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Thaw Conservation Center


Thaw Conservation Center

Jane Austen's Writing – A Technical Perspective

Read more: Intro | Pens and Ink | Papers | Watermarks | Glossary

Watermarks in Jane Austen's Papers
A watermark is an image—often of a name, initials, or decorative motif—that can be detected as a negative image in paper when held up to light. Watermarks can be useful in dating documents, identifying sizes and intended functions of papers, identifying mill trademarks and locations, and determining the quality of a paper. The Morgan's Thaw Conservation Center uses a beta plate to record watermarks. This method uses a low-level radioactive source to penetrate the thin paper and produce a black and white negative—in physical form and appearance it operates very much like a medical x-ray. The beta plate produces an exact copy of the structure of the paper, showing all thick and thin areas as well as the watermark. In some of the beta radiographs seen here, the white spots are the wax seals used to close up the folded letters. The sealing wax, actually colophony resin, is too dense for the beta rays to penetrate.

Among the Austen watermarks recorded, there are numerous variations on the design of an elaborate shield surrounding a post-horn (the horn used by a postman to announce delivery). This style of watermark denoted the function of the paper—standardized according to a specific size and weight to be sent by mail. It is interesting to note that the watermark LVG 1803 seen on a letter dated 1804 (MA 2911.1) is a copy of a Dutch watermark, which was appropriated by many English papermakers to denote a high quality paper. The watermarks recorded on the Morgan's Austen letters can be linked to specific papermaking mills. These marks include:

LVG 1803 (MA 2911.1)
Floyd & Co. Eynsford Mill, Kent (MA 977.2)
Gater 1815 - John and William Gater, Up Mills, West End, South Stoneham, Hants (MA 977.6)
Portal & Co 1797 - Laverstokes, Hants (MA 977.12)
Cater & Co 1808 (wove paper) (MA 977.19)
Ruse & Turners 1815 (wove paper) (MA 977.41); Ruse and Turners 1807 (laid) (MA 977.29) - Upper Tovil Mill, Maidstone, Kent
W. Turner & Son 1810 - William Turner, Chafford Mill, Penshurst, Kent. (MA 977. 35)
John Hall 1814 Cotton Mill, Ringstead, Northamptonshire (MA 977.40)
John Hayes, 1809 - John Hayes, Padsole Mill, Maidstone, Kent (MA 2911.3)
J. Jellyman, 1814 - Joseph Jellyman, Wiltshire (MA 2911.6)

The manuscript of Austen's Lady Susan is a fair copy in Austen's hand, almost free of corrections or revisions. There is no conclusive evidence for the date of composition, but Austen probably wrote Lady Susan in 1794–95. Few of the 158 papers of this manuscript are watermarked. One dated with the mark SHARP / 1805 is seen twice, suggesting that Austen transcribed her earlier draft (which does not survive) between 1805 and 1809, perhaps for possible publication or gift. The only other recorded watermark is a triple circle with an animal inside. The image depicts both the upper and lower halves of the watermark. However, they do not meet up with precision, indicating that the edges of each sheet of paper may have been trimmed. This fair copy was eventually given by Austen to her niece, Fanny Knight, who became Lady Knatchbull.

A Woman's Wit: Jane Austen's Life and Legacy exhibition page »

Read more: Intro | Pens and Ink | Papers | Watermarks | Glossary

Watermark – Beginning in the thirteenth century, watermarks were made by affixing a thin wire, shaped into the desired form, to the wire mesh of the papermaking screen (mould). When the sheet of paper is formed, the watermarked area is thinner (less dense) than the rest of the sheet because the wires blocked the accumulation of fibrous pulp. Fair copy – A copy of a document made after final correction. Colophony, from its origin in Colophon, an ancient Ionic city, is now widely referred to as rosin. Rosin is a solid form of resin obtained from pines and some other plants, mostly conifers, produced by heating fresh liquid resin to vaporize the volatile liquid terpene components.
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The programs of The Morgan Library & Museum are made possible with public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

Background images: Photography by Todd Eberle unless otherwise noted. © 2006 Todd Eberle.