At the beginning of the 16th century large quantities of paper were being produced in Europe. The methods of the paper-maker remained constant until early 19th century, when the first paper-making machines were introduced. Gradually, the traditional hand-made paper was superseded by machine-made paper, and by the 1850s there were but a few vats in operation.

The raw material for hand-made paper was linen (rags); the pulp (or stuff) made with the rags was transferred to a vat (an open tub with the capacity of c. 1500 litres) and then mixed with water, creating a solution with the appearance and consistency of liquid porridge. The paper-making team consisted of the vatman – sitting by the vat –, the coucher and the layer, his assistant. Their tools included a pair of oblong moulds, a deckle, rectangular pieces of felt (slightly larger than the moulds) and a standing press. The (twin) moulds, were rectangular wire sieves mounted on wooden frames, and the deckle was a removable wooden rim which could be fitted to either mould. The vatman would dip the deckle and mould into the solution in the vat and, after the water drained away between the wires of the sieve, the resulting deposit on top of the mould would be a sheet of uniform texture. The mould (without the deckle) would then be passed to the coucher who, in turn, would pass the other (empty) mould to the vatman, so the process could be repeated with the twin mould. In the meantime, the coucher was turning the first mould on to a piece of felt to deposit the sheet of paper, and then passing it back to the vatman. This process would be repeated until the heap of alternate felts and paper sheets would result in a post (up to 144 sheets). The layer would then take this post to the standing press to get rid of the water. Finally, the paper would be separated from the felts and hung up to dry. To make it impermeable, a gelatine made of vellum or boiled leather shavings was used (and later with the addition of alum). If the paper was intended for writing on, it was smoothed by rubbing or hammering. The finished paper was sorted into quires and reams.


Producing hand-made paper.  

Interior view of the “Le Carte” mill; first half of the 20th century. Museo della Carta di Pescia, Fondo fotografico “Carlo Magnani” – Archivio Storico Magnani.


This process means that watermarks always go in pairs, corresponding to the two moulds: whenever possible (depending on the number of leaves available for analysis), both the Watermark (WM) and the corresponding Twinmark (TM) will be described. 

All paper before approximately 1756 was ‘laid’ – that is, made in moulds, the bottoms of which consisted of wires parallel to the longer dimension (the laid wires) and crossed perpendicularly at wider intervals by heavier chains. These moulds produced laid paper with visible chain lines (about 25-35 millimetres apart) and laid lines (very close together, one millimetre or less). After that date, with the introduction of moulds containing a finely woven wire mesh, ‘wove’ paper (which bears no easily discernible crossing lines) was possible, though it did not come into wide use until near the end of the century. 

Watermarks – pictures or letters fashioned in wire and sewn with knots of fine wire to the mould – first appeared during the 13th century as the personal or trade marks of individual paper-makers or mills. Its use soon became widespread, and by the 15th century watermarks would usually be placed at the centre of one of the halves of the oblong sheet of paper. During the next two centuries, mills started adding initials and/or other symbols, which soon became an extra mark on the other half of the mould (the countermark). Much like the chain and laid lines, the design of the wires making up the watermark is also visible on the sheet of paper (where it is slightly thinner), and it is likewise called watermark.

Almost all the music paper is in two formats: folio (when the sheet of paper is folded only once, resulting in 2 leaves or 4 pages) and quarto (when the sheet of paper is folded twice, resulting in 4 leaves or 8 pages). In the first case, the paper remains uncut and the watermark (and countermark) will usually appear near the centre of each leaf. In the second case, the sheet of paper will be cut once: if cut along the short axis it results in upright quarto (mainly vocal parts), if cut along the long axis it results in oblong quarto format. If watermark and countermark are placed at the centre of each half of the sheet, cutting along the long axis will result in both being divided in two parts. This is apparent in quite a few images of watermarks and countermarks. The blank space between the (now united) two parts means that the paper was trimmed.

For the description of watermarks and twinmarks, a semantic logic was followed, departing from Alan Tyson’s convention of always describing the watermark from the mould side (the side in contact with the mould). The traditional ‘feel method’ is unreliable: the mould side is often very difficult to ascertain and, sometimes, practically impossible. 

One of the conventions conceived (and coined) by Tyson that is followed here is selenometry, used whenever there are three crescents present: the two measurements, xy and xz (see images), will allow quick comparisons between three crescents that might otherwise look identical. 

                                                            WM0036, xy: 15 mm, xz: 80 mm


                                                             WM0007, xy: 9 mm, xz: 88 mm


After a failed attempt to photograph watermarks using an infra-red filter, the chosen method for the production of the digital images of watermarks was the subtraction method with two images: one with direct light and another with transmitted light (using a light sheet behind the leaf). The basic tool needed for the subtraction operation is a software called MATLAB. The resulting image after subtraction – where the writing on the reverse side will still be visible – will then be post-processed using Photoshop. The post-processing method was developed by Johannes Hornbachner and a detailed description of the whole method can be seen at How to create the watermark images.

The GIF on the top left-hand corner of this page, is a simple illustration of the three phases of the watermark images method: 1. Image taken with transmitted light (from behind); 2. After subtraction using MATLAB; 3. After post-processing using Photoshop (final image).

Besides the selenometry measurements (whenever there are 3 crescents), and the images with the watermark, countermark, sidemark and a proportional view of the whole sheet of paper, the height of the watermark, the chain lines distance (for laid paper) and, if known, the name of the paper mill and/or country will also be given. 

Additional information is in the notes: other variants of the same watermark (with the exact same elements), whether it is wove paper, the parts containing the watermark, and bibliography (see below). MarP ### (Mar[ques]P[ortugal]) refers to the watermark in the catalogue pertaining to the sacred works of Marcos Portugal (‘Apêndice B - Marcas de água e tipos de papel‘ in António Jorge Marques, A obra religiosa de Marcos António Portugal [...]; see BIBLIOGRAPHY below). 

The ID of a watermark will be, for example, WM0012, and the respective twinmark TM0012. For the description of watermarks, countermarks and sidemarks (marginal or corner marks) the following signs were used: '/’ means ‘over’, and ‘< >’ means ‘containing’. For example: ‘crowned shield<horn>/GM’ translates as ‘crowned shield containing a horn over the letters GM’. 

Any link (in orange) can be accessed in a new tab or window using the right button of the mouse.

Watermarks filters: 

  1. Motif (researchable on all pages through the General Search on the left: write the word 'watermark' and then the motif to be searched);
  2. Watermark (or twinmark) ID (researchable on all pages through the General Search on the left);
  3. Chain lines distance (researchable on the Watermarks page, at the top);
  4. Date interval (10 years) (researchable on the Watermarks page, at the top);
  5. Height (researchable on the Watermarks page, at the top);
  6. Paper mill (researchable on the Watermarks page, at the top);
  7. Selenometry (both xy and xz) (researchable on the Watermarks page, at the top);
  8. Watermarks/countermarks/sidemarks descriptions (motifs, letters, etc) (researchable on the Watermarks page, at the top);
  9. Any combination of 3. to 8..