Paper: The Fifth Wonder

[Alyson Kuhn] I recently received a used copy of Paper: The Fifth Wonder, a collection of 12 booklets by John H. Ainsworth. The book was originally published in 1958, and the first booklet’s title sets the mood:Paper & You: This Fibrous Age.” The subject was so popular that, when the second revised edition was published in 1959, the book had grown to 21 chapters.

My curiosity about the title {The fifth wonder of what, and if  paper is fifth, what are the first four?} was satisfied in a section about Industry Worth: “Today, in value of shipments made it {paper} is exceeded only by motor vehicles, meat, steel, and petroleum. In a mere fifty years it has risen from a position of comparative obscurity to become the FIFTH WONDER OF AMERICAN INDUSTRY.”

Each chapter is fact-filled, and the author consistently ebullient about the state of modern papermaking and paper consumption. Early on, he rhapsodizes about the ubiquity and versatility of paper, and the partnership between the paper industry and chemical manufacturers. He looks into his crystal ball and assures the reader: “Now the tail is wagging the dog. The consumer is applauding the industry’s necromancy. He is calling the encores . . . rubbing his Alladin’s lamp – the American buck – and expecting the papermaking genii to perform still more miracles. He will not be disappointed.”

The illustrator reinforces this sense of enchantment with a dapper moustachioed maestro conjuring up a paper flying carpet bearing luxurious packaging. The illustrations in each chapter are printed in black and one accent color, of which my favorite is the magenta I associate with old mimeograph masters.

John H. Ainsworth’s papers are in the Library and Archives of the Forest History Society, and I enjoyed reading the list of what is there.

What a nifty gifty from my friend Pat Burke, exhibitions manager at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum. For her thank-you note, I used theme postage: three 3¢ stamps issued in 1950, to celebrate the sesquicentennial of Washington DC; two stamps from the Franklin D. Roosevelt series of four; and one of the National Postal Museum itself.

Alyson Kuhn, the editor of Felt & Wire, well knows that Aladdin also spelled his name with a single l, but Mr. Ainsworth’s editor did not.

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Comments (1)

  1. Posted by Steve Powell on 09.4.09 at 6:51 pm

    I enjoyed your review so much I bought a copy of “Paper:The Fifth Wonder” for myself.

    Thank you!

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