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Onion Skin Paper


onionskinwatermarkWhile I was reading The Complete Engraver, one of the things that most piqued my curiosity was Nancy Sharon Collins's discussion of onion skin paper.  In the nineteenth century, it was commonly used both for note sheets and envelopes and later on especially for airmail because it is so lightweight.  It is a translucent paper that has a "cockled" finish, it takes ink beautifully (according to the author), and the paper, made in part from cotton fiber, is extremely long-lasting and durable.  After reading this, I thought, "I need to write on that!  Immediately!"  I knew that the Center for the Book keeps some around for packing presses, so I thought I might be able to buy some through them or their supplier if I liked it well enough for calligraphy. Well!  The Center does have small stash on hand, but my instructor told me that they have trouble finding it any more, and if I can locate any, I should let them know.  So I sat down last night to try to figure out where this stuff is still being made.  What I did find in my copious Internet combing were dozens of people asking where they can find onion skin paper; what I did not find is any evidence that authentic onion skin is still being produced.  There are a couple of suppliers who make 8.5 x 11" pads of it (it was also commonly used with typewriters), and I'm not opposed to giving those a try, but the sheet I got from the Center -- and the size I would prefer to use -- is 17 x 22".  I did find someone on Etsy selling some legal-sized onion skin, so I purchased a little of that in the meantime. The trouble of all this is that I've gotten it into my head that if it writes as well as I suspect it will, I would really like to use it as an element of the book I am printing this semester, which means I definitely need it in a size at least 10 x 9".  I think I will begin to make phone calls to long-established paper suppliers that don't have up-to-date websites, which seems like the best bet for finding it. Do you have any memories of using onion skin?  Isn't that watermark gorgeous? Image here.

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  • Laura on

    Paula, I haven’t ever purchased Pineider. I took a peek at their website, and their stationery looks beautiful! I do remember, when I went to Italy years ago, how amazing all of the stationers were. I bought a writing set that I just loved. It was my first time using pen and bottled ink — an awakening!

  • Paula on

    While in college, I frequently used onion skin paper as a legal assistant in the mid-70’s (along with carbon paper). It was a standard office supply at that time (along with my IBM correcting Selectric). I share your love of paper, Laura. Have you ever purchased Pineider stationery? It is Italian and is (or has been) the stationer to the Vatican. Comes in a lovely assortment of shapes, weights and colors. Very understated, but perfect. And it also has a charming watermark. I am thoroughly enjoying your blog. Congratulations!

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  • dougsmith2013 on

    I had no idea onion skin was hard to get. I’m so clumsy with my hands that I would make a total botch of anything to do with onion skin. That Sensibilities Blog is also gorgeous! I wonder how it’s made. I could check with the paper people I know in Omaha – Field, XpedX etc. to see if they have it . . . I’ll check with Emily York, our production manager.

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