Monday, March 17, 2008

Cotton Rags and Crane Paper

Cotton rags and Crane paper have been inseparable for more than 200 years. Cotton rags were among the first raw materials used for papermaking in China, and they continue to be a mainstay for Crane to this day. There's a reason for this. Cotton rags make the finest-quality paper available - with a crisp rattle and a soft feel. Cotton rags are pure cellulose, the stuff of which paper is made. There are no contaminants; no need for the harsh chemical treatments required for other raw materials, so letters written on cotton rag paper will last for generations to come.

The cotton rags used to make Crane papers have a couple of additonal benefits as we attempt to become more environmentally responsible in our paper purchases. Crane's cotton rags are a recovered resource, diverted from the solid-waste stream, and they are completely tree-free.

Back in February of 1801, 23-year-old Zenas Crane and his two partners had just signed the deed to purchase land and water rights on the Housatonic River in Dalton, Mass., and were preparing to build their first mill once the Berkshire weather cooperated. They had everything they needed except perhaps the most valuable of commodities - cotton and linen rags. Back then, linen was a common material used to make garments, and was used either together with cotton rags or separately for an all-linen sheet. From Worcester, out in the middle of the state, Zenas and his partners sent advertisement copy to Phinneas Allen, publisher of the Pittsfield Sun, a local newspaper, asking the womenfolk of the area to save their rags. Here is their first ad.

We must assume that this eloquent request was indeed met with "due encouragement," as the mill began making Crane's first papers as soon as the ice was off the river.
The original building constructed in Dalton was a one-vat mill. The main part was two stories, with the upper part used as a drying loft. The mill had a daily output of 20 posts - a post being 125 sheets of paper.

After the mill got into production, it wasn't long before housewives learned the thrift of saving their rags. They left them at one of a series of pickup points throughout the area to be gathered by one of the three partners. Eventually, rags became so valuable that they became a form of barter currency along with meat, produce and dairy products.
Business quickly evolved into a good-news, bad-news scenario for young Zenas. He was an excellent salesman, making successful forays to Albany, N.Y. and Boston and all points in between. And his mill was turning out the most favored papers in these markets. That's the good news. The bad news was that every new order accentuated the need for more rags than local houseswives could supply.

In desparation, Zenas contacted a dealer in New York City, who could ship rags to Dalton up the Hudson River by packet boat to Troy and then from Troy to Dalton in horse-drawn wagons. Eventually, the scraps from textile mill would come all the way from Europe. The first indication of a successful delivery is in a letter from Zenas to his dealer in June of 1811:

"Our wagons arrived late last night from Troy with eleven bales of rags consigned to us by the sloop John Hancock. Upon examination, the contents met with our approval, and they promise ready conversion into our paper."

Thus began a long tradition of purchasing cotton rags from garment manufacturers. For almost two centuries, they have proved to be the highest-quality supply of cotton rags, as they are perfectly clean and easily sorted by color and grade early in the recovery process.

Each year, garment manufacturers produce millions of pounds of trimings while making all sorts of cotton clothing. These trimmings are destined for the landfill, with the exception of those selected by Crane for making its fine 100% cotton papers. So, just as was the case in 1801, cotton rags are an environmentally responsible raw material, and they just happen to make the finest paper available.

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