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Studies in Bibliography 56 (2003-2004) 243-259

Paper Making in Seventeenth-Century Genoa:
The Account of Giovanni Domenico Peri (1651)
Conor Fahy *

The purpose of this article is to present to English-speaking readers a substantial seventeenth-century account of the buildings and workings of a Genoese white-paper mill, which seems to be unknown to paper historians outside Italy. 1 The account is significant for three reasons: the importance of Genoa as a paper-making centre in early modern Europe, the author's access to local knowledge, and the date of the text, which makes it, as far as I know, the earliest description in any detail of a European paper-mill and of the relevant manufacturing processes, preceding by seventy-five years the account in Chambers' Cyclopaedia (1728) and by more than a century the authoritative and much more detailed treatments of the subject in Joseph Jérôme de Lalande's L'art de faire le papier (1761) and in the article "Papeterie" by Louis Jacques Goussier in vol. XI (1765) of the Encyclopédie of Diderot and d'Alembert. 2 Giovanni Domenico Peri, like Goussier, was not a paper-maker by profession, nor even the owner of a mill, but, again like Goussier, though not with the same thoroughness, he had informed himself from members of the trade about the processes involved, and had seen a mill in operation, as [End Page 243] is revealed by his exclamation of wonder at how quickly the pulp, made of "merely rags and water, which have no viscous or resistant qualities," is transformed into a stout sheet of paper—an emotion shared by all who see paper made for the first time.

Italy is the home of European paper making, which developed from Arab paper-making techniques imported into Spain at an early date, and then into Italy in the twelfth century. 3 Three innovations distinguish European from Arab paper making: a much more efficient method of beating the rags into pulp, the use of a size based on animal rather than on vegetable matter, and the addition of lime to the beaten rags at some point in the manufacturing process. Together they made European paper far more durable than Arab paper. Fabriano has always claimed the credit for the first two of these innovations, but it has recently been suggested that experiments in these directions may have first occurred at or near the point of entry of Arab paper, i.e. ports on the Tyrrhenian Sea such as Genoa and Amalfi. Certainly the first known Genoese document relating to paper making is very early. 1235. 4 However, if innovations did occur in North Italy in the thirteenth century, it was at Fabriano that they were refined and developed, and made part of a fully integrated production system, which led Fabriano to become in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the undisputed centre of the manufacture of fine-quality white paper in Italy.

From an early date paper was manufactured for local consumption, often to a high standard, in or near many other Italian cities, particularly in central and northern Italy. But it was not until the sixteenth century that serious rivals appeared to challenge the hegemony of Fabriano. The vastly increased demand for paper resulting from the advent of print led to the development of a substantial paper industry in the Veneto, particularly in the valley of the torrente Toscolano, on the western shore of Lake Garda, which served the Venetian printing industry (or so it seems: the evidence, though compelling, is entirely circumstantial, at least before 1548). The sixteenth century also saw the rise of a paper industry in Genoa, destined to become by the time of Peri's account the largest centre of paper production in Italy, and indeed in Europe.

Paper making at Genoa has a long history, as we have seen. 5 But the first [End Page 244] signs of what can be called an industry do not appear until the second half of the...