in Germany he had no foresight of the important position paper was destined to assume in the civilization of man. In book-printing, and outside of it, it is the most efficient agent in the advancement of the race, and has become a supreme necessity. It is the foundation of the book and newspaper arts, the indispensable aid of science and instruction, as well as of commercial and social intercourse. In short, it so governs our whole age that hardly anything could be thought of without paper in its present shape.

It was different in Ulman Stromer's time. Paper was then a rare material, little used, and only to be found in the offices of the learned, of scribes, and of officers. The supply of Germany and of all northern Europe was brought from Italy and Spain, most of it from the factories of Fabriano in Italy, where paper-mills existed in the twelfth century, while a lively paper industry flourished in Spain, with its principal seat at San Felipe in Valencia, as early as 1150. The paper-making art was introduced into both of these lands by the Arabs, who learned it in Samarcand and spread it through Europe. It was introduced into Samarcand in 751 by Chinese prisoners from their country, where it had been carried on from extremely ancient times. It is believed that the Chinese were making paper at the beginning of the Christian era, while the civilized lands of the West had still no other writing material than the Egyptian papyrus, which was not equal to the Chinese paper in quality and serviceableness, and parchment prepared from skins, the high price of which prohibited its general and free use.

The mercantile houses of Germany had trade relations with Italy at an early date. German merchants made trading journeys there, and sent their sons to Italian universities, or to Venice and other marts to learn business. We must therefore suppose that the paper-maker's art was not wholly unknown to the Germans, and that individual dealers had had opportunities to visit paper-mills on their journeys to Italy, even though they may not have had a real knowledge of the art. In any case it is not impossible that enterprising men of business had even before Ulman Stromer conceived the plan of establishing paper-mills with the help of Italian workmen; for the expense of transporting paper across the Alps must have made it very high, and there was abundant prospect of making the enterprise profitable in the fact that there were no paper-mills north of the Alps except in southern France. We are, in fact, inclined to believe that a few paper-mills existed in Germany at the end of the thirteenth and the beginning of the fourteenth centuries. Thus, the paper on which

Fig. 1.—Ulman Stromer's Paper-mill. (From Schedel's Buch der Chroniken of 1493.)

the copy of a document of 1315 is written is a specimen of the German Holbein's paper, for it bears as a water-mark an ox's head, which, according to Gutermann, was the arms of the Holbein family, whose paper-mill was standing at Ravensburg, according to some in 1270, according to others in 1324. But the fact that the Fabrianos also worked a similar water-mark into their paper bears on the other side. It has not been possible to prove that the Holbein paper-mills were in operation before the year 1407, when the first authentic mention is made of a paper factory at Ravensburg, and of the paper-makers Cunrat, Peter, and Stengli. There were also paper-mills about 1347 at Au, near Munich, and in 1356 at Leesdorf in Lower Austria; but documentary evidence to establish the fact is as defective as it is of the early existence of the Ravensburg mills.

But it is incontestably established that the Nuremberg Ratsherr Ulman Stromer built a paper-mill in 1390, which was the first demonstrably in Germany. Through his carefully kept notes many particulars of Ulman Stromer's life and business transactions are known to us. They furnish information concerning the introduction of paper-making, and further permit a deep insight into the conditions of trade and industry at that time. A happy chance has also permitted the picture of Stromer's paper-mill to come down to posterity, and we contemplate with pleasure the rude drawing that represents the high-gabled buildings of this German factory of five hundred years ago. The view (Fig. 1) is reproduced as exactly as possible from Hartmann Schedel's Buch der Chroniken of 1493, which was printed byFig. 2.—Interior of an Old German Paper-mill. (After Jost Amman, 1568.)Anton Koburger and illustrated by Michael Wohlgemut and Wilhelm Pleydenwurf with about two thousand woodcuts. Ulman Stromer, born on the 26th of January, 1329, was descended from a distinguished Nuremberg family, whose ancestor, Conrad von Reichenbach, having married into the family of the Waldstromers, resided thenceforth in Nuremberg, and called himself Stromeyr, abbreviated into Stromer. He became a man of extensive business and considerable wealth, and the owner of houses in the city and of a landed estate, and eventually one of the most prominent men in Nuremberg. With a brief interruption he sat in the city council, and was for a long time one of the three chief magistrates. In this capacity he often represented the city in important transactions, and served as its plenipotentiary in foreign affairs, as, for example, in the conclusion of the accession of Nuremberg to the Swabian Confederacy. Ulman Stromer often made long journeys in the interest of his business. Like other great dealers of Nuremberg, Augsburg, and the Tyrol, he was probably an intermediary of trade between the southern and northern countries. In his journeys to Italy he became acquainted with the paper-mills, and observing the prosperity of the Fabrianos, Cividales, and Battaglias, recognized the immense importance of the trade. It was a short step to decide to establish a paper-mill at home. There being no paper-makers in Germany, he secured the brothers Marco and Francisco di Marchia and their boy Bartolomeo in Italy and brought them to Nuremberg. He built his mill in the so-called Gleissmühle, which was situated not far from Nuremberg, near the present Hallerniese. Whether he built a new mill or only adapted an old grist-mill or oil-mill, of which we know nothing, he had to prepare new machinery for paper-making, including stamps, presses, and tubs, and sorting and drying rooms. Notwithstanding these apparatus were of the simplest character, their construction required considerable time, for work was done more slowly in those days than now. When, therefore, Stromer reports that he began paper-making on St. John's day, we must suppose either that months or years had been spent before that in hard work, or that he did not begin the actual making of paper, but only the building of his mill, on that St. John's day. The latter seems, in fact, to have been the case, for Stromer says that it was then that he set the wheel—that is, the water-wheel by which the stamping machine was propelled.

The view of the interior of an old German paper-mill in the year 1568 (Fig. 2) is taken from a woodcut by Jost Amman. In the left background are seen through the window the paddles and upper part of two water-wheels, which, moved by the stream without, drive the works within, especially the large roller that lies against the wall. This, it may be seen, is furnished with projecting beaters which are designed to hit upon the knee-bent stamps visible in front, and work them up and down. The heavy stamps lie with their hammer-shaped ends in a rectangular trough, in which the rags are placed after having been cut up and macerated. These stamps, with their heavy blows on the rags, beat them till the cloth and its threads are resolved into a fine lint, which, bleached, washed, and mixed with an adhesive substance, are carried, a semi-fluid mass, into the draw-tubs. The papermaker draws the pulp from them with a rectangular metallic sieve, and, while the water is dripping out through the meshes in the bottom, he shakes the fibrous mass that is left till it lies smoothly on the wire-work, felted into an even, homogeneous leaf. This is the still moist paper, which now laid between felts is placed in the powerful press that is seen behind the workman, and freed from water and made smooth. When this is done, the sheet is taken out of the press, carried in piles by apprentices to the drying-ground, there hung on lines, from which it is taken when dried and is then smoothed again. Such in brief outline was the method of the old paper-makers, which has now, of course, been greatly modified and substantially supplanted by the invention of paper-making machinery. Stromer's first assistant, Clos Obsser, was probably not a skilled paper-maker, but a carpenter, who came to fix the water-wheel, while the real paper-making could not be begun till this was done and the stamps were in working order. This was apparently in August, 1390, for on the 7th of that month Stromer swore his assistant Clos Obsser to fidelity and to keep the secret of the art of paper-making, as he did regularly afterward with all his workmen when they began.

The pledge of assistants to secrecy was an old custom which was observed in different trades. It was particularly usual then when working methods were still little known and assistants initiated into the secrets might, by means of their knowledge, injure their employer by inducing an unwelcome competition. Such a danger lay before the Stromer mill. There were as yet no paper-makers in Germany. The process was known only in the southern countries, and Stromer, as a substantial business man, desired to prevent his workmen revealing the secrets of the art or setting up competitions. He therefore made himself secure by an oath from his men and by written contracts. He administered an oath of this kind in the presence of his son Jörg to Clos Obsser on the 7th of August; and a few days later to another workman named Jörg Tirman, recording the fact in a note: "Anno Domini 1390, on the day after St. Lawrence's day (11th of August) Jörg Tirman gave me his pledge, and swore with upraised fingers an oath to hold his trust, to be true to me and my heirs, to further our advantage and keep harm from us, truly without any comrades. He is for ten years to engage in no work in paper-making except for me or my heirs, to whom I leave the paper-mill; and when the prescribed ten years have passed, he may make paper for himself but not for anybody else. For this he has a permit from my own hand." Stromer imposed a similar oath on the Italians Marco and Francisco di Marchia and their boy Bartolomeo, and added the provision that they should not give either advice or help in the introduction of Italian paper-making in any countries on the hither side of the mountains of Lombardy. A copy of the oath was made, attested by five witnesses, and given to each of the parties. He doubtless made a good business out of his paper, for he could sell it at great profit, while the rags and other raw materials, not being yet currently merchantable articles, could be bought very cheaply. He did not lack for customers, but was, on the contrary, not able to supply the demand of Germany or even of central Germany; for it appears, from various account-books, that much paper was still brought in from Italy, and that even the Council of Nuremberg was obliged to obtain a part of its supply there. Therefore Stromer planned an enlargement of his mill, and decided to add to the two wheels driving eighteen stamps a third. In this enterprise he had an opportunity to become acquainted with the worse side of the character of his Italian paper-makers. It did not escape them that Stromer's paper-mill was profitable, and they observed its rapid rise with much dissatisfaction. They tried to get the mill into their own hands under favorable conditions and to enjoy the profits. They sought to reach their object by artful means, throwing every obstacle in the way of his business, and making it unpleasant for him. They neglected their work, did not make the best use of the stamps, and made less paper than they might have made. Under the pretext that they could not do the work alone, they asked him to send for a few more of their countrymen; and when he declined to employ more Italians, they summarily refused to permit the third wheel. When they thought they had tired their employer out, they broached their own plan. They proposed that Stromer should lease them the mill for an annual rent of two hundred gulden. When this was not accepted, they offered him a certain quantity of their own made paper as a rent. This proposition was also declined; the disappointed Italians carried their false play to the extreme, and gave their employer all the trouble they could.

He at last lost patience. He seized the Italians, put them in the tower "behind the drying-kiln," and locked them up, as he says, "in a little room." They were not pleased with their quarters in this "little room," and, giving up their spite, they sent on the fourth day of their imprisonment for the three citizens, Hans Groland, Stromer's brother-in-law, Fritz Amman, and Ulrich Stremler, to negotiate for them with Stromer. He was disposed to conciliation, and it was agreed that both sides should pledge themselves to observe honorably all that should be ordered by the referees. The Italians were liberated, and all went to the Augustine Convent, where the agreement was ratified anew. The Italians had to swear a new oath that they would in future be absolutely true to their former oath, and they would not try to harm by word or deed any one who had been accessory to their imprisonment; that they would have no contention with the master, Ulman Stromer, his family, and servants, otherwise than in the courts of Nuremberg; and that they would interpose no obstacles in the way of their employer and his heirs, and that they would perform what he ordered, whether it were to have one, two, or three wheels in the Gleissmühle, or to set them up in another place. After Stromer had thus brought the Italians to terms, he seems to have had no further trouble with his people. The business went on quietly with a steady increase. New workmen were employed every year; and in 1398 seventeen men were employed there, with three women to sort rags, and a book-keeper. These were all sworn in as solemnly as the first work-men. Among the later hands were three carpenters, each of whom received fifteen pennies a day. A comparison of these wages with the price at which paper was then sold—about forty groschen a ream for writing-paper in 1426—suggests that Stromer's profits were exceedingly large. There was no competition so long as he lived, and his mill continued to be the only one in Germany, a fact which may be ascribed to his careful proceedings in hiring workmen. The year of his death, 1407, was also the year of the beginning of the second authenticated paper-mill, at Ravensburg, which is then first mentioned in the records of the city. A paper-mill went into operation the next year at Strasburg, and others at Liegnitz in 1420, Basle in 1440, Bautzen in 1443, and Augsburg in 1468; after which, the art of printing having been introduced, the demand that arose for paper caused factories to increase very rapidly. There are now in operation in Germany about nine hundred and twenty-five paper-mills, which produce more than 400,000,000 kilogrammes of paper a year.—Translated for The Popular Science Monthly from Daheim.