Whatman paper is considered to be one of the finest English handmade papers of the 18th century. The elder James Whatman began to produce good quality white paper at his Turkey Mill in Kent around 1740. Until this time England was largely dependent on the importation of paper from neighbouring countries such as Holland, France and Germany.
James Whatman was born in 1702, in Loose, a village just outside Maidstone in Kent. The Maidstone area was one of the most important papermaking centres in England.1 Whatman built Old Mill Hollingbourne in 1733, but did not become well known as a papermaker until 1740, when he acquired Turkey Mill, through marriage to Ann Harris, the widow of Richard Harris.
Whatman’s initial trade, passed on from his father, was as a tanner. Balston explains in The elder James Whatman: England’s greatest papermaker (1702–1759) that the Whatman family was connected to the Harris family of ancient papermakers for several generations, not by blood but through friendship.2
There were two James Whatmans at the Turkey Mill. The elder James Whatman died in 1759, at which point his son James Whatman II took over the business. Father and son were instrumental in the technological advancement of papermaking. The elder James Whatman developed wove paper between 1754 and 1757, at the request of William Baskerville, a renowned printer who wanted a more even surface to print on than the laid papers then available. The younger James Whatman developed the mill, and it became one of the largest European suppliers of good quality writing, watercolour and printing paper.3
James Whatman II had a stroke in 1759, following which his assistant William Balston and the Hollingsworth Brothers became the main papermakers at Turkey Mill. These papermakers were given rights to the Whatman name after 1807. The Whatman countermark the Hollingsworth Brothers used to distinguish their paper from Balston’s included the inscription ‘TURKEY MILLS’ or‘TURKEY MILL’.4
This top section of a forged Whatman watermark was found under the etching Thames warehouses 1859. A genuine Whatman watermark does not have a crossed section in the centre of the letter 'W'. Numerous forgeries of the Whatman watermark are known, displaying varying differences, some subtle and others more obvious. Paper analysis by Peter Bower, who has written extensively on the subject, shows that Whatman watermarks were forged in France, Germany and Austria.5 There are three forged Whatman watermarks in the National Gallery of Australia’s collection of Whistler’s works on paper.
Kassandra Coghlan and Bill Hamilton