From the Rare Book Room: Watermark Wednesday

A hallmark of good research is looking beyond the surface. Particularly, in the Davidson Archives, it is prudent to search beyond what meets the eye—literally. The Davidson College Archives and Special Collections houses a multitude of rare books and 19th century correspondences by former College Presidents which boast watermarks. Such hidden images on the pages can offer insights as to where and by whom the paper was made, as well as its quality.

A page featuring a poem and a faint watermark and lines.

Nonesuch Press watermark and chain and laid lines visible on handmade page.

The tradition of watermarks in papermaking began in Fabriano, Italy late in the 13th Century and was continued by other manufacturers of handmade paper into the 19th century. Watermarks were formed by twisting thin wires into various geometric shapes and adhered to the paper mold. The mold was simply a wood-framed wire screen which would be dipped into a “soup”-of-sorts of warm water and rag fibres several times. As the water strained through, horizontal (laid) lines and vertical (chain) lines would appear on the forming sheet. The shape of the watermark was imprinted into the sheet whilst the fibres were still wet, thereby thinning the paper in a specific area, forming the mark.

The Davidson Rare Book Room holds a 1923 reprint by The Nonesuch Press of the Poems of Andrew Marvell, the original 1681 edition of which is housed in the British Museum. As noted on the cover, the edition was printed on handmade Italian watermarked paper.

Title page reading: MISCELLANEOUS POEMS BY ANDREW MARVELL, Esq. Late Member of the Honourable House of Commons LONDON The Nonesuch Press, 30 Gerrard Street M. CM. XXIII.

Title page of the Poems of Andrew Marvell

Portrait of a mustachioed man in a long curly wig, typical of the 17th century,

Portrait of Andrew Marvell.

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