Paper mill | notes
It has also become universal to talk of paper "mills" (even of 400 such mills at
Fez!), relating these to the hydraulic wonders of Islamic society in the east and west. All our evidence points to non-hydraulic hand production, however, at springs away from rivers which it could pollute.
European papermaking differed from its precursors in the mechanization of the process and in the application of water power.
Jean Gimpel, in The Medieval Machine (the English translation of La Revolution Industrielle du Moyen Age), points out that the Chinese and Arabs used only human and animal force. Gimpel goes on to say : "This is convincing evidence of how technologically minded the Europeans of that era were. Paper had traveled nearly halfway around the world, but no culture or civilization on its route had tried to mechanize its manufacture."'
Indeed, Muslim authors in general call any "paper manufactory" a wiraqah - not a "mill" (tahun)
Al-Hassan and Hill also use as evidence the statement by Robert Forbes in his multivolume Studies in Ancient Technology that "in the tenth century [AD] floating mills were found on the Tigris near Baghdad." Though such captive mills were known to the Romans and were used in 12th-century France, Forbes offers no citation or evidence for this unlikely application to very early papermaking. The most erudite authority on the topography of medieval Baghdad, George Makdisi, writes me that he has no recollection of such floating papermills or any papermills, which "I think I would have remembered."
Donald Hill has found a reference in al-Biruni in the 11th century to stones "fixed to axles across running water, as in Samarkand with the pounding of flax for paper," a possible exception to the rule. Hill finds the notice "too brief to enable us to say with certainty" that this was a water-powered triphammer.
Thomas Glickwarily concludes that "it is assumed but not proved" that Islamic Xàtiva had hydraulic papermills, noting that the pertinent Arabic description was "a press." Since the "oldest" Catalan paper is physically the same as Islamic Xàtiva's, he notes, their techniques "can be presumed to have been identical" - reasonable enough for Catalan paper before 1280. My recent conversations with Glick indicate that he now inclines to non-hydraulic Andalusi papermaking.
Currently Oriol Valls i Subin't, director of the History of Paper department of the Museos Municipales de Historia in the Instituto Municipal de Historia at Barcelona, has popularized a version of that thesis, in which Christian paper mills multiplied marvelously along the Catalan rivers "from Tarragona to the Pyrenees" from 1113 to 1244. His many articles and two books, valuable for such topics as fiber analysis in medieval paper, continue to spread this untenable and indeed bizarre thesis. As Josep Madurell i Marimon shows in detail, these were all in fact cloth fulling mills; textiles were then the basic mechanized industry of the Christian west.
Fabriano's claim rests on two charters - a gift of August 1276, and a sale of November 1278, to the new Benedictine congregation of Silvestrine monks at Montefano. In each, a woman recluse-hermit gives to the monastery her enclosure or "prison" - Latin carcer; misread by Fabriano partisans as a form of Italian cartiera or paper mill! There is no papermaking in these documents, much less hydraulic mills.