Definition of term:: Watermarks

  • John Carter about watermarks: "A distinguishing mark or device incorporated in the wire mesh of the tray in which the pulp settles during the process of papermaking, and visible in the finished product when held against the light. The maker’s name or initials, the place or date of manufacture, if added, were more apt to be embodied in the countermark, a subsidiary and smaller unit introduced in the 17th century, generally placed in the opposite half of the sheet to the watermark proper. Dates in watermarks are found in French paper from the 17th century, but are rare in England before 1794 when they were made obligatory (34 Geo. III c. 20); they should, however, be treated with caution as evidence of date, since the law only required the presence of a date, not that it should be changed annually. The presence of a watermark is normal in laid paper, less often found in wove paper used for book printing. Watermarks provide valuable evidence of the make-up of a book; and they are often helpful pointers to the existence of a cancel or the cunning insertion of an alien leaf. C. M. Briquet and Edward Heawood pioneered the tracing and recording of watermarks on datable sheets of paper (mainly archival), and the serried volumes of Monumenta Historiae Papyraceae and Piccard are now the paper historians’ standby. A photographic record is far more accurate than tracing; beta-radiography, in particular, has been used for forty years as a means of photographing watermarks without impedance from the text; other less expensive and more rapid methods, such as dye-line prints and X-radiography, are being developed. The pioneer of indexing watermarks was Briquet; but the whole technique of photographing, identifying and dating them is still in process of evolution."
French: Filigrane
German: Wasserzeichen
Source: John Carter, ABC for Book Collectors. 7th edition. With Corrections, Additions and an Introduction by Nicolas Barker. Oak Knoll Press 1995