The Children’s Book about Pulp and Paper

Leonard L. Knott — Editorial Associates, 1949 — Pre-ISBN

To boys and girls who are interested in the things around them, including the paper that is used in this book.

What a find! I’m going to have to attend flea markets on a regular basis if I can discover books like this. I love books about paper and printing methods, or book history in general — the older the better. So when I saw this title, with its retro CMYK cover, at the St. Lawrence Market flea market, I knew I had to have it. It looked old and I wanted to see how production methods were described years ago — not to mention figure out why these children were being told about pulp and paper!

The book itself is hardcover and consists of one signature, or set of folded sheets, made up of 32 pages (nowadays books usually print in 16 or even 8-page signatures). The endpapers are custom printed and depict a sort of mural of different paper, printing, and writing methods throughout history. There’s even a blank space with the words “This book belongs to…” where Jeanie Baggs of Montreal filled in her name. (I wonder what she’s doing now?)

The title page (which in this book also doubles as the copyright page) has lots to tell. The “story” (an interesting word choice for a non-fiction book) is written by Leonard L. Knott. A quick search online tells us that Mr. Knott is alive and well and owner of Knott & Associates, a public relations (aha!), marketing communications, and publishing firm.

Also on the title page spread we find the copyright date (1949), as well as an interesting statement: “Prepared with the editorial cooperation of the Canadian Pulp and Paper Association.” Hmmm. And then, “Published by Editorial Associates (Montreal, Boston).” I’d definitely seen the name Editorial Associates before, and that was on Mr. Knott’s personal website. His current company is described as the “successor to Editorial Associates,” which was a public relations firm that “represented major firms and developments” in Canada. So this book was basically intended as promotion for, and to familiarize children with, a major Canadian industry at the time. Good old public relations.

The book begins by relating the story of Charles Fenerty, who is credited with discovering in 1844 that paper can be made from wood pulp, as opposed to from rags. I’ve never heard of him before (and neither have most people, as the book acknowledges), but he is an important character in the history of papermaking, and is also a Canadian connection that the Canadian Pulp and Paper Association I’m sure was keen to promote. The book then goes back in time and relates how ancients Egyptians used papyrus to create paper, and the Chinese were the first to invent paper made from rags c. 100 CE.

But then, interestingly, when it comes time to relate papermaking of the Middle Ages, the book states, “On this [rag] paper the monks and scholars wrote by hand the great books of the Middle Ages.” This is definitely not the case, since most Mediaeval manuscripts were written on parchment or vellum: animal skinthat has been treated and stretched and dried into a thin writing surface. Perhaps the writer thought this to be too gruesome a detail for small children?

This turns out not to be the case. In a later chapter, unfortunately entitled, “Canadian Indians Lost Their History,” we learn that Natives “also decorated their wigwams, made from animals skins, with pictures of trees and animals or Indian gods and forest devils.” Hmmm. And later on, “Just like the cavemen who lived thousands of years ago, the Canadian redmen [yikes!] used a picture language.” (Emphasis and shock mine.) So, the historical use of animal skin is only mentioned in relation to “primitive,” “cavemen-like” cultures that are obviously inferior to those of “white” men because they are based on the oral tradition as opposed to written historical record? I guess so, in 1949?

Unfortunate racist overtones aside, this book is actually quite informative when it comes to the papermaking process. But it’s still an awkward mix of childlike-oversimplification and industry-specific terminology. For example, we learn about an anthropomorphized tree in the woods, who watches as scouts come to the forest to survey and count the number of trees. This little tree obviously looks forward to the day when it will be chopped down and carted off to the lumber mill to become the very pages you hold in your hands!

After this Disney-like display, the book delves into technical processes involved in papermaking, and notes that there are two main types of wood pulp: groundwood or mechanical pulp, and chemical pulp.  Chemically prepared pulp can further be divided into  sulphite pulp, sulphate pulp, and soda pulp. To get newprint, you mix groundwood with sulphite. For paper used in books, you need sulphite pulp alone. You’d think author would then explain what sulphites are, but I guess that’s where they drew the technical limit.

Overall, a curious artifact of industrial self-promotion from a bygone era.


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