Paper from Amalfi

The production of hand made paper in the Valle dei Mulini (valley of the water-mills) and its distribution to other cities in Campania was one of the oldest and most flourishing industries of the Amalfitan people and still today represents a prosperous local business.

Paper from AmalfiThe exact location of the first paper mill is still unknown. It is certain, since there were contacts between the Amalfitan people and the Arabs, that the “bambagina”,i.e. paper made from rag tatters, arrived first of all in Amalfi. The name derives from the Arab city of El-Marubig which had the monopoly of the production.

In a Royal Decree Federico II (who died in1250) forbade the curias of Naples, Sorrento and Amalfi to use bambagina paper for the drafting of public Acts. He imposed the use of parchment because it is more durable.

The paper was made by hand until 1700 when with industrialisation, machine production began.

t the end of the 18th century there were sixteen working paper mills in existence of which only about ten are still active today. In the Valle dei Mulini, in Amalfi, the museum of hand made paper can be found. It consists of an antique paper mill and a library containing about three thousand texts on the history of paper.

There were various phases in the production of paper: The raw materials consisted of cotton, linen and hemp rags collected in stone troughs called piles. Here the rags were ground and reduced to pulp with wooden hammers which had iron nails attached to the heads. The size and shape of these nails determined the consistency of the pulp and the thickness of the sheets of paper.

The hammers were operated by the force of the water falling onto a counter-balanced wheel which turned the transmission shaft.

The pulp obtained was collected in a large, glazed container into to which the mould was placed. The mould consisted of a wooden frame over which a mesh was stretched. The mesh was made of brass or bronze and contained the watermark of the manufacturer which made it possible to identify the different paper makers. These watermarks, which were visible when the paper was held up to the light, contained civic, heraldic and religious symbols.

The oldest sheets, dating from the 13th and 14th centuries, had the city coat of arms or an eight pointed cross and the coats of arms of the aristocratic families.

Paper from AmalfiThe pulp, once it was attached to the mould and the water drained off, was placed on a paper felt. The sheets of wet paper were placed one on top of the other with a felt pad between each one. The pile of paper and felt pads was then pressed in a wooden press to extract the water.

Next the sheets of paper were separated one by one from the felt pads and taken to the drying rooms where the drying process was completed by the circulation of air. Naturally, the drying rooms were built in the highest part of the paper mill. Finally, the sheets of paper were pressed, smoothed out and gathered into blocks in the “smoothing” room. In the 18th century the wooden hammer heads were replaced by the “Dutch” machine, which produced a finer pulp and increased out-put. The new machine had large metal cylinders on which the watermarks were attached. The pressure of the water flowing through stone tubes caused the pulp to stick to the watermark. The pulp was detached and passed between two felt rollers which extracted the water.

The sheets of paper were first dried by a steam boiler after which they were transferred to the drying rooms.

The paper was used for the documents of the Dukedom, the Diocese, and the parishes and for writing notary Acts. It was used by the court of the Angioini, and the  Aragonese, by the Spanish Viceroyalty and the  Borbonic court.

The paper of Amalfi was very prestigious and much sought after. Today it is used for invitations to weddings, baptisms, and communions, for brochures and for drafting important works. The Vatican State also uses it for its correspondence. The work cycle of a paper mill can be seen by visiting the Cartiera Amatruda in Amalfi.

Cartiera Amatruda

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