susanah’s journal – papyrus and paper

An extract from the journal of Miss Susanah WELLINGTON (1819-1838) of Yeovil, Somerset. Susanah attended Mrs Eason’s School in Yeovil, she was 14 years old when she transcribed the following lesson into her notebook.

Susanah's lesson on the origins of paper.

Susanah Wellington’s lesson on the origins of paper (1833).

Lesson Notes

The most ancient kind of paper was made from the Papyrus, a species of reed growing on the banks of the Nile, from whence our name paper. Leaves also were employed at a very early age for the purpose of preserving & transmitting the opinions and experiences of mankind; hence originated the word folio, folium being the Latin for leaf & also the meaning of leaves as applied to a book. The use of bark succeeded that of leaves, generally the bark of the lime tree: it was called by the Romans liber & they gave the name of liber to a book & we have adopted the term library for a number of books. For the convenience of carrying, this substance was rolled up, and in this form it was denominated volumen from which is clearly derived our volume. Our Saxon ancestors employed the bark of the birch, which they termed boc & which we have transferred to our book.

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Detail from the Ebers Papyrus (C1550 BCE) from Ancient Egypt.

Detail from the Ebers Papyrus (circa 1550 BC) from Ancient Egypt. [Wikimedia Commons]

As a graphic designer and typographer, I find this lesson from 1833 very interesting. I remember learning about this in the first year of my composition and typography apprenticeship in 1983.


Following on from Susanah’s lesson, I’m including some printing and bookbinding terms.

A sheet of paper is known as a leaf. One side of a leaf is a page. A sheet of paper folded in half is a folio (4 pages). Several folios collected together for stitching as part of the bookbinding process make up a signature. The signature is formed from a printed sheet of paper that has been folded in half, quarters or eighths to create a set of pages in proper order for reading. Multiple signatures that are folded, collated and trimmed make up a book.

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Sources: Susanah Wellington’s Journal, BUCK family collection. You can read more about it here: susanah’s journal – somerset to sydney.