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Whistler's watermarks

Introduction | Dynasts | Watermark and countermark library

 

The Bishop’s Crosier watermark, with the house-mark appended of the Basel papermaker Hans Düring, in Whistler’s etching and drypoint Annie Haden 1860 in the National Gallery of Australia’s collection. The Bishop’s Crosier watermark, with the house-mark appended of the Basel papermaker Hans Düring, in Whistler’s etching and drypoint Annie Haden 1860 in the National Gallery of Australia’s collection.

Dynasts

There is no better entry to the world of watermarks than Charles-Moïse Briquet’s monumental four-volume work Les filigranes (The watermarks), first published in 1907. There are two elements in the title word: fil has many meanings of which fil de fer (wire made of iron) relates to the way watermarks are formed; grane can be translated as ‘grain’ in the sense of wood texture, as seen in woodblock prints. A watermark design is created with wire by a specialist artisan and sewn with fine wire (or soldered) to the mesh on which the paper will be formed. Pulp in this area will be thinner and will reveal the watermark when backlit. Les filigranes describes in text and more than 16 000 illustrations the principal watermarks used in Western Europe from their first appearance around 1282 until 1600.

Charles-Moïse Briquet was born in Geneva in 1839. In so naming their son, the parents were paying homage to Moses, the Old Testament prophet who set out to lead his people from slavery in Egypt to their Canaan homeland. The Briquets were papermakers and book publishers in France, but as a devout Protestant family they felt it prudent to flee to Geneva during 1724 in fear of religious persecution. Martin Luther’s writings early in the sixteenth century encouraged the rise of Protestantism in Western Europe but conservative religious forces quickly attacked the adherents. Their first heretic was burned at the stake in 1523. The Protestants, or Huguenots as they came to be known, were granted freedom of conscience by the Edict of Nantes in 1598 but harassments and forcible conversions resumed and continued sporadically throughout the seventeenth century, culminating in the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 by Louis XIV (the ‘Sun King’). There was a limited amelioration in 1787 but dissenters had to wait until the French Revolution of 1789 to gain full liberty of religious belief. The result for France was a Huguenot hegira of an estimated 250 000 people.1

The loss to France was a marked gain for nearby countries, notably Switzerland and England, where the Huguenots often made important contributions to industry.2

The Briquet family was an example. After a false start as an apprentice in a perfumery, Charles-Moïse Briquet joined his papermaker father and acquired experience, supplemented by an intensive academic education, which equipped him to write his great work, a task on which he spent the early years of the twentieth century. Within a few months of the publication of Les filigranes the University of Geneva awarded him a Doctorate of Letters, honoris causa. He died in 1918.3

In the preface to volume one, Briquet dedicates the book to Caroline, his beloved wife and fidele collaboratrice, and to Marc Briquet, his greatly respected father. He also dedicates it to the ‘Industries of the Book’ in which his kinfolk had worked as papermakers, printers, book binders and book sellers from 1687 through seven successive generations.

That long devotion to a field of endeavour is remarkable and admirable but it was by no means unique. For examples of long-enduring dynasties we need look no further than the paper-mills at the ancient Swiss city of Basel, a locality rich in mills because of abundant water as snowmelt from the Alps provided power for the production processes.

 

Family

Period

Years

Successive Generations

Düring

1550–1764

214

31

Dürr

1513–1635

122

18

Blum

1530–1778

248

13

 

A former water-powered mill for hand made paper at Basel. A former water-powered mill for hand made paper at Basel.

Other families had long associations with mills in Basel – such as the Thurneysens (155 years) and the Osers (116 years) – but the lines of succession are blurred and tangled by intermarriage, multiple exchanges of mills and the formation of partnerships and incorporated companies. As a consequence of widowhood the succession sometimes passed through the matrilineal line; but these office-holders were no mere seat warmers: the widow of Peter Düring III held office for 22 years (1670–1692) and the widow of Paulus Blum did so for 33 years (1723–1756).4

Mills in Russia were often long-held within a family, largely as a consequence of a royal contrivance. There had been a few paper-mills in Russia since the third quarter of the eighteenth century, mostly owned by merchants. In 1762, the first year of the reign of Empress Catherine the Great, a decree prohibited the purchase of serfs by factory owners who were not of noble rank, thus excluding merchants from the cheap source of labour vital to the labour-intensive manufacture of vat-made paper. Conversely it placed a lucrative monopoly in the hands of the nobility.5

The times were right for mill owners. Johann Gutenberg who, working in the German city of Mainz, devised a massive and revolutionary change of method, inventing Europe’s first system of movable and re-usable type. By this new means and in high secrecy, Gutenberg produced his eponymous Bible between 1450 and 1455. Treasured surviving specimens demonstrate the magnificence of the work, to this day hardly without peer. Throughout the next four centuries the paper dynasts could assume a golden future, seemingly without end.

The felicitous coalition of paper and movable type resulted in an immense increase in writing, reading and, monumentally, in ecclesiastical and bureaucratic documentation. Also of great consequence was the upsurge of literacy in the populace, which was in part made possible by the erosion of the hieratic monopoly of knowledge. This was a slow but continuing process with its own relentless momentum; although, great minds in each century gave a fillip : religious rebel Martin Luther changed Europe in the sixteenth century; Galileo Gal ilei demonstrated in the early seventeenth century support for the Copernican theory that planets revolve around the Sun (and, by extension, that Earth – and indeed mankind – is not the centre of the Universe); the eighteenth -century deist Thomas Paine believed in a Supreme Being but poured scorn on the religious structures of his day; and in the mid nineteenth century the evolutionists Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace hugely unsettled Creation beliefs . There were other stirrers: in Britain, Francis Bacon, John Locke and Isaac Newton kept the pot simmering throughout the seventeenth century and, among others in France, Voltaire and Denis Diderot did the same. In sum, their efforts prepared the way for the Enlightenment and the Revolutionary Wars of the eighteenth century. None of these activities was designed to promote the prosperity of papermakers, but that was an unwitting consequence.

From C.M. Briquet via the record of a lecture. The use of watermarks in dating old maps and documents given by Edward Heawood at a meeting of the Royal Geographical Society at London on 18 February 1924

From C.M. Briquet via the record of a lecture. The use of watermarks in dating old maps and documents given by Edward Heawood at a meeting of the Royal Geographical Society at London on 18 February 1924

Yet the downfall of the dynasts was at hand. Late in the eighteenth century London had sixty or so newspapers. Bank notes were also consumers of paper. The newspapers would mostly have been no more than a page or two (though The Times of London was already a substantial journal); and the bank notes were for the larger and less common denominations. All would have been printed on handmade paper formed from pulverised cotton or linen rags. The escalating demand for paper, and increasingly for cheap paper, brought into being a new source of fibre stock and concomitant paper making machines that almost obliterated the hand made product. Machines for making paper were invented at the beginning of the nineteenth century, but the coup de grâce was the introduction mid-century of (acidic) ground wood pulp in sufficient volume to make the voracious mills profitable. (Acid-free paper continues to be formed by hand for a speciali sed and limited market, mostly to meet the needs of artists, calligraphers and engrossers.)

Mill tycoons able to raise sufficient capital to buy the huge new machines survived the cataclysm by embracing the drastically changed production methods. For example, the Oser family produced handmade paper from 1808, installed a paper machine about 1859 and, with sundry adaptations of management structure, endured to 1924.6

There may have been a time when a watermark would identify the papermill in which the sheet had been made; but so artless a state could not last. A logo which came to be seen as memorable for its graphic merit, as an effective marketing device or, perhaps, as a supplication for assured prosperity, was extensively appropriated. The following map shows the spread throughout the Rhineland of that highly regarded emblem and to other places could be reached economically by barge.

Monarchs and the high born sometimes had personal watermarks and these were probably sacrosanct . Paper-millers, however, came to need a specific identification of ownership, which watermarks could no longer provide, and so they adopted a system of ‘house-marks’ pende nt from the base of the principal watermark image. To leave identification beyond doubt, the appendages sometimes included the initials of the owners’ names or a visual representation of the name (e.g. an image of a house for the family name Heusler), but mostly they were constructed from a range of components.

The Bishop’s Crosier watermark embellished with the initials ‘H’ and ‘N’ (in mirror image) and a massive ‘M’. Charles-Moïse Briquet, Les filigranes, 2nd edn, Hacker Art Books, New York, 1966, p. 108 & illus. 1294. k The Bishop’s Crosier watermark embellished with the initials ‘H’ and ‘N’ (in mirror image) and a massive ‘M’. Charles-Moïse Briquet Les filigranes 2nd edn, Hacker Art Books, New York, 1966, p. 108 & illus. 1294. k

The Bishop’s Crosier watermark, with the house-mark appended of the Basel papermaker Hans Düring, in Whistler’s etching and drypoint Annie Haden 1860 in the National Gallery of Australia’s collection.

Whistler’s etching and drypoint Annie Haden 1860 is on paper made by Hans Düring at Basel in 1565 . It embodies the Bishop’s Crosier watermark and a simple house-mark consisting of a Christian cross and three circles (or orbs) denoting the Trinity. In other hands the bingle [what is a bingle?] was more elaborate. Frequently the appendages incorporate shapes similar to numerals or letters. Sometimes the letters are the initials of the manufacturer, but they can also have magical or religious meaning such as ‘M’ for Mary, the Holy Virgin of the Christian church.

The initials ‘H’ and ‘N’ are those of Nicolas Heusler, a descendant in the Basel dynastic family that had originated in Nuremberg. In addition to religious symbols, the components of makers’ marks can represent protective charms against the fears and worries of the proprietor , astrological star signs, membership of craft brotherhoods such as Freemasonry , or esoteric symbols of cults . Some marks dabbled in the occult. Peter Tschudin gives a reproduction of a magical design for damonenbeschworungszeichen, the conjuring up of demons.7

Detail from the house-mark of a paper made by Joseph Jaquot of the Lorraine in 1707. From Peter F Tschudin, Veroffentlichungen des Leipziger Arbeitskreises zur Geschichte des Buchwesens: Schriften und Zeugnisse zur Buchgeschichte, Band 9, Wiesbaden, 1996, p. 232.

Detail from the house-mark of a paper made by Joseph Jaquot of the Lorraine in 1707. From Peter F Tschudin Veroffentlichungen des Leipziger Arbeitskreises zur Geschichte des Buchwesens: Schriften und Zeugnisse zur Buchgeschichte Band 9, Wiesbaden, 1996, p. 232.

Another strangeness is a frequently encountered device that looks like the numeral 4. This faux four is reported to be of ancient origin and came to be known as the ‘Hermes Four’ having evolved as an attribute of Hermes, the Greek Messenger of the Gods who was charged with overseeing a droll trio: merchants, thieves, and vagabonds. In time, Hermes segued into the Roman personage Mercury, whose image is familiar as the air borne young man with winged sandals and a helmet. Mercury, as a divine messenger, carries a message-stick (the caduceus ) entwined by two serpents that safeguard him from evil forces along the way. The ‘4’ symbol was later adopted into Christian iconography, its three sides being utilized to represent the Holy Trinity. 8

Alt hough the four centuries from 1450 to 1850 might seem to have been propitious times for paper-mill dynasts, they were not unalloyed golden years. People throughout much of the period had to contend with chronic religious, civil and military turmoil ; recurrent visitations of the p lague ; a plethora of other grievous maladies, which spared neither young nor old ; variations in product demand ; seasons of poor water supply to power the mills; and fears of intrusive evil forces. The dynasts battled on. They deserve our homage for fostering the ‘Industries of the Book’ persistently and effectively through those capricious times.


Bill Hamilton and Kassandra Coghlan
We thank Chrys and Michael Coghlan for material from Basel, and Goodrun Genée and Hannah Hoyne for translations from the German.


1 Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th edn, W Benton, Chicago, 1974.
OC Watson (ed.), Longmans English Larousse, Longmans Green and Co. Ltd., London, 1968 p. 551.
3 Charles-Moïse Briquet, Les filigranes, 2nd edn, Hacker Art Books, New York, 1966, pp. 14–15.
4 Walter Friedrich Tschudin, The ancient paper-mills of Basle and their marks, The Paper Publications Society, Hilversum, 1958, p. 39.
5 Zoya Vasil'Evna Uchastkina, A history of Russian hand paper-mills and their watermarks, The Paper Publications Society, Hilversum, 1962, p. 56.
6 Briquet, p. 109 & illus. 1308.
7 Peter F Tschudin, Veroffentlichungen des Leipziger Arbeitskreises zur Geschichte des Buchwesens: Schriften und Zeugnisse zur Buchgeschichte, Band 9, Wiesbaden, 1996, p. 235.
8 Peter F Tschudin, p. 233.