Amazing Stories, 1940

Amazing Stories, 1940

Wood Pulp Paper

F.G. Keller
Prior to the advent of wood pulp paper, most paper was made from rag pulp. Collecting used rags to make paper was economical but limiting. When the rags ran out, so did the paper and it was expensive to use new cloth. These limitations kept the price of printed materials too high for a broad popular audience. With wood pulp paper, the price of printed goods dropped and more people could afford to buy comics and pulp magazines whose sole purpose was to entertain.  

Mechanical pulping of wood began in Germany during the 1840s, but the Boston Weekly Journal, printed January 14, 1863, was the first American newspaper to use paper made from groundwood pulp. The popularity of groundwood pulp paper quickly spread and newspapers and magazines embraced this new and affordable technology. The diversification and availability of printed materials widened and the price of newspapers, magazines, and books dropped to levels suitable for the new American middle class. Printed materials became a popular commodity.

The only problem with the cheap pulp paper was that it contained high levels of lignin, a substance that occurs naturally in wood, which creates acidic byproducts as it ages. Pulp paper also quickly dried out and grew brittle. Many popular magazines and comics were 'read to death' and crumbled. Chemical treatments to bleach or coat the paper often increased its acidity. Short paper fibers and the high lignin content combined to make the use of wood pulp paper and its preservation problematic. Today much of the ephemera printed at or near the turn of the century has been lost.

Hugo Gernsback started printing Amazing Stories in 1926, yet the oldest copy available for study at New York University dates from the 1940s. Nearly two decades of materials have been destroyed. Most pulp fiction magazine collections are sporadic and show significant decomposition. Note the damaged cover and the flaking pages of this Amazing Stories (1940). Many of its predecessors were thrown away, or have since fallen to dust.
Weeks, Lyman Horace. “Chapter 11: The Search for Raw Material.” A History of Paper- Manufacturing in the United States. 1690-1916. New York: B. Franklin, 1969. 211-238. Internet Archive. Web. (Reprint from 1916.)

Van der Reyden, Dianne. “Paper Documents.” In Storage of Natural History Collections: A Preventive Conservation Approach, Vol. I. Carolyn Rose, ed. Washington, D.C.: Society for Preservation of Natural History Collections, 1995.

Wolk, Douglas. “Following the Paper Trail.” Print 69, no. 2 (2015): 96-99.