Nicholas Basbanes: "On Paper"

Transcript for: 
Nicholas Basbanes: "On Paper"

MS. DIANE REHM

11:06:53
Thanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Since its invention in China 2,000 years ago paper has played a crucial role in many historical events. In a new book author Nicholas Basbanes says paper has revolutionized civilization from the Islamic Golden Age to the European Renaissance and the history of human flight.

MS. DIANE REHM

11:07:19
His new book is titled "On Paper: The Everything of Its Two Thousand Year History." Nicholas Basbanes joins me in the studio and you're invited to be part of the program. Call us on 800-433-8850. Send us an email to drshow@wamu.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet, and welcome to you, sir.

MR. NICHOLAS BASBANES

11:07:49
Thank you, Diane, thank you for having me again and congratulations on this exquisite new studio. It's just beautiful.

REHM

11:07:55
Oh, I'm so glad you're here and, yes, it's lovely to have the light coming into this studio. People walking by can glance in...

BASBANES

11:08:06
It's wonderful.

REHM

11:08:07
...so I'm happy about that. And if they were to glance in, they would see lots of pieces of paper in front of me. You went to Southwestern China, the birthplace of paper, to see and to understand the process. Tell me about that journey.

BASBANES

11:08:29
Really. And if I'm asked about what are some of the most extraordinary experiences of this eight-year project, I would have to say that trip, that three-week trip to China with a number -- a small group of paper historians. But to go to the birthplace not only to see where paper was invented and how it was introduced, but really to go and find some villages, to find some people who continue to make paper in exactly the same way as they did 2,000 years ago.

REHM

11:08:59
Can you describe that process?

BASBANES

11:09:00
And that's one of the great attractions that really mesmerized me about the study of paper. It began as a continuation of my explorations into books and book culture, but it took on a life of its own because paper, while it's a natural product, it's also an idea and it really isn't something that just would have happened. It really took perception.

BASBANES

11:09:23
It took some knowledge to be able to take this cellulosic fiber, any kind of vegetative source to reduce it to fragments, to expose the cellulose which because of this oddity of chemistry that we call hydrogen bonding is a form of chemical adhesion which allows cellulosic fibers to adhere to each other and to make this film with water, these sheets that we call paper. So that in a nutshell is really the process and it hasn't really changed.

BASBANES

11:09:58
There are three basic elements to paper. That was the case then, it's the case today. You need cellulose. You need a vegetative source. You need water and you need a screen, a screen mold to allow the water to pass through and to leave this film with paper.

REHM

11:10:14
Do we know who those first persons were who put those elements together?

BASBANES

11:10:23
The Chinese regard paper as one of their four outstanding inventions of antiquity. Gun powder, the magnetic compass, printing, they invented printing hundreds of years before we had any kind of printing in the West, and paper. Unlike the others the Chinese have a name of a person Ts'ai Lun, who they attribute. They give him credit for introducing paper and they have a year 105 A.D.

BASBANES

11:10:54
He was at court. He worked for the emperor. And he was the first truly to articulate the making of paper, the processes that were necessary but generally speaking we now believe, we know there's very good evidence that it developed over a period of several hundred years.

BASBANES

11:11:07
They have found fragments in China. Aurel Stein, the great British explorer found some fragments in the Great Wall of China that can be dated to 200 B.C. so it was a process that developed over several hundred years. But he formalized it at the Imperial Court.

REHM

11:11:25
Do we have an idea of what those first examples might have looked like?

BASBANES

11:11:29
Oh, there are some surviving samples and it is paper, you know.

REHM

11:11:36
I mean, it's certainly not...

BASBANES

11:11:38
No, it's not. And what you're holding up is a sheet of common bond machine-made...

REHM

11:11:43
Right...

BASBANES

11:11:43
…paper. But this was all handmade paper with a random distribution of the fibers and so the process is you take this mold, it's a screen mold and you either dip it into this water, this slurry of fibrous material suspended in water and you screen it. The original papermakers suspended it through a brace of poles, so the water drained out and then, wonder of wonders, you were left when it dried with a sheet of paper.

BASBANES

11:12:13
But there was this random distribution of fibers as they adhered together and that's one of the ways that you can tell handmade paper, another way is by the chain links that are left on there.

REHM

11:12:22
So you go on from the beginnings of paper to talk about our intellectual growth...

BASBANES

11:12:31
Yeah, that was the fun.

REHM

11:12:33
...and how that's linked to paper.

BASBANES

11:12:36
You know, when you introduced the book, you also mention the subtitle and I should point out the word everything is in all caps and it's italicized. It's the playful use of the word, everything. No book can purport to be everything but I did take an, everything, approach.

BASBANES

11:12:53
And so while you and I are now talking about the history and the introduction in China, and then I go to Japan. I went and spent a day with a living national treasure paper-maker, the ninth generation of his family to be making paper.

REHM

11:13:06
Was it gorgeous?

BASBANES

11:13:07
It was extraordinary. His paper is really regarded by many artists and calligraphers and printmakers as...

REHM

11:13:14
Works of art.

BASBANES

11:13:14
...works of art unto themselves and I have brought several sheets of his paper and I've been thinking I would just like to frame, you know. Usually you frame a piece of paper with something that's been drawn on or...

REHM

11:13:29
Written or drawn, yeah.

BASBANES

11:13:29
...and I would just like to frame that piece of paper because it is a work of art.

REHM

11:13:33
What color is it?

BASBANES

11:13:33
It's white. It's a very creamy white and you asked about how he makes it. He makes it by hand and when I first met him, his son, who will be the tenth -- his name is (word?) the ninth. And when his son succeeds him, he'll be the tenth. And his father, by the way, was also a living national treasure papermaker in Japan, in fact the first to be so designated.

BASBANES

11:13:52
But when I was brought to...

REHM

11:13:56
I mean, designated...

BASBANES

11:13:56
Designated...

REHM

11:13:57
...living treasure...

BASBANES

11:14:00
...a living national treasure...

REHM

11:14:01
Wow.

BASBANES

11:14:01
Because it is a declining handicraft, I mean to make paper by hand. There are only 250 or so of these studios left in Japan. Not so long ago there were thousands of these. It's becoming mechanized now you see.

REHM

11:14:15
What does one of these pieces of paper feel like?

BASBANES

11:14:19
It's just an exquisite feeling because he uses all natural. It's called kozo. It's from the inner bark of the paper mulberry tree and this is by the way.

REHM

11:14:28
The inner bark?

BASBANES

11:14:30
The inner bark, which is called bast, that was a word that was new to me when I started my investigations.

REHM

11:14:35
You are a bibliophile. I have a new word.

BASBANES

11:14:39
And it's one syllable too and I should know it but it is bast, and what it is, it's this fibrous, soft white, creamy white inner fiber material that is scooped out. It's, of course, you cook these branches. And the beauty of this, of these particular trees is that you don't have to harvest the whole tree. It's renewable. They harvest them in the winter. That's the best time.

BASBANES

11:15:01
There are papermakers, like Master (word?) who will only use kozo that's harvested in the winter. In the winter because the sap isn't running, it makes for a better fiber, a stronger fiber. But then he will reduce these. They will remove the bast from the bark of the. They'll de-bark it. They'll prepare it and then they'll pound it into a pulp and it has very long fibers so the Japanese paper is really notable for its strength because of these long fibers.

BASBANES

11:15:31
And then he'll actually go through the process. When I met him he and his son were in this water room, the washing room they called it. And they had these buckets of fiber and they were on their knees. They were on their hands and knees. Their hands were freezing cold, mountain water which was coming down and they were taking out the specks of bark, individually, individually.

BASBANES

11:15:53
So you would have this very pure fiber which would then ultimately be made into these exquisite sheets.

REHM

11:15:59
Nicholas Basbanes, his new book is titled "On Paper: The Everything of Its Two Thousand Year History." I must say I loved the paper on which your book...

BASBANES

11:16:16
Thank you so much.

REHM

11:16:16
...has been printed. But you know, isn't it too bad that instead of cutting down whole trees as we do in this country we too could not use some sort of renewable process?

BASBANES

11:16:34
It would be wonderful if we could do that and of course, I have a chapter in here on recycling and a lot of paper is re-purposed...

REHM

11:16:41
Now...

BASBANES

11:16:41
...and resourced.

REHM

11:16:44
But the trees, it's not just the barks, the ends, the barks of the trees.

BASBANES

11:16:50
Oh, the tree, that's a whole different -- the trees really were the last great hurdle. I have a chapter called "Rags to Riches" and it really. You take it literally and that's my chapter on American paper-making where, which begins in 1690 and outside of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia and for hundreds, for several hundred years the only source for paper in America was rags and also in Europe it was.

BASBANES

11:17:15
So it's one of the only major industries I can think of that relied almost preponderantly on the detritus of a discarded product which in the West was rags, cotton and linen rags because they're pure cellulose. You've heard these stories of the rag pickers who would go around and they would gather rags and sell them to the papermakers.

BASBANES

11:17:38
When Crane Paper was founded in Massachusetts in 1801 by Zenas Crane and that's still a family-owned...

REHM

11:17:44
Oh, absolutely, I use Crane. I love Crane

BASBANES

11:17:46
...business after seven generations.

REHM

11:17:48
I love Crane.

BASBANES

11:17:48
Wonderful stationery, I spent two days there. They make of course all of the paper for American currency. Well that's a tree-free operation. In 200 years they have never made a sheet of paper from trees. They use cotton and linen and the detritus that they're able to buy from suppliers. Seventy-five percent cotton, 25 percent flags for American currency so it's very precisely measured.

BASBANES

11:18:13
So they don't use trees, but your question is well taken. I suppose we'll get to it after the break.

REHM

11:18:18
And we will, the book, "On Paper" by Nicholas Basbanes. I know you'll want to join in the conversation. Give us a call 800-433-8850. Send your email to drshow@wamu.org or join us on Facebook or Twitter.

REHM

11:20:02
And welcome back. My guest today, his second time on the program, is Nicholas Basbanes. He describes himself as bibliophiliac, one who clearly loves books, paper and everything associated with it. His new book is titled, "On Paper." Here is our first email. Before the break you and I were talking about Crane, the large stationery making company, which produces the paper for money as well as for stationery. And they do not use trees.

BASBANES

11:20:50
Tree-free, that's what they...

REHM

11:20:51
Tree free.

BASBANES

11:20:52
Tree free.

REHM

11:20:53
So it's all from fabric.

BASBANES

11:20:55
Cotton and rags. It's actually -- you could describe it as 100 percent rag paper.

REHM

11:21:02
And here's an email from Jack in Columbia, MO. Why do paper mills have such a bad odor?

BASBANES

11:21:13
I don't think they all, but some do. And they add -- we were kind of driving to that before to that before the break. We were talking about the movement to trees which really happened in the middle of the 19th century when they really figured out the way to remove a compound that is in trees known as lignin. It's a compound that kind of fills up the spaces between the cells of the cellulose.

BASBANES

11:21:35
And it had really befuddled people on how you could possibly extract from trees the fiber to make paper, when they finally figured out a way to do that. One of the ways to do it is with chemicals, unfortunately. And a lot of these chemicals don't smell very good. There's a community up in Maine that they call Stinkin' Lincoln, ME. They used to because it had these and it's not fair. But that was the reputation because it had these enormous paper mills up there that really didn't put out a very good odor.

BASBANES

11:22:04
They've been working on it. People are coming up with different recovery processes. But the answer was really because of the movement to the production of paper from trees.

REHM

11:22:13
And Marianne in Grand Rapids, MI writes: I love paper. I don't think computers, smartphones and tablets will go away, but I think people are finding that while they serve some purposes well, people are also finding they are not the answer to everything.

BASBANES

11:22:36
I think I can agree with that in principle. I'm often asked because it's such an obvious question and it's a question that cries out to be asked. Do I foresee the paperless society? I don't think so. I think certainly in terms of books and newspapers and recordkeeping in the government. I have chapters on all of these things. And we are moving towards electronic modes of preservation, but I also stop and I say to myself, this is the first time in human history where we need a mechanical device to read something.

BASBANES

11:23:11
We need software. Here, you can pick up a book and all you really need is the facility to handle the English language to engage with it, to read it. But when you're talking about computers, you're talking about 12-inch discs that no longer exist, 5-inch discs, 3-inch discs, various kinds of magnetic tape, punch cards. Can anybody access punch cards? Things that are being generated, too, now barring digital.

BASBANES

11:23:36
Will people be able to read these things a hundred years from now? Two hundred years from now? I mean, I have held in my hands a Gutenberg Bible printed on exquisite paper in the 1450s. That's the passage of half a millennium. And it's just as beautiful today as it was when it was produced. Can you say that -- will you be able to say that 500 years from now about materials that are born digital?

REHM

11:23:58
Here is a tweet from Carrie who argues the Egyptians invented paper thousands of years before the Chinese.

BASBANES

11:24:10
Well, she's thinking papyrus. And papyrus is not paper, although paper does get its name from papyrus. That and the fact that they both have a vegetative source.

REHM

11:24:20
Well, how is papyrus different from...

BASBANES

11:24:24
Well, well, let's get to that. I mean, paper, as I explained earlier, is you reduce any vegetative source to fibers. You pound it. You beat it to a pulp. That's one of many paper clichés we deal with in the book. Papyrus, quite specifically, is made from a marsh reed that once grew in great abundance along the Nile River, predominantly in Egypt, but also in a few other areas.

BASBANES

11:24:48
It grew in parts of North Africa and Sicily. But they used this reed for everything in Ancient Egypt. But what they did do is -- it's a very tall plant. It's got a triangular base. And they would basically carve out sections of the marsh reed pounding into like almost like a veal cutler. And they would laminate it across at right angles to each other. So papyrus is a lamination of very specific vegetative product that only grew predominantly along the banks of the Nile.

BASBANES

11:25:19
You can only make it from fresh, freshly harvested stalks. So paper is not papyrus. That's the short answer.

REHM

11:25:27
And Anthony asked: What is the difference between paper and papyrus and you just answered that questioned. You talk about Leonardo Da Vinci in the book and what is his connection to the growth and the intellectual excitement?

BASBANES

11:25:52
And that kind of goes back to an earlier question of yours. I started with the history and I started with books. But I just said to myself, I am really captured by this whole concept of the idea of paper. And not just the obvious ones, for personal hygiene and for wrapping foods and for every manner of packaging, but also thinking on paper. Can we really demonstrate instances where really brilliant people, where it can be argued, paper was an essential medium for them to achieve their thoughts.

BASBANES

11:26:25
To give substance to these non-verbal images that they -- that were just teeming in their mind.

REHM

11:26:32
Well, but we can think of those on the walls of caves, ancient caves as well long before paper.

BASBANES

11:26:39
Right. And of course, paper is not the only medium. But paper, all of a sudden, became available in perfusion in Italy and in Europe during what we call the Renaissance. And Leonardo -- I mean, I asked Martin Kemp, the Oxford scholar who probably has spent more time with Leonardo's notebooks than anyone alive. Would this have been possible? Could he have done all of this, his prolific writing and drawing and doing three-dimensional representations?

BASBANES

11:27:09
This cascade of thought that he just poured out in these sheets of paper going, really, from one thing to another. And he thought about that. I said, did you -- was paper necessary? I said, I can't conceive of them of doing it without it. Leonardo is just one example in that chapter. I cited Beethoven, of course, and the sketchbooks and Thomas Edison, 3,500 notebooks. He used paper as a tool to realize his thoughts.

REHM

11:27:36
So are you arguing that, indeed, the transference of what's in the mind to paper helped to move the minds coming thereafter forward?

BASBANES

11:27:53
I think the argument can be made. There are those undoubtedly who might dispute that and disagree with me. But notation, what we call notation, really does developed in the Arab world. They had a perfusion of paper. All of a sudden you had stuff to tinker on. You think about the development of architecture and engineering, so many brilliant ideas were drawn on the back of an envelope or a cocktail napkin or a matchbook or an envelope or whatever.

BASBANES

11:28:20
Whatever is on hand, you have this flash of insight. You can't wait to get it down. You can't wait to transfer this visualization onto a flat piece of paper. And I just think the case can be made that it's more than coincidental.

REHM

11:28:34
All right, we're got lots of callers. I'm going to open the phones. First to Patricia in Moore, OK. Hi, you're on the air.

PATRICIA

11:28:47
Oh, thanks, Diane. How are you doing today?

REHM

11:28:49
Fine, thank you.

PATRICIA

11:28:51
Great. I like this topic. I just wanted to promote a product that I've seen -- I've only seen it at Walgreens. But it's 100 percent -- the name of the product is 100% Tree Free and the company name is Ology, just o-l-o-g-y. But their toiler paper and paper towels are made out of 100 percent renewable sugar cane and bamboo. And so I think that's a good, you know, thing to use. And then also I want to ask, can't we make paper from hemp?

BASBANES

11:29:27
Paper has been made from hemp. Again, you can make paper from seaweed. You can make paper from crushed walnut shells. You can make paper from any vegetative source whether or not it's -- you can get ideal portions of cellulosic fiber out of it is another matter. But...

REHM

11:29:45
But sugarcane, you've heard of that being done?

BASBANES

11:29:48
You can -- it doesn't surprise me because you can make paper out of any vegetative source. What you have to have is cellulose. You reduce...

REHM

11:29:56
Well, why do we keep cutting down trees then?

BASBANES

11:29:58
Well, because -- that's a good question. But trees have been available in great, great, great, enormous abundance, it seemed limitless when they started back in the 19th century. It isn't such anymore. And a lot of these paper companies have committed themselves, as I understand it, to working with environmental organizations and to use things like sugarcane, I believe. I think that's Kimberly Clark...

REHM

11:30:25
I hope your book propels more and more discussion about that.

BASBANES

11:30:30
I hope so, absolutely.

REHM

11:30:32
Because cross-cutting and clearing...

BASBANES

11:30:36
It's horrible.

REHM

11:30:37
It's horrible.

BASBANES

11:30:38
Especially...

REHM

11:30:38
For the land and for the lost of trees.

BASBANES

11:30:41
Especially when you think that so much virgin -- what they call virgin fiber -- would be used, you know, the production of paper for hygienic purposes that really have a life span of seconds. You know, when you think that you're making something that really only...

REHM

11:30:54
And when there is...

BASBANES

11:30:54
...as a functionalized or whatever it is, you know.

REHM

11:30:57
And there are so many alternatives available, it would seem that we ought to be thinking about something else. And here's a comment posted by Cecilia: As a bookbinder and papermaker artist, I believe paper is ingrained in our mind. After the boom of computers and, more recently, electronic book reading, some believed paper was going to disappear. I believe there is going to be a "renaissance" of the book, either by reading what it comes to express, or as an art object. I love paper and things made out of it. Lovely comment.

BASBANES

11:31:49
Lovely. And I couldn't agree more. I think paper will now -- the printed book will now be allowed to achieve its destiny as an artistic medium.

REHM

11:31:58
Nicholas Basbanes, his new book is titled, "On Paper." And we got lots of callers. Let's go now to Kalamazoo, MI. Hi, David.

DAVID

11:32:23
Well, good morning. I've been a stamp collector for about 50 years now and there's always been a rumor that in the 1800s, linen was imported from Egypt and was supposedly used -- they were taken from the wrappings from mummies and I was always wondering if that could ever be confirmed.

BASBANES

11:32:42
I give you the citation in the book. It is confirmed. There was a period in the 1840s or so. Again, going back to the point about rags and the supply wasn't, you know, insufficient to meet the demand. And for a period, a short period, there were people who were bringing shiploads of linen wrappings from mummies from Egypt. Now, not all -- see, they...

REHM

11:33:06
Wow.

BASBANES

11:33:08
And actually there was an outbreak of cholera, arguably attributed to that. It was...

REHM

11:33:13
To that process.

BASBANES

11:33:14
To that process.

REHM

11:33:15
Oh, my goodness.

BASBANES

11:33:15
And it was not to make a very high grade of paper either. But there's a woman at the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, MA who has documented this, who has documented the use of this particular source of fiber in at least four states.

DAVID

11:33:30
Oh, my gosh.

BASBANES

11:33:31
It's in the book, by the way.

DAVID

11:33:33
The other part of that story was that the mummies themselves were used to provide for the railroad in Egypt. They would burn them.

BASBANES

11:33:41
Well, I can't speak to that. I don't know that.

DAVID

11:33:43
Yeah.

REHM

11:33:43
All right, David, thanks so much for your call. That's a fascinating piece of information. Let's go to Gabriel in Plano, TX. Hi, you're on the air.

GABRIEL

11:33:59
Good morning, Diane.

REHM

11:34:01
Hello. Go right ahead, sir.

GABRIEL

11:34:03
Can you hear me?

REHM

11:34:03
Yes.

GABRIEL

11:34:04
Thank you. A (unintelligible) hello?

REHM

11:34:12
Yes, I can barely hear you, Gabriel.

GABRIEL

11:34:16
Okay. I hope it's better now.

REHM

11:34:18
Yes, much better. Thank you.

GABRIEL

11:34:20
Yeah, when I started studying my master degree, I was an advocate to use everything but wood because, you know, they're cutting trees and I felt green and everything. But one of my teachers found that it's a lot better to use wood for all purposes because it can regenerate, it's regulated. And its -- it uses a lot less energy to be processed and recycled than plastic or steel. So I really -- I love paper too. Thank you.

REHM

11:34:58
All right. I want to hear what Nicholas Basbanes says.

BASBANES

11:35:04
We certainly can recycle paper. We have -- we put our office paper in these blue bins and have a little section in the book about this mill in New Jersey, the Marcal Plant, which uses 100 percent recycled paper to make toilet paper, a million rolls a day. One of the arguments against recycled paper for years, and I don't think it's a very good argument, that it might not be as soft as the paper that you might get with 3-ply paper made with virgin fiber.

BASBANES

11:35:36
But then they have processes that kind of fibrillate the fibers and give it the texture of softness and I think that's a great productive avenue for future use of paper, recycling it.

REHM

11:35:48
But what about plastics? He's saying...

BASBANES

11:35:51
Well, I don't -- I mean, I can't...

REHM

11:35:54
Can't get into that.

BASBANES

11:35:56
It's -- the book's about paper, not necessarily plastics, you know.

REHM

11:35:59
All right, let's go now quickly to Tammy. She's in Harrisburg, PA. You're on the air. I'm sorry, I can't hear you.

TAMMY

11:36:13
Can you hear me now?

REHM

11:36:14
Yes.

TAMMY

11:36:16
How are you today, Diane?

REHM

11:36:16
Fine, thank you.

TAMMY

11:36:18
First, I want to say I consider you the Vanity Fair of the radio. You are either right on topic or ahead of everything.

REHM

11:36:26
Thank you.

TAMMY

11:36:27
I appreciate that. My question is, when the whole Nook book, Kindle, everything came out, I jumped in the bandwagon because I've always felt guilty about the trees, especially when I read through hundreds of books a year. I just go through them so fast.

REHM

11:36:42
Good.

TAMMY

11:36:43
Now, it turns out that actually by using my Barnes & Noble's coupons, the books, the actual books are cheaper than the eBooks and I don't understand why that is.

REHM

11:36:55
Well, I'm not sure you're going to get an answer here. What do you think?

BASBANES

11:36:59
I don't have an answer for that.

REHM

11:37:00
Have no idea why they would be cheaper, maybe you ought to try another website. And we'll take a short break here. Nicholas Basbanes is with me. His new book, "On Paper: The Everything Of Its 2,000-Year History."

REHM

11:40:01
And welcome back. Nicholas Basbanes is with me. His brand new book is titled, "On Paper: The Everything of its Two-Thousand-Year History." Here's a wonderful question. It's a Tweet from Anthony. "Can you guest talk about how the art of making paper developed into the art of folding paper, Origami."

BASBANES

11:40:35
Okay, I don't think that the art of making paper necessarily led to the art of Origami. Origami developed because of paper just the same way that printing developed because of paper. The first paper mill in Germany was 1390 and 60 years later Johannes Gutenberg introduced the printing press. There was paper. Origami developed, we believe in Japan, but it developed independently elsewhere around the world. But what it is essentially, and it's really wonderful, conceptually it's really wonderful. You take a single piece of paper, one piece of paper...

REHM

11:41:09
Soft paper.

BASBANES

11:41:11
Soft paper, but you can also use -- you talk to master papermakers they, and I have one profile in the book, Michael LaFosse who makes his own paper. So he'll make one kind of paper if he's doing a penguin and he'll make another kind of paper if he wants to simulate the wings of a bat, you know. So he'll make different textures of paper and we talk about that in the book.

BASBANES

11:41:33
But to get back to what Origami is it's one sheet of paper using no scissors, no glue, no string and you fold. You use your imagination. And the beauty of it, and one of the reasons I really wanted to write about it and to explore it in this book, it is one of those activities, kind of like book collecting in many respects, that you can do it at any level. I maintain you can collect books for 25 cents at yard sales and you can spend all the way up to $10 million, you know, if you have the wherewithal.

BASBANES

11:42:02
Origami is, sort of, the same thing. You begin it as a child. It's taught as part of kindergarten. Maria Montessori incorporated it, folding paper, in part of her curriculum there for young children, but I -- so I thought I would trace it. It's one of these activities that children learn and enjoy and practice productively and it goes all the way up to M.I.T. professors. I have -- Robert Lang, the laser physicist from CalTech who's a master Origami folder. And he actually uses computer programs to help him develop these folds, to do these extraordinary constructions out of single pieces of paper.

REHM

11:42:45
Give me an example of one he's done.

BASBANES

11:42:46
Oh a fly dinosaur -- one of those birds which...

REHM

11:42:50
Wow.

BASBANES

11:42:51
...A dancing crane or a beautiful turtle which I have pictured in the book, I think. Magnificent. He did a cuckoo clock which is -- from a large piece of paper which actually has a swinging pendulum. It has the face of -- of the hands. And he did all of this with one piece of paper so really to use paper as a computational tool. I write about Eric Demaine, one of the youngest MacArthur Fellows in the history of the MacArthur Fellowships who was the youngest professor ever named a full professor at M.I.T. and he also is a brilliant paper folder who uses paper in his courses, computational Origami. I went to several M.I.T. Origami classes -- they have an M.I.T...

REHM

11:43:35
You had fun doing this book.

BASBANES

11:43:37
I had -- that's why I took eight years on the book.

REHM

11:43:39
Yeah, I can fully understand. And then Jeannette in Manchester, Mo. wants to know why Italian papers are considered so special.

BASBANES

11:43:53
There's a mill that I visited -- the Amaltrua (sp?) in Amalthea which is where paper really -- one of the places where paper really began in Europe. And this particular mill has been operated by the very same family for five or six hundred years. Italian paper I wouldn't say it's the world's standard, but it certainly is wonderful. There are other, you know, is it better than beautiful Japanese paper or beautiful French paper or beautiful Dutch paper? You know, I think you'd find an argument on all sides, but they have excellent technique. They use wonderful 100 percent rag fiber and they make exquisite paper.

REHM

11:44:33
So they're not cutting down trees to get their paper.

BASBANES

11:44:35
Oh, no, no, no, no, no, again, when we talk about handmade paper I don't think trees are really used at all in the formation of the stuff.

REHM

11:44:44
It's only in the mass production...

BASBANES

11:44:46
That's exactly right.

REHM

11:44:46
...of paper like bond.

BASBANES

11:44:48
Again in that chapter I have rags to riches. And it really does go from rags to the harvesting of forests to make paper. And that really is what catapulted it into a major industry.

REHM

11:44:59
All right. Let's go to Steve in Mobile, Ala. He's got a different perspective. Hi, Steve.

STEVE

11:45:09
Hi, Diane, wonderful show, as always.

REHM

11:45:11
Thank you

STEVE

11:45:12
My grandfather was a paper mill superintendent for International Paper in Springfield prior to the labor disruptions that closed that mill, but -- so I've kind of grown up around the paper industry and I still have cousins that work there. And I noticed that, I want to say, the '90s, and I might be getting the time wrong, but there was a severe decline in international paper in, and what I understand from my cousins, it was essentially nationwide is the entire American paper industry -- that type of, you know, paper declined significantly and I've seen them close mills here in Mobile and (unintelligible) which a lot of your listeners are probably excited about because they use to use trees for paper and all that. Could you go into what caused this decline?

BASBANES

11:45:54
I think a lot of this decline, and I discuss it in Chapter 17 of the book, which I call, "At the Crossroads." I profile a paper mill there in Pennsylvania, the Glatfelter Company, which since 1998 when their net sales, their gross sales were $569 million or so a year and recently they were $1.6 billion a year. So they actually advanced. So one of the things they did was diversify. We'll get into that, but International Paper their most recent annual report recorded sales of $26.2, I think it is, billion, an increase of $2 billion over the previous two years.

BASBANES

11:46:34
And there's been a lot of contraction in the industry. I believe 120 or so paper mills have closed in the last 15 years or so. Two hundred and thirty or forty thousand people in North America have lost their jobs. A lot of this is due to the shift to electronic recordkeeping in the government and in industry. A lot of it has to do with the move towards electronic newspapers, largely the newspaper industry making newsprint. And we all know what's been going on with newspapers. And that has all had an impact and that is -- and these are largely the reasons why people project a paperless, what they call a paperless society.

BASBANES

11:47:15
I argue that, you know, maybe in some areas there is certainly less usage, but when you consider that according to one reputable group of paper historians there are 20,000 verifiable commercial uses for paper in the world today I don't see paper disappearing any time soon.

REHM

11:47:30
All right. Let's go to Mark in Miami, Fla. He's got a different perspective. Hi, there, Mark.

MARK

11:47:37
Good morning, Diane, thank you for taking my call.

REHM

11:47:40
Sure.

MARK

11:47:40
A little background I own a software data architecture firm and it's funny that he just mentioned the usage of paper. That was my comment was our model is actually joining the paperless revolution. And I deal with people that ask me, you know, does that mean paper's going to go away? We love paper. I like paper. And what I try to tell them is that paper, as a distribution medium, and at a medium to enjoy is never going to go away.

MARK

11:48:08
What the paperless revolution really is about is about how paper is a terrible medium for storage of information and that's what he just went into, the fact that records are no longer being stored on paper and that was a major use for paper. I live, breathe, technology and databases. Definitely I'm an advocate for the elimination of paper as a storage medium, but absolutely adore Origami and handmade paper. And I still, to this day, will not buy a single book that isn't printed on paper and will never read it if it's not printed on paper. And thank you for taking my comment. I appreciate the show.

BASBANES

11:48:49
It's a good comment, Mark, but I just couldn’t disagree with you more. I don't think that electronic preservation is superior to paper. And I think if you find -- if you talk to experts in the field paper is the superior medium. I mean we've been able to -- what we have to do is to be vigilant about the methods that we use for preserving our paper documents, but that's stable. I mean magnetic tapes aren't.

BASBANES

11:49:12
As I said earlier who's to say what kind of software or what kind of machine you're going to be using a hundred years from now to access -- to read this material and are you constantly going to have to be refreshing the medium of preservation as you will have to do with electronic media. So I respectfully disagree with you on that one.

REHM

11:49:33
So you see yourself as a champion of paper.

BASBANES

11:49:38
I am absolutely a champion of paper, but I'm not a leadite, you know. I mean I read newspapers online in the morning. I still love my newspaper, but you can't beat the instant access you get to the news as it's breaking. I mean how can a printed paper keep up with that? But, yes, I love paper, particularly for books and for other artistic endeavors.

REHM

11:50:03
Nicholas Basbanes, his new book is titled, "On Paper." And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And here is an email from Shanur in Lahore, Pakistan.

BASBANES

11:50:24
Wow.

REHM

11:50:25
Writing, "I'm streaming the show in Lahore, Pakistan and wanted to ask your guest if he could briefly talk about how paper spread from China to the rest of the world. I've heard some rulers actually resisted introduction to paper in their respective societies."

BASBANES

11:50:52
That's a great question and I really do address that very question in part one of the book because the migration of paper is one of the great paper stories. As we talked earlier about its introduction in China, but then when you look at how it spread. It went from China -- it was really considered a proprietary craft there for several hundred years. But as the knowhow spread, mainly originally through Buddhist monks who went to Korea. It gets to Japan about the year 500 or so. That's going in that direction.

BASBANES

11:51:24
And then it's also following the silk world trade routes. At the battle of Talas River, I believe it was in the year 751 -- we know the date. We know the date when it's the only time in history when the Chinese army was in conflict with an Arabic -- the Arabic world. The Arabic world won that battle and as a spoil of war they learned papermaking from prisoners. And Samarkand almost immediately became a center of papermaking in that part of the world. That's in Central Asia. It's in modern-day Kazakhstan. And then very quickly, very rapidly, the Arab world really became the center of papermaking and it remained so for 500 or so years.

REHM

11:52:10
But where was the resistance to paper coming from...

BASBANES

11:52:14
As paper starts to get into Europe and you, of course, this is the time of The Crusades and you had resistance and many Europeans regarded this as a product being produced by infidels, you know. And you actually had a ruler of Sicily who outlawed the use of paper for the recording of public documents. It was codified and you had also another ruler in Spain because Spain was another area that it was contested. It was part of the Muslim world for many hundreds of years.

REHM

11:52:41
It was considered revolutionary?

BASBANES

11:52:44
Well, it was being -- it was something that was being brought to them. They didn't know that the Chinese invented it. I mean Sir Francis Bacon who really extolled the virtues of paper and those other three inventions I mentioned earlier, he had no idea that they were invented in China. We know today, of course, that they were, but the perception in Europe at that time among many people was that this was something that was being introduced by people they considered as their enemies.

REHM

11:53:11
All right, let's go to Daniel in Charlottesville, N.C., you're on the air.

DANIEL

11:53:20
Hello, Diane, hello, Nicholas, nice to speak with you guys.

REHM

11:53:25
Thank you.

BASBANES

11:53:25
Thank you.

DANIEL

11:53:25
I had a question about, you know, the treelets or trees used in the paper that's being discussed rather negatively and I had a question about what percentage of paper was made from forestry versus paper made from farming. My family owns a farm and we do commercial wood for paper, but we grow it in a very sustainable way with a crop rotation and there are fields that we use exclusively for the production of wood for paper rather than -- you know, the same way we would use a field for hay or corn or any other crop.

BASBANES

11:54:01
I appreciate the question because the earlier questions were almost suggesting that the use of wood for paper was being suggested in a negative sense. But there are many, many people who raise -- grow wood as you do and as your family does and as many suppliers of hardwood do today. They do it responsibly and they do it with an eye towards conserving of the land and to do it in a manner that's consistent with the environment and I applaud you for that.

REHM

11:54:32
But didn't some of the other large companies come along and really clear cut?

BASBANES

11:54:40
They did and part of the opposition to Kimberly-Clark a few years ago was a Greenpeace mobilization they called a Kleercut, with a K. You know, it was a playful -- not so playful, but a rather sarcastic play on the Kleenex product, but Kimberly-Clark absolutely fell into line and they agreed to, sort of, a formula for moving towards more responsible use of these environmental products.

REHM

11:55:08
So now what you're saying is that in this country you've got the large companies not only continuing to produce paper, in some cases by clear cutting, but that they are planting immediately thereafter...

BASBANES

11:55:25
I don't think that they're necessarily -- they're not clear cutting virgin forests. They're raising it as agricultural products and I do believe there is some responsible movement to doing this. And, again, I'm not -- I'm, by no means, a spokesman or an apologist for any industry. I'm a journalist and a writer and I'm writing a history of paper so -- but I -- from what I see I do believe that there has been a sufficient and a very vocal body of opposition in trying to get this done responsibly and with an eye towards conservation.

REHM

11:55:57
All right. Let's take one last call from Barbara in Durham, N.C., you're on the air very quickly please.

BARBARA

11:56:05
Yes, thanks for taking my call. I'm an artist and I'm sitting here working on a piece of Arches watercolor paper...

BASBANES

11:56:16
Magnificent.

BARBARA

11:56:17
...Listening to this discussion and, of course, this is a pure cotton paper.

BASBANES

11:56:23
That's right.

BARBARA

11:56:23
Artists have been using it for many, many years. And I just wonder if the gentleman has looked into -- I mean it sounded as though the process that they use is exactly what the Chinese were using.

BASBANES

11:56:41
It is. Well, Arches is a very well known famous, what they call, mold-made paper. So it's kind of halfway between handmade paper and mechanical paper with the Ford Rainier (sp?) machines. It's a mold because random disbursement of the fibers -- and it really looks and feels like handmade paper. It's exquisite stuff.

REHM

11:57:00
I'm glad we ended on that word, exquisite. The book is titled, "On Paper: The Everything of its Two-Thousand-Year History." Nicholas Basbanes, thank you for being here.

BASBANES

11:57:15
Thank you, Diane.

REHM

11:57:17
And thanks all for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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