On April 28, 1800 Pomeranian-English papermaker Mathias Koops was granted English patent no. 2392 for Extracting Ink from Paper and Converting such Paper into Pulp. Within the patent Koops described his process as "An invention made by me of extracting printing and writing ink from printed and written paper, and converting the paper from which the ink is extracted into pulp, and making thereof paper fit for writing, printing, and other purposes." This was the first patented process for recycling paper, and it is also possibly the first patent received for a recycling process that was— much later— widely used.
Also in 1800 Koops, whose scholarly and inventive attributes seem to have exceeded his business acumen, published the first edition of Historical Account of the Substances which Have Been Used to Describe Events, and to Convey Ideas from the Earliest Date to the Invention of Paper — a serious account of the history of materials used for recording information. To promote his venture to produce paper from materials other than linen rags— The Straw Paper Manufactory— Koops had the first edition of his book printed entirely on yellow paper made from straw. The following year he had part of the second edition, essentially identical to the first, printed on straw, but he also had a portion of the second edition printed on recycled paper, with the exception of the frontispiece image of the papyrus plant, which was printed on straw in both versions of the second edition. He characterized this recycled paper as "Printed on Paper Re-Made from Old Printed and Written Paper." The paper used was of the wove type, without any watermarks. The copies printed on recycled paper were the first books ever printed on recycled paper, and may have remained the only books printed on recycled paper for a century or more; I have been unable to find any study of this topic.
The appendix of all copies of Koops's second edition (pp. 259-73) was printed on paper made from wood pulp. Printing on paper made from wood fibers may have been first shown in Jacob Christian Schaäffer's Versuche und Muster ohne all Lumpen oder doch mit eniem geringen Zusatze derselben Papier zu machen (1765-71), and it is probable that Koops got the idea for producing this paper from Schäffer's work. My copy of the 1801 edition of Koops's book shows that his recycled paper was of excellent quality; his wood pulp paper somewhat less so, since that final gathering of my copy has browned but remains sound.
From the name of Koops's enterprise—The Straw Paper Manufactory— it is evident that he considered the production of paper from materials other than linen rags to be more commercial than the paper recycling process he invented. One of his patents for the production of paper of this type was "Manufacturing paper from straw, hay, thistles, waste and refuse of hemp and flax, and different kinds of wood and bark. British Patent number 2481 published 17 February 1801."
In 1802 printer Charles Whittingham of London issued a 2-volume edition of The Mathematical and Philosophical Works of the Right Rev. John Wilkins, Late Lord Bishop of Chester. To Which is Prefixed the Author's Life, and an Account of His Works. In Papermaking: The History and Technique of an Ancient Craft (1947) Dard Hunter stated on p. 525 that this was "probably the earliest use of bleached wood-pulp paper in English book production." It is possible that his paper was made by Koops. However, it is quite different from the wood pulp paper used as the appendix for Koops' 1801 edition as the paper in the 1802 Wilkins is thicker,with a rougher text, and has not browned. It does however have several flaws and would appear to be of an experimental nature. If Koops did produce the paper used in Whittingham's 1802 edition of Wilkins it is likely that he changed the process between 1801 and 1802. One should note that although Koops' process involved innovative technology it remained a process of making paper by hand as the Robert / Gamble papermaking machine was not in operation by 1802.
". . . By 1800 Koops had experience of manufacturing from waste paper at Neckinger mill in Bermondsey, . . .
"Having proved the possibility of making good paper from such materials, Koops set up a company, the Straw Paper Manufactory, raised over £70,000 by issue of shares, and in 1801 erected a paper-making mill at Millbank in Westminster. Contractors for the machinery included John Rennie, the engineer, and the firm of Boulton and Watt. This paper mill was easily the largest in the country. The enterprise, however, was over-ambitious and under-capitalized. Koops himself was the principal shareholder in the venture and on the strength of this offered to satisfy his creditors. His failure to discharge his bankruptcy by 1802 compelled Koops's creditors to issue a writ, inter alia, for seizure of the Straw Paper Manufactory's assets, and in the end its proprietors could not keep the enterprise solvent. The Millbank paper mill and its equipment were eventually offered for sale by auction in October 1804, thereby ending the possibility of England challenging the European paper industry by using more easily available materials for making paper" (Oxford DNB).
As I indicated above, I have been unable to find any thorough study of the earliest history of recycled paper, of or Koops's business activities, and it is probable that most of the history is unwritten. However, on April 12, 2014 I received an email from my friend and colleague Ove Hagelin in Stockholm, which may provide a clue to elements of the history previously unrecorded. Ove Hagelin wrote:
"When cataloguing the odontological collection at the Hagströmer Library I found this very special edition of a popular dentistry book that may be of interest for paper historians:
A Treatise on the Teeth: Wherin an Accurate Idea of their Structure is given, the Cause of their Decay Pointed out, an their Various Diseases enumerated; to .which is added, the most effectual method of treating the Disoriders of the Teeth and Gums, established by a long and successful Pratcice, by the Chevalier Ruspini, . . . The Tenth Edition + (with separate title-leaf) A Concise Relation of the Effects of an Extraordinary Styptic lately discovered; in a Series of Letters, from Several Gentlemen of the faculty, abd from the Patients. To Chevalier Ruspini, Surgeon-Dentist to His Royal Highness The prince of Wales.London, printed for the Author, and may be had at his house in Pall-Mall; . . . 1802. (Reynell, Printer, Piccadilly). 8vo - leaf: 192 x 120 mm. Pp iv, 5-52 + (A Concise Relation): pp -128. The first five sheets (A-E4, pp 1-40, are printed on yellow paper made from straw watermarked:
PATENT STRAW PAPER
"The rest of the book is printed on white paper but at head of page 42 there is a printed rubric reading “Regenerated Paper”, followed by the description of Case 1, dealing with a Lady of Kent., but there is nothing written about the paper.
"I have tried to trace more copies of this “Tenth Edition”, dated 1802, but in vain. The book was very popular and no less than 13 editions appeared between 1768 and 1813. Richard Aspin at Wellcome has checked for me that their 1797 edition is printed on normal rag paper. I have also noticed in the British Library catalogue a copy of the 1780? edition printed on “tinted paper”??
"Can Ruspini, a most ingenious surgeon & dentist, also be a new name to add to the pioneers manufacturing his own paper or could he have bought it from Koop’s paper mill and had it watermarked by his name: CHEVALIER RUSPINI PALL MALL PATENT STRAW PAPER ?"
Prior to receipt of Ove Hagelin's email I was unfamiliar with the Italian-born British surgeon-dentist and philanthropist Bartholomew Ruspini
, who is remembered, in addition to his dental work, for co-founding the Royal Masonic School for Girls
in the small town of Rickmansworth
, England. Though at this point we cannot know for certain, the timing of Ruspini's edition, so close to Koops's introduction of paper made from straw and of recycled paper, would suggest that Ruspini purchased his paper from Koops. It is also possible that Ruspini, who may have been concerned that his small book would be pirated, ordered paper from Koops with a special watermark to distinguish this edition from piracies, or just to show how special the paper was. Incidentally, a fine portrait of Ruspini with his family, painted by Nathaniel Hone I
, is preserved in The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh. In April 2014 a reproduction was available from the BBC "Your Paintings" at this link
Hunter, The Literature of Papermaking 1390-1800 (1925) 48.
Hunter, Papermaking: The History and Technique of an Ancient Craft (1947) 333; see also 332-35.
(This entry was last revised on 04-21, 2016.)