Most of our major industries are obliged to resort to exotic products and to pay a heavy tribute to foreign countries on a regular basis.
We feel neither afflicted nor humiliated by this kind of imposition, for most of them benefit those who suffer them more than those who levy them; but we are happy, however, to have to point out a very large industry which, in the manufacture of its finest products, finds in the country all the elements which are indispensable to it.
Is it necessary to say that it is the paper industry that we wish to designate? Yes, because this almost singular fact is ignored not only by consumers, but also by most of the agents who serve as intermediaries between the manufacturer and the buyer.
Printing papers, office papers and wallpapers, all are freed from the necessity of drawing from outside the smallest elements necessary for their most perfect execution.
This is not surprising in the case of the first two types of paper, whose various qualities are obtained by means of rags of thread, cotton or old rope put to pulp and subjected to various purification and bleaching operations.
For painted papers, this may be more surprising; but let it be known that the raw materials used today in their manufacture, gelatin, colours, ultramarine and even German gold, of which foreign industry had long held a monopoly, now come from our factories.
Let us first talk about wallpaper.
This manufacture, originating in China and Japan, was introduced into Europe by the Dutch in the middle of the sixteenth century. It was not until a hundred years later that our first attempts were made; they consisted of the manufacture of a velvety paper, which was a very imperfect imitation of the hangings then in fashion. Trials multiplied in France, England, Holland and Germany, without appreciable progress for this industry; but finally; in 1785, a Parisian, named Réveillon, head of a factory established by him in the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, imagined processes of execution so new and so ingenious that this branch of industry was, so to speak, revolutionized.
He must be considered the true inventor of wallpaper.
After him, Mr. Zuber of Rixheim (Haut-Rhin), whose factory dates from 1797, invented the manufacture of endless rolls, the process of fused dyes, printing by means of copper cylinders, and the apparatus for making striped paper.
Nothing could be more remarkable than the exhibition of this industrialist, who today holds the highest rank among our manufacturers.
His numerous specimens of wallpaper defy all criticism: all are as pure in design as they are rich in colour: the brush alone can reproduce fresher landscapes, trace and execute more delightful pictures. Can industry go further? It seems difficult to us.
The crowd does not cease to admire these marvellous products which Mr. Zuber's colleagues frequently return to visit in a feeling and a spirit of praiseworthy emulation.
The jury awarded Mr. Zuber the first gold medal.
This is a just appreciation of the eminent merit that the objects exhibited by him bring to light.
But for the impetus he has given in France, and the progress he has made in the manufacture of wallpaper, is this a sufficient reward?
If of the six gold medals awarded to the wallpaper industry, France has obtained five, if of the six silver medals it has been awarded four, such a result must be partly attributed to the impetus which M. Zuber has given to this industry in which France has no serious rivalry to fear today.
We are convinced that M. Rizault and MM. Stoock frères of Paris feel the same way, and that they do the same justice as we do to the colleague with whom they have shared the honours of the gold medal.
In no other industry has the superiority of France been so eloquently noted.
Thus 22 exhibitors competed, and 18 obtained a medal or were honourably mentioned.
Mr. A. Surgers of Paris, whose luxury hangings and papers in relief attracted the attention of the jury, seemed especially worthy of a high award for the invention and improvement of the process of striking gold and velvet.
The silver medal awarded to him was doubly deserved by him.
The paper decorations for walls and ceilings, the imitations of cardboard-stone, old embossed leather and woodwork, exhibited by Messrs Balin frères; the imitations of fabrics in wallpapers by Messrs Follot and Panpette, the papers for various hangings by Messrs Riotto and Pacon earned them the same distinction.
Paris is the great centre of this rich industry. One hundred and thirty factories crammed into the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, which was the cradle of this manufacture in France, employ nearly five thousand workers. The annual production there reaches a figure of more than 28 million.
Rixheim, Lyon, Tours and Le Mans also contribute very honourably to the development of this industry, whose improvements should benefit the well-being of the less fortunate classes.
Among the progress made in the past twelve years in the wallpaper industry, we should mention: the development of mechanical printing processes which, limited in the past to the use of three colours, now successfully apply up to twenty; the introduction and popularisation of the so-called "foncer" machines; the invention of a host of brand new types, and the application of very rich colours whose discovery is due to modern science.
Our printing paper manufacturers have achieved infinitely more modest success. We understand this.
In these times, mass production is cheap, and everything is sacrificed to the necessities of daily consumption: so very few books are made, and thousands of newspapers, magazines, circulars, and prospectuses are printed by steam, all on no-name paper, and with ink that Mr. Morris would often find too inferior for the printing of his theatre posters.
Our paper mills, to which the printing press only makes express recommendations in very rare and quite exceptional cases, would long ago have given up the production of choice kinds, had not the great houses of Paris, which trade in luxury stationery, kept them in the way of good manufacture, by the importance and regularity of their orders, and above all if the entire public administration, the bureaucracy of the highest and lowest regions, had not preserved the old traditions and demanded, for its usual service, supplies of a quite exceptional quality.
We must recognise that it has made the greatest contribution to the maintenance and progress of one of our great national industries, and we would be ill-advised, under the vain pretext that we are paying for its munificence, to discuss the enormous amount of money it devotes annually to such encouragement.
Among the Paris houses which exhibited luxury papers, there are four to which the jury awarded the silver medal, the highest distinction that has been given individually in class 7; these are Messrs Marion, Maquet, Bécoulet and Legrand.
There is nothing more elegant, more beautiful and more attractive than the products exhibited by them: they achieve everything that good Parisian taste can dream of. Where can one find more beautiful and finely textured laid paper, a greater variety of envelopes, more richly decorated writing paper and notes? Imagination applied to the smallest objects, can achieve wonders and make the most vulgar things the fruitful elements of an immense industrial production; this is the prodigy that these exhibitors have accomplished; and as, without being factory managers, they all direct the manufacture of the luxury papers that they use, and as they show an intelligence and a tireless ability to satisfy all the fantasies and all the whims of our taste, we find the distinction that they have obtained more than deserved.
©L'Exposition Universelle de 1867 Illustrée