The Value of Paper


We cannot imagine a life without paper today. Paper and the printing press have made knowledge widely available, but this was not always the case. Here, you will learn about the evolution of paper use through the ages, the significance of manuscripts and scribes, and the alteration of scripts due to the interpretation of manuscripts, by writers from different eras.

Paper – From Scarce Resource to Daily Commodity

In this section, we will look at how paper became a common resource from its former status as a limited, scarce one. This evolution happened over the course of one millennium, specifically from 750 A.D. to 1750 A.D. In the 13th century, a shortage of paper forced scholars and scribes to reuse unwanted pages from written manuscripts when writing new materials. Availability dramatically improved during the 14th century, and the people of the time often used unwanted paper to wrap up food items they would buy from markets.

Thus, we can see the value of paper diminish, the once scarce resource becoming a daily commodity within the span of a century. Similarly, we are going to study about the usage of paper in documentation.

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Through the ages, paper’s availability became more widespread, and with the advent of the printing press, there was an information explosion. Suddenly, the commoner had easy access to literature and scripture, where before, it was restricted to the affluent sections of society – and monasteries, and temples.

The millennium spanning 750 AD to 1750 AD

  • Written documentation became the default method of communicating information.

  • Paper became less expensive to produce.

  • Paper became the default medium of distributing scripture, biographies and chronicles of rulers, letters, and teachings of saints, and for governmental record keeping.

  • The advent of the printing press made paper a mainstream commodity, where before it was a limited resource restricted to the noblemen and aristocracy.

Value of Paper in Documentation

In the time span between the 13th and 14th centuries, paper became cheaper to produce, becoming a commodity of utility, rather than being accessible to only the wealthy. On a broader scale, the millennium spanning 750 AD to 1750 AD saw a considerable increase in the number of textual records, as a source of information.

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Paper became the backbone of distributing religious scripture, biographies and chronicles of rulers, letters, and teachings of saints, in addition to being the default medium for governmental and administrative record keeping. The printing press was invented in 1436 by Johannes Gutenberg, and made publishing a mainstream discipline, and the common man suddenly had access to a treasure trove of information he did not have prior. Before the advent of the printing press, owning manuscripts was a luxury and was restricted to the noblemen and aristocracy of society.

How Scribes and Paper Influence Literary Tradition and History?

Scribes were held in great prestige at the time. Manuscripts were hand written and were a laborious endeavor. Issues with interpretation, whether due to language barriers, improper communication from the original author, or due to simple issues like bad handwriting, created changes that were introduced to texts as they were copied through the generations. Comparing various versions became the only way to determine the original author’s intended meaning.

An illustration of this can be seen in the Persian and Arabic languages. Both use the same script. Nastaliq is a style of cursive Arabic, and is believed to have been favored by Mughal ruler, Akbar. The Shikaste is denser and more difficult.

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Various Uses of Paper

  • Notebook production.
  • Publication of books/magazines.
  • Publication of newspapers.
  • Production of packaging materials.
  • Publication of flyers, brochures, envelopes, etc.

As you can see, paper is used for the distribution, documentation, and publication of information. It is used for shipping and wrapping up goods and materials that are to be delivered elsewhere. It is also used for advertisements, like brochures from clothing stores, and delivery menus from restaurants.

Paper has the role of connecting civilization together, through the distribution of information. Paper has for a long time, been the default medium for written and printed communications.

Paper Production Process

Paper traces its origins back to China, approximately 1900 years ago, and was invented by Cai Lun.

Plant fibers, cloth, rope, and barks of trees were immersed in water, then pressed, drained, and laid out to dry to make paper. Hand manufactured paper still adheres to a similar production process. Paper manufacturing was a highly guarded trade secret for a long time in history. After China, it was Korea that saw the advent of paper 1400 years ago. Baghdad saw the advent of paper 1800 years ago. Paper is believed to have spread out from Baghdad to other parts of the world.

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  • Paper was invented in China, approximately 1900 years ago, by Cai Lun.
  • The millennium spanning 750AD to 1750AD saw many major developments, including paper becoming a mainstream commodity.
  • The printing press, invented in 1436 by Johannes Gutenberg made publishing mainstream, making literature accessible to everybody.
  • Plant fibers, cloth, rope, and barks of trees were immersed in water, then pressed, drained, and laid out to dry to make paper.


Q1. Was paper always a mainstream commodity?

Ans. No. Paper was scarce in the 13th century, and scribes used to reuse unwanted pages from manuscripts. Paper became more common in the 14th century, where unwanted pages were even used to wrap food in markets.

Q2. From which location did paper spread out to the rest of the planet?

Ans. Paper reached the rest of the world from Baghdad, 1800 years ago.

Q3. Why did the author’s intended meaning get changed as manuscripts were handed down through generations?

Ans. The author’s intended meaning was altered due to language barriers, due to a lack of proper communication from the author, due to the writer’s interpretation of the author’s intended meaning. The alteration in the meaning was due to a gap in proper communication, and due to the multiple variants of the manuscript, the language changed with the passage of time.

Q4. To which country does paper trace its origins to?

Ans. Paper traces its origins back to China, and it was discovered by Cai Lun.

Q5. When was the printing press invented?

Ans. The printing press was invented in 1436, by Johannes Gutenberg.

Updated on: 13-Oct-2022


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