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I've blundered into an American-Colonies history-mystery.

Today I visited the American Bookbinders Museum. They have old-timey equipment on display such as one might use to bind books by hand. And other equipment that you might use as the industrial revolution came along and processes changed… But my mystery is about the older stuff, back when the world was less like it is now such that I can't even imagine— Anyhow, here's the thing:

Back in England during American-Colonial-times, paper was made from rags. Folks would wear their clothes to destruction. Then they'd use the rags. Then they'd leave out their used-up old rags so that the ragpickers could pick them up. Ragpickers brought rags to paper-makers, who'd soak the cloth in chemicals to unravel the rags into bits of fiber, which could then get turned into paper.

England's system assumed a certain ratio between how much clothing wears out to the demand for paper. If you wanted a piece of paper, it was a safe bet that someone's breeches had breached or whatever; and thus there was material that could be re-purposed.

In the American Colonies, we didn't have paper-making equipment at first: paper had to be imported from England. But eventually we imported that equipment. But BUT but:

Even when we had paper-making equipment in America, we still had to import rags from England to get the material to produce paper.

That suggests that in America, we couldn't keep up that ratio: we weren't using up enough cloth to produce the paper we needed. So my questi mystery is: What was so different about American vs England life that the ratio broke down?

You could say that we were a primitive colony, so of course folks wouldn't be so quick to toss out aging clothes… but you'd think that by the same primitive-conditions reasoning, we wouldn't need so much paper, either.

Maybe it's that we were lower-class folks who couldn't afford to toss out clothes so often? Or maybe not; who knows how big a difference that would make.

Maybe enough Americans followed "puritan" religions with laws against fancy-pants dressing? Or, again, maybe not.

I don't even know what terms to google to figure this out.

Tags: book economics barbaric

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