Boxplorations: Chain Lines in a WWI Collection

Along the same lines of what I did a couple of weeks ago with the W. J. Blanchard Collection, this morning I set out to do a “boxploration” of MS-318 for 3/18 (March 18).

When I went in search of MS-318 in our stacks, I found it to be the T. E. Bennett Aviation Collection (view PDF finding aid): one tiny box on the shelf, containing 0.25 linear feet of materials. It looked pretty unassuming—wouldn’t you say?

MS-318: T. E. Bennett Collection (box exterior)

MS-318: T. E. Bennett Collection (box exterior)

Bennett was a World War I pilot, and the collection contains (among other things) some typed instructions for pilots in 1917.  As I was exploring the box, one of these documents caught my eye. The document gives instructions for flying spirals in an airplane:

Instructions for Spirals, 1917 (MS-218, Box 1, Folder 10)

Instructions for Spirals, 1917 (MS-218, Box 1, Folder 10)

Although it was certainly from the WWI era—and even if I wasn’t sure, it could not have been earlier than 1903, because after all, it gives instructions for flying an airplane in a certain way! But it had the look and feel of a document I would have expected to be older. I couldn’t quite put my finger on why I thought this (besides the generic explanation that it just “looked and felt” older to me) until I showed the document to our Preservation Archivist. She held it up to the light, and that’s when we noticed the chain lines in the paper.

Back-lit image of the Instructions for Spirals, showing chain lines (MS-318, Box 1, Folder 10)

Back-lit image of the Instructions for Spirals, showing chain lines (MS-318, Box 1, Folder 10)

The above image, taken by photographing the document on a light table (and converted to grayscale for better contrast) shows the chain lines, as well as the crossing wires, in the Instructions for Spirals document. These chain and wire marks show up on papers that were created using a sieve or screen. After paper-making was mechanized, the existence of these lines (and the accompanying texture of the paper) was able to be eliminated from the process. It was during the 19th century that the mechanized, non-textured paper became more commonplace than the ribbed, chain-line-exhibiting type (called laid paper).

That explains why this particular document struck me as something that I would have expected to be much older than it was. I am more accustomed to seeing this type of paper in early 19th century collections, such as the Patterson Papers. For instance, here is a back-lit image of a letter from Col. Robert Patterson to Henry Clay, dated 1811, that shows chain lines:

Col. Robert Patterson to Henry Clay, June 1811, showing chain lines (MS-236, Box 1, Folder 1)

Col. Robert Patterson to Henry Clay, June 1811, showing chain lines (MS-236, Box 1, Folder 1)

I can’t explain why a document from 1917 was typed on a piece of laid paper. There are any number of perfectly logical explanations. Whatever the explanation—which we will probably never know—it was certainly an interesting find!

If you would like to learn more about paper-making, laid paper, and chain lines, you may be interested in the following:

If you have any thoughts theories about this “find” in the T. E. Bennett Collection, we would love to hear from you in the comments.

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