The First Paper

A History of Paper: The First Paper

We’ve come a long way in manufacturing paper, but we owe a lot to history and the early roots of the paper making industry. Here is a snap shot of what our predecessors went through to share the written word.  And if you’re interested in learning how to make your own paper we have a recipe for you.


Developed in Egypt around 2000 B.C. the Papyrus plant is a smooth-stemmed reed that grows along the Nile to heights of 10 to 15 feet. Papyrus was very useful in Egyptian society and could be used to make many things, one of which was the paper-like material we now call Papyrus.

Papyrus as a material on which to write was made by first stripping the outer stem away from the plant. The inner material was separated and laid side by side on a hard surface. Then another layer was laid over the first in the opposite direction, dampened and then pressed for many hours with a heavy weight. The finished product was then rubbed with a piece of ivory or a stone until the desired finish was obtained and dried. Using the same process, single sheets could be fastened together to form rolls. Papyrus was very durable and thousands of ancient rolls can still be viewed in museums today.


It is thought that various forms of parchment were in use as early as 1500 B.C. Parchment was originally made from the flesh side of animal skins. The skins were cooked in lime, stretched on a frame, scraped smooth to the desired thickness, sprinkled with chalk, rubbed smooth with a pumice stone and then dried. (The finishing process smoothed and softened the leather as well as improved on the color of the finished product.) Parchment is still used for some diplomas and public documents. However, most of what is called Parchment paper today is paper manufactured to emulate the look of original parchment. Southworth Parchment Specialty Paper reproduces the antique look and Old World elegance of original parchment paper.


Unlike parchment, vellum was made using the entire skin of the animal and therefore was less expensive than parchment. Vellum can be distinguished from parchment by the presence of grain and hairmarks on one side of the skin.