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The Importance of the Bologna Stone & Historical Paper Sizes

The city of Bologna is home to one of the oldest universities in the world. The University was founded in 1088 and, as one might have expected, over the centuries provided work for a host of specialist suppliers including bookbinderies.

In 1389 the Republic of Bologna, issued a statute that set out regulations for production of books including the size of paper of paper that could be made. Paper dimensions were fixed in stone ..literally so that anyone could quickly check to see whether the paper was correct.

According to Museo Civico Medievale, Bologna the Bologna stone shows four standard sizes :

50.5x 73.5 cm; 44.5 x 61 cm; 34.5 x 50 cm; 31.5 x 44.5 cm.,

The statutes themselves do not spell out the sizes of these standard sheets, rather they specify the weight of a ‘ream’ of a set size. This may well have been a way of trying to regulate the thickness of the sheet whilst acknowledging that the size of a handmade sheet, even when made on the same paper mould, can vary due to changes in humidity & pulp characteristics.

Paul Needham, reported in 1988, (The study of paper from an archival point of view’, IPH Yearbook, vol. 7, 1988, pp).“In the first several centuries if European paper-making, there seem with few exceptions to have been only four sizes, whose approximate dimensions may be given as follows:

Chancery: ca. 32 x 45 cm Median: ca. 35 x 52 cm

Royal: ca. 43 x 62 cm Imperial: ca. 49 x 74 cm.”

However at some point in the 16th & 17th C the number of different sizes began to increase. For example an inventory of papers offered in 1674 to Dr John Fell, of the Oxford University Press lists paper of varying sizes & their variation sizes that would become known as super royal, royal, medium, demy, crown, foolscap & pot.

Looking back to the Bologna sizes, one can equate super royal with the Bolognese imperialle, royal with realle, demy with meçane, foolscap with reçute.

Even today at Griffen Mill we still make Royal & Imperial size sheets. 

Copyright Griffen Mill 2019