Milling About in Fabriano

After many visits to, we decided the ten hours of travel time would be worth the hour spent at the Fabriano Paper Museum. Boy, were we right! Our day’s journey first brought us to Foligno, where we had a couple hours layover in which to explore. Thirty minutes of futile searching for a restaurant and one lemon coffee cake later, we stumbled upon a café. We each ordered a margherita pizza, which turned out to be as wide as a goat and as thin as a penny. We both agreed that it was the best pizza we’ve had outside of Naples. Upon arrival to our beloved Fabriano, we attempted to make up for the fourteen minutes lost by our treno ritardato. We got lost for a moment but arrived at the museum with two minutes to spare.

Note the beautiful type welcoming paper enthusiasts

The kindly woman at the desk first led us on a tour of the museum, beginning with the hydraulic hammer mill (known as the hydraulicthingermajigger in layman’s terms). This technology is thought to have first been developed in Fabriano during the 13th century. This new technology allowed cotton, linen, and hemp rags to quickly be beaten into a pulp. Later, the pulp was transported into a large basin filled with water, where the papermaker used a paper-making mold to scoop out the pulp. The wire mesh of the mold allowed the pulp to be distributed in an even layer while the water filtered through below. The paper was then pressed onto a woolen felt which absorbed eighty percent of the water remaining in the pulp. These were then stacked and pressed, and then hung to dry. Finally, they were smoothed by a cilindro.

Part of a hydraulic hammer mill

Stacks of wet paper and woolen felt would be pressed by this machine to help rid excess water

Finally hung to dry

Fabriano is not just your run-of-the-mill town though. As previously mentioned, Fabriano was the first to use the hydraulic hammer mill. It was also the first to use animal-based gelatin to coat the paper for durability and protection against aging. This was obtained by boiling the waste pieces of animal skins from local tanneries in a copper vat. The gelatin made paper durable enough to replace parchment, a much more expensive and resource-intensive medium. Fabriano had and still has a reputation for fine, handmade paper produced with 100% cotton. Fabriano’s reputation went back even as far as the 16th century when it was used by Michelangelo, as well as many other artists. As two paper-consuming artists ourselves, we see Fabriano paper in art stores all over Florence. Additionally, Fabriano is among a few select producers of the paper used for Euro banknotes. The watermark, stripes, holograms, and confetti seen on Euro banknotes are added to the paper by Fabriano. The paper is then sent to Rome, where the bills are printed and cut.

Most notably, Fabriano is famous for among the first to implement the watermark. Copper, bronze, or silver alloy wire is bent into a shape and then sewn onto the copper mesh of the paper-making mold. When the pulp is laid across the top, the relief of the watermark can be seen under a light due to the different thicknesses of the paper. There was a wide variety of symbols used for watermarks, ranging from city crests to sirens. Our favorite was a unicorn :). A more recent development in the art of watermarks is the light and dark watermark, which came about in the 20th century. There is a terribly complicated process to make them, but long story short, layers of copper make thin sheets on top of a precisely-carved beeswax mold. When using the copper molds to print, the pulp settles in various thicknesses, creating the light and dark areas. This allows for incredible detail, enough to reproduce complicated paintings with intricate areas of highlight and shadow.

First watermark from Fabriano

One of the more modern exhibits in the museum was the room shown below. The museum uses this section to emphasize the importance of recycling to all visitors, especially children. All the furniture in this room is made with 100% recycled paper.

Better than IKEA?

Believe it or not, this cardboard furniture is actually very sturdy

So what does this have to do with typography you ask? Well, typography is an efficient way of communicating ideas and information, but without an equally efficient medium to print on, typography loses its power. Before paper, parchment was used for this purpose. However, because it was made from animal skins, it was extremely time-intensive to produce and expensive, thus limiting it only to those who could afford it. The creation of paper made the dissemination of written knowledge attainable to those not extremely wealthy. This in turn brought about the knowledge which made printing possible, and with the help of the right combination of paper & ink, further increased the sharing of the written word.


One response to “Milling About in Fabriano

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