Posted by: Nic Butler, Ph.D. | 20 November 2007

Paper Identification 101

As part of PALMCOP‘s annual conference on 15 November 2007, I had the pleasure of presenting a brief overview of paper history that I called “Paper Identification 101.” The motivation behind this program was based on my experience working as an archivist and handling “old papers” on a daily basis. In the line of duty as an archivist, one becomes accustomed to seeing documents from specific eras of American history that have particular characteristics. Over time, one develops some proficiency in assigning an approximate date range to a document based solely on visual and tactile clues. Such knee-jerk assessments are often based on experience more than any specific knowledge, however, so I became curious to find a few more “scientific” explanations for that which I had previously only intuited. So, although I am still not an “expert” in this field, I have recently acquired a bit of specific knowledge of paper history. For the PALMCOP conference, I constructed a PowerPoint slide-show containing an overview of my findings, which I hope might be useful for others in the community. So the next time a friend, colleague, or patron hands you a document and asks you “How old is this?” or “Is this really an 18th-century letter?”, you’ll feel a little more confident about making an intelligent response. Good luck!

Here’s the link to download the “Paper Identification 101” file: paper_id.ppt. It’s nearly nine megabytes, so please be patient with your computer!

Send your questions or comments to me, Nic Butler, at butlern[at]ccpl.org.

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