Barrett research with Libraries’ Special Collections reveals secrets of old paper

Barrett, T., et al. Paper through Time: Nondestructive Analysis of 14th- through 19th-Century Papers.

Research by a University of Iowa led team reveals new information about why paper made hundreds of years ago often holds up better over time than more modern paper.

Led by Timothy Barrett, director of papermaking facilities at the UI Center for the Book, the team analyzed 1,578 historical papers made between the 14th and the 19th centuries. Barrett and his colleagues devised methods to determine their chemical composition without requiring a sample to be destroyed in the process, which had limited past research. The results of this three-year project show that the oldest papers were often in the best condition, in part, Barrett says, due to high levels of gelatin and calcium.

“This is news to many of us in the fields of papermaking history and rare book and art conservation,” says Barrett. “The research results will impact the manufacture of modern paper intended for archival applications, and the care and conservation of historical works on paper.”

… The UI Libraries is hosting the newly launched website http://paper.lib.uiowa.edu/ which details all the project goals, procedures and results.

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