Thursday, November 16, 2006

Christine Merrill: Paper, paper, paper

One of the great things about writing any book, and historicals in particular, is all the interesting things you get to learn, while researching.

While working on The Inconvenient Duchess, I spent some time researching the history of paper, looking for a way to make my heroine’s family letters easily traceable. Distinctive watermarks seemed to be the way to go.

It’s always a relief to find the thing you need has been invented before the Regency. Watermarks have been around since the 1200’s, but I found a source of watermark information much closer to my period.

W. Green Son & Waite Ltd began as a wire drawing and weaving company in the mid 1700’s, and have a lovely site on the history of watermarks. Early paper was made a sheet at a time and dried on a wire mesh frame. If a raised design was woven into the mesh, it created the thinner spots on the paper that appear as watermarks when you hold the paper up to the light.

A watermark will lead you back to the manufacturer of the paper, since most papermakers had their own watermark. It might lead you to the owner of the paper, or tell you what the paper was used for, since stamps, money and legal documents sometimes have distinctive watermarks to guarantee authenticity. And if you ever read about a character using foolscap, this is referring to paper that is 8½ × 13½, which often had a cap and bells watermark.

And, in keeping with my interest in distinctive correspondence, I made sure that my hero, Marcus had a signet ring, which would have had his family coat of arms engraved on it. The poor man must have thought his new wife was a bit daft to want to wear it, since she should have known he’d need it back to seal the wax on his letters.

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