Stationery v Stationary

One of the things I love about English is the amount of wordplay that is possible with it.  I don’t know how true that is with other languages as I am universally bad at languages.  I can barely speak English well enough.  But I love puns and rhyming and the multiple meanings that arise in English and love learning why our language is the way it is.

These two words are connected, believe it or not.   For those who don’t remember, stationery is paper or more generically writing supplies and stationary is to not move.  The former got its name from the later.  During the 1300’s through the 1500’s, most sellers sold from carts.  You moved your store around as you needed to or as markets allowed you to. Some days you had product to sell and some days you didn’t.

But the paper sellers eventually always had supply and always had demand.  They would set up outside of the universities, etc.  With the demand for paper high, they never needed to move their carts.  They remained stationary and in time, became known as stationers, those who didn’t move, and thus, their products were stationery, things a stationer sold.

I have started looking down the rabbit hole at paper making.  I have looked at it before.  I will take a class on it soon.  And like everything, when I start looking at something, I develop grand plans on what I will do with it.  Let’s look at a bit of the research I had done so far.

Paper gets it start in the 100’s BC in China.  Needing a cheap medium to write on, they develop a method of turning bamboo or mulberry bark into paper.   From what I can see, the method for handmade paper hasn’t changed much in China.  The plant fibers are mashed, originally with a mortar and pestle, but later with a drop hammer.  The fibers are then layered and dried.  Then cut.  Then soaked in large vats.  The slurry is caught on wire mats and then transferred to couches (often bamboo).  In the Chinese method, these sheets are then quickly put on hot stone walls to dry.   Depending on the need, chalk can be added to the slurry to whiten the sheets.  I didn’t see evidence of sizing being used yet.

Paper then moved to the Muslim world with the siege of Samarkand.  Not having either bamboo or mulberry trees, the Muslims use cotton or linen.  These fibers need more processing to soften so there are now multiple soaks with some fermentation to help break the fibers down.  The overall process was about the same though.  The Muslims did use sizing, in this case starch.  The sizing helps develop a water resistance so ink doesn’t just get absorbed.  The Muslims also found they had to burnish their paper with smooth stones to make sure it was flat enough for clean writing.

Finally, paper comes to Europe with the Muslims.  Rags of cotton and linen are still the main source but more industrialization is used.  Water wheels with trip hammers help break the fibers down.  Couching is done on felt sheets with presses to expel the excess water.  Sheets are hung in warm rafters to totally dry.  Gelatin is used to size the paper.  Watermarks appear.

Finally in the 1800’s more machines enter the process and wood pulp is used for the paper and the modern method is not that dissimilar to the 1800’s method.

We will see if I take this up.  I can see watermarking my paper as a tag to myself.  I can see adding watermarks for Royal and Baronial use.  I can see scrolls and cards made on handmade, medieval paper. I can see something like the Great Machine in Calontir used to drive the beating hammers.

Too often, I can’t be stationary but perhaps I can be in stationery.

2 thoughts on “Stationery v Stationary”

  1. I have read that velum is still in use in Britain for the commemoration of firefighters who died on the job. Velum is used because of the high respect it commands. I wonder how much paper was respected when it was used in the medieval world. I made paper once, I did not attempt a hard surface on it. I used it for wrapping paper.

    1. It took a while for paper to take off in Europe because they greatly preferred vellum. But once universities and printing took off, the demand was much greater than the supply. paper was a much cheaper alternative and could be made in greater volume for cheaper. Like anything, it started cheap and low class (relatively) but people then make better, higher status versions of it.

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