Sunday, October 21, 2007

Publishing is Pants

Life has been a trifle hectic recently what with the move back to the Netherlands from Philadelphia and working midweek in the UK. Not only am I behind with my blog posts I have a mountain of Guardian Weekly's to catch up on too. That's why an article from the July 20th edition has only just caught my eye.

The success of the printing press in 1476 was made possibly by the ready supply of cheap paper upon which to print. But where did the cheap paper come from? From underpants according to Dr Marco Mostert of Utrecht University.

Until the 13th century books were produced on expensive parchment. The breakthrough came when a way was found to manufacture cheap paper from the rags of old underwear. Marco's research has shown that the use of underwear increased dramatically in Europe after 1200, as more people moved into towns (rural folk apparently preferred to go without). More underwear in use meant an increased supply of rags, which in turn led to more paper being available to print on.

I find it fascinating that the development of the publishing industry and with it the spread of learning, depended on something so mundane. It is also interesting to note how these two breakthroughs came together. Caxton made it easy to publish, underpants made it cheap.

1 comment:

  1. Fortunately thongs were not in fashion then!