the Glyph collector topic got me thinking if there is a study about what kinds of papers and inks were used where in Europe for print prior to the 20th century, and how the printed letter changes over time as the paper ages. My knowledge on the topic is rudimentary, I recon some fonts were developed specifically to be used on cheaper papers and when the kegel is small, but that is as far as I remember.
This is what I know:
– As you know paper was invented by the Chinese, and in the middle ages was introduced in western culture. For printing it was made from linen rags up until about 1840's when the wood pulp formula was invented (and the quality declined considerably).
– Paper made from rags was a huge business and the most important expens in printing. For decades children where "employed" as rag pickers, knocking on well accommodated families and buying old linen clothes, or just finding them in the garbage to use for paper making.
– The history of paper making is fascinating. In the 8th century Arabs conquered Samarkand and had prisoners who where paper-makers. They taught his craft to their new masters and finally found its way to southern Italy (Arab colony at the time). After that it spread all over Europe.
– There is a lot of documentation and books on paper making history and paper mills. You can find some books about the subject and the explanation of how they actually made the paper here: https://www.oakknoll.com/specialties.php?category_id=226&action=browse&orderBy=custom2
– To study and trace where the paper came from today we use watermarks, that are basically the mark of the fabricator. There are a lot of watermark databases onlnine for Europe paper, one of them is this: http://www.watermarks.info/linksi.htm
– Apparently John Baskerville was one of the responsables for making paper better in the 18th century so that he could print his thin strokes with greater detail. This would make Didone typefaces possible in printing.
– I do not know much about inks. "Color sepia was extracted from cuttlefish, purple extracted from mollusks, gold from fish bile, red from cinnabar ore, blue from indigo plants, and yellow from saffron flowers. The black that went into writing inks came mostly from soot or iron salts". But for printing they needed a fatty substance to stick to the metal type, so they used linseed oil colored with carbon soot. Not until the 20th century did petroleum-based inks gain traction. But every printer had its own formula.
There must be a study about how technology changes the shape of type over the years, but unfortunately I do now know it, all this information came from different books.
Hope this helps a little bit,
Maybe if you need something more specific I can help you some more.
Here’s a small part of a lengthy paper I once wrote, discussing the transition from cotton paper to wood pulp paper in the mid-1800s:
“Amazingly, the printing press and the science of typecutting had only minor refinements from the late 1500s to the late 1800s. Towards the end of this period, the industrial revolution brought major innovations in printing technology. Driven particularly (though certainly not exclusively) by the time-sensitive and high-volume newspaper industry, from about 1812 to 1860 printers experimented with alternatives to hand-powered presses, such as horses, water, steam, and electricity. Although initially both dangerous and expensive, by late in the century rotary steam presses (steam 1814, rotary 1868) had largely replaced hand-operated ones, doing the same job in 16 per cent of the time. The new cheaper and faster printing needed more paper, so the limited supply of paper made from cotton rags (essentially recycled from worn-out clothing) gave way to paper made from wood pulp. Similarly, photo-engraving took over from handmade printing plates.”
Forgot to say:
Linen rags became scarce at the beginning of the twentieth century due to its hight cost. That's why they started using cotton rags: it was cheaper, faster to produce and more comfortable to wear.
Couldn't find this in my library so I'm sending an online quote from a serious website:
"The transition from linen to cotton was probably different in every country, but it may have taken place first in England simply because that is where the Industrial Revolution began. It had an overwhelming effect on the textile industry, which was the source of fiber for the paper industry." https://cool.conservation-us.org/byorg/abbey/ap/ap05/ap05-5/ap05-503.html
Something new and cheaper was needed, and gradually wood pulp paper became the new standard. It wasn’t overnight—I am of the impression that it took several decades.
Letter-cutter Richard Austin, in his type specimen, c.1810:
[Harder metal, blacker ink, smoother paper (calendered, i.e. pressed)—informing the work of Baskerville somewhat earlier, as well as the the Didots, etc.]
He addressed the issue of fragility,
“The hair lines being now below the surface of the main strokes of the letters, the Printer, in order to get an impression of all parts of the face, is obliged to use a softer backing, and additional pressure. This … militates against all good printing; for in forcing the paper down to meet the depressed part of the face, it at the same time takes off the impression of part of the sides, as is evident from the ragged appearance of printing from such types.”
The result of his analysis was the Scotch Modern style. Here it can be seen how the pot-hook “exit strokes” of /a and /c remain fine when protected from ink spread by the proximity of the following letter, yet bulk up progressively as more exposed. The effect is even more apparent on the /t. Designed for contextual adjustment!
Of further note:
There may be something relevant to your topic in a Penrose annual—they always had a lot of technical content.